Integrating Social Capital Theory and Social Exchange Theory

Social Capital Theory is concerned with the nature, structure, and resources embedded in a person’s network of relationships (Seibert et al, 2001; Granovetter, 1973; Burt, 1992; Lin, Ensel, & Vaughn, 1981a, 1981h). Social Exchange Theory is concerned with the quality of interactions within that network (Brandes et al, 2004; Blau, 1964; Settoon, Bennett, & Liden, 1996). In two separate studies, Siebert, Kraimer, and Liden (2001) examined Social Capital Theory as it related to conceptions of career success and Brandes, Dharwadkar, and Wheatley (2004) examined Social Exchange Theory as it related to work outcomes. This paper proposes three testable hypotheses derived from a synthesis of the theories and results presented in those two studies, respectively.

An Examination of Social Capital Theory

Seibert et al (2001) examined social capital theory as it related to conceptualizations of career success. As a basis for their study Seibert et al worked from Coleman’s (1990) description which defined social capital as “any aspect of social structure that creates value and facilitates the actions of the individuals within that social structure” (p. 230). Moreover, Seibert et al. set forth three purposes of their study which included (a) integrating conceptualizations of social capital as they pertain to career success; (b) modeling social capital effects on a full set of career outcomes; and (c) integrating research on social network structure with that on mentoring and careers. For this exercise, the focus will be on the first two purposes.


First, Seibert et al. sought to integrate three competing conceptualizations of social capital including (a) Granovetter’s (1973) weak ties theory; (b) Burt’s (1992) structural holes theory; and (c) Lin et al.’s social resources theory. Weak ties theory focuses on the strength of the social ties within a person’s relational network. According to Granovetter’s theoretical construct, strong ties refer to relations within a person’s social clique (or immediate work area), while weak ties refer to relationships outside of one’s social clique (or assigned work area). In his studies, Granovetter found that weak ties (e.g. contacts in other organizational functions ) were more likely than strong ties (i.e. relationships within one’s assigned work area) to become a source of information (e.g. job openings). Structural holes theory focuses on patterns of relations among those in a person’s network. According to Seibert et al., Burt argued that a structural hole existed when two individuals who were directly connected to a mutual friend or contact but not directly connected to each other. Burt posited that a network rich in structural holes provided an individual with three benefits including (a) more unique and timely access to information; (b) greater bargaining power and thus control over resources and outcomes, and (c) greater visibility and career opportunities throughout the social system. Social resources theory focuses on the nature of the resources embedded within a network. According to Seibert et al., Lin et al. (1981a, 1981h) observed that a contact within the network that possesses characteristics or controls resources useful for attainment of a person’s goals can be considered a resource including those who provide pertinent information or career development advice.


Additionally, Seibert et al. posited an overarching social capital model which took into account both network structures (e.g. weak ties and structural holes), social resources, and tied them to network benefits, and career success outcomes. Specifically, Seibert et al. sought to study (a) the relationship of weak ties and structural holes to social resources (e.g. contacts in other organizational functions and contacts at higher organizational levels); (b) the relationship of social resources (e.g. contacts in other organizational functions and contacts at higher organizational levels) to three identified network benefits (e.g. access to information, access to resources, and career sponsorship) and (c) the relationship of those three network benefits to three conceptualized outcomes of career success (e.g. current salary; promotions, entire career; and career satisfaction). Figure 1 illustrates Seibert et al.’s hypothesized model of social capital effects on career outcomes.

The results of Seibert et al.’s study suggested confirmation of 14 of 17 hypothesized relationships and yielded two not previously hypothesized negative parameter estimates (see Figure 2 presented below). The hypothesized relationships confirmed by the results included (a) the network benefit of access to information positively related to two of three career success constructs – i.e. promotions over an entire career and career satisfaction; and (b) the network benefit of career sponsorship related to all three posited constructs of career success – i.e. current salary, promotions over an entire career, and career satisfaction. What is more, the study yielded two not previously hypothesized negative parameter estimates for the path from weak ties to (a) access to information and (b) career sponsorship.

An Examination of Social Exchange Theory

Brandes et al. (2004) examined social exchange theory as it related to work outcomes including (a) in-role behaviors, (b) extra-role behaviors, and (c) employee involvement behaviors. From their review of the literature, Brandes et al. posited that the concept of social exchange seeks to examine the quality of social interactions that employees encounter within their employing organizations (Eisenberger, Fasolo,& Davis-LaMastro, 1990; Graen, Novak, & Sommerkamp, 1982; Settoon, Bennett, & Liden, 1996.) Moreover, the literature suggested (a) two levels of social exchanges within organizations including (a) local social exchanges and (b) global social exchanges and (b) two types of relationships within each of the two levels. Specifically, the types of relationships in Brandes et al.’s conceptualization of local social exchanges included (a) relationships with supervisors [highlighted in leader-member exchange (LMX) theory] and (b) relationships with those outside one’s work area (Dansereau, Graen, & Haga, 1975; Settoon et al.). The types of relationships in their conceptualization of global social exchanges included (a) relationship with the organization as an entity (i.e. perceived organizational support) and (b) relationships with top management (Eisenberger et al.; Settoon et al).

