How the Pandemic Has Affected Social Connections at Work

virtual meetings at work
Topic(s): burnout, stress
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2021)
Article: The Ties That Cope? Reshaping Social Connections in Response to Pandemic Distress
Authors: J.K. Jo, D.A. Harrison, S.M. Gray
Reviewed by: David Facteau

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an enormous amount of stress and uncertainty for employees – in fact, it has fundamentally changed the way that work is performed. Researchers (Jo et al., 2021) wanted to know if employees maintain social connections with one another in order to cope with the emerging work stressors. 


The researchers utilized a method known as social network analysis to investigate social connections. Using this method, the researchers were able to examine changes in social connections across time, as well as how individual attributes (e.g., personality traits, attitudes, etc.) may affect social connections within a group. The researchers surveyed 145 MBA students at a large US university at three separate time points. 

Results indicated that COVID-19 negatively impacted the maintenance of advice relationships – meaning relationships primarily focused on completing job-related tasks. This