Being a broker can lead to burnout and abusive behaviour

Network brokers in the workplace often end up burnt out and more abusive towards their co-workers – new research from ESSEC Business School finds.

Employees often serve as “network brokers”, formally and informally connecting other colleagues or groups who would otherwise do not know each other. These brokers often receive numerous career advantages such as faster promotions, unique information access, or a creativity boost. They play a critical role for organizational functioning. However, there can be hidden psychological and social ramifications associated with this important role as they’re also more likely to suffer the consequences of being so socially adept, research from Professor Jung Won Lee at ESSEC Business School reveals.

Professor Lee explains that brokering behaviours, particularly keeping disconnected colleagues apart, makes brokers feel stressed due to socializing with people who have different norms and values to their own. Subsequently, they end up feeling burnt out and can become abusive towards their peers, like taking out their mood on their colleagues.

In order to evaluate the effects of brokering on the network brokers, Professor Lee and her colleagues conducted three studies in South America and the United States: 1) a five-month field study of burnout and abusive behaviour, with brokering assessed via email exchanges, 2) a time-separated survey on brokering behaviours, burnout, and co-worker abuse among the employees, 3) an experiment to investigate the effects of different types of brokering behaviours on burnout and abusive behaviour. They found that brokering behaviours that keep separated people apart compared to bringing them together led to higher level of burnout and abusive behaviour.

Brokers have a high value for organizations. But the job of brokering can be so demanding without leaving a room for brokers to recover. Professor Lee and her colleagues show that the implications of network brokering can negatively impact the broker and those that they interact with. She also determined that of the two types of brokering, keeping people apart is far more damaging.

What can be done in organizations to mitigate the negative effects? Employers should be mindful of the effects of brokering before enforcing it in the workplace if they want to ensure a healthy working environment. Employers can recognize the demanding roles of brokers and offer brokers regular opportunities to disengage from brokering behaviour and recharging themselves.

These findings were published in The Journal of Organization Science. You can read the paper here.

Featured Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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