With those conceptualizations of local and global social exchanges in mind, Brandes et al. sought to study the effects of both types of social exchanges on three work outcomes including (a) in-role behaviors, (b) extra-role behaviors, and (c) employee involvement behaviors. From Brandes et al.’s observation of the literature, in-role behaviors related to core job tasks within one’s assigned work area and referred to “the judgment, accuracy, and overall ability an employee brings to his or her job” (p. 277). Moreover, extra-role behaviors related to activities that fall outside core job tasks but were still essential to function as an effective organization. Finally, employee involvement behaviors related to volunteer association to “participation-based programs that help organizations along the path of continuous improvement and change” (pp. 277-278). Brandes et al. observed that such volunteer activities may not be rewarded by the organization but they can lead to (a) opportunities to provide input in work processes and (b) more decision-making authority and control over their work. However, they found few research studies that examined how the types of social exchange impact employees’ involvement in organizational empowerment initiatives.

From the review of the literature, Brandes et al. hypothesized that both types of local social exchanges and both types of global social exchanges would be positively related to all three types of conceptualized work outcomes including (a) in-role behaviors, (b) extra-role behaviors, and (c) employee involvement behaviors. Additionally, they proposed that local social exchanges would have a greater effect on employees’ work outcomes than global social exchanges.

The results of Brandes et al.’s study suggested confirmation of only five of 12 hypothesized relationships. Concerning their hypothesized relationships between local and global exchanges and the three work outcomes, the results suggested that (a) local social exchanges in terms of relationships with supervisors were positively related to in-role behaviors and extra-role behaviors, but not significantly related to employee involvement behaviors; (b) local social exchanges in terms of relationships with those outside of one’s work area were positively related to extra-role behaviors and employee involvement behaviors, but not significantly related to in-role behaviors; (c) global social exchanges in terms of relationship with the organization (i.e. perceived organizational support) was related to in-role behaviors, but not significantly related to extra-role or employee involvement behaviors; and (d) global social exchanges in terms of relationships with top management was not significantly related to any of the three posited work outcome constructs. Finally, the hypothesized comparison between local and global social exchanges also yielded mixed support, suggesting local exchanges would have a greater effect than global exchanges on extra-role and employee involvement behaviors but not a significantly greater effect on in-role behaviors. Figure 3 illustrates Brandes et al.’s model of social exchange effects on work outcomes after data analysis.

Integrated Social Capital Theory and Social Exchange Theory - Research Hypotheses

The purpose of this hub was to posit at least three testable research hypotheses that would synthesize the theories and results reported in the two studies by Seibert et al. and Brandes et al concerning Social Capital Theory and Social Exchange Theory, respectively. In light of this stated purpose and the literature review presented above, the following research hypotheses are posited based on one mutual finding of both studies.

The one mutual finding suggested by both studies presented in this paper was that high-quality exchanges in one’s work area resulting in strong ties with his or her supervisors was a better predictor of (a) access to information and (b) career sponsorship than weak ties (as in social capital theory) or local social exchanges in terms of relationships with those outside one’s work area (as in social exchange theory). Concerning this finding, Seibert et al. concluded, “These results supply additional support for the traditional emphasis placed on the value of strong ties in providing information and social support” (p. 232). Similarly, Brandes et al. commented “high-quality relationships [with supervisors] afford employees more advice, encouragement, and resources from supervisors and assist them in performing in-role and extra-role behaviors” (p. 293). Logically, it would seem to follow as Brandes et al suggested “that dyadic exchanges with supervisors are more important for mandated, in-role behaviors” and that failure to carry out one’s mandated behaviors would adversely affect relationships with supervisors and opportunities to participate in projects outside the parameters of those mandated behaviors. Indeed, as the results indicated, Seibert et al found that the extent of one’s weak ties or relationships with those outside one’s work area could actually have an adverse effect on access to information and career sponsorship. It does seem conceivable that spending too much time engaging activities outside one’s mandated behaviors to the detriment of work performance related to his or her mandated behaviors that this would adversely affect the relationship with his or her supervisors and lead to restrictions or even termination.

Thus, given this mutual finding of the two respective studies on Social Capital Theory and Social Exchange Theory, the following hypotheses are posited:

Hypothesis 1: An employee’s local social exchanges in terms of relationships with supervisors will have a greater effect on access to information than the employee’s social capital in terms of the number of weak ties in his or her network.

Hypothesis 2: An employee’s local social exchanges in terms of relationships with supervisors will have a greater effect on career sponsorship than social capital in terms of the number of weak ties in his or her network.

Additionally, in their study of social capital Seibert et al. found that the network benefit of access to information was positively related to career success in terms of promotions throughout entire career and career satisfaction. As reported by Seibert et al., their findings seem to confirm the results of previous studies tying access to information and resources to an individual’s social power including improved organizational reputation and a perception of more influence within the organization resulting in more promotions throughout one’s career and career satisfaction (Burt, 1992, 1997; French & Raven, 1968; Kilduff & Krackhardt, 1994; Tsui, 1984; Gist & Mitchell, 1992; and Spreitzer, 1996). Consequently, if Hypotheses 1 and 2, then Hypothesis 3:

Hypothesis 3: An employee’s local social exchanges in terms of relationships with supervisors will have a greater effect on career success in terms of promotions throughout career and career satisfaction than social capital in terms of weak ties in his or her network.

Conclusion

This paper examined two separate studies conducted by Seibert et al. and Brandes et al. concerning Social Capital Theory and Social Exchange Theory, respectively. This task was undertaken in order to find a gap in the literature and synthesize the two theories and the findings of the studies. After a brief review of the purposes, dimensions, and results of each study, three testable hypotheses were proposed.

References

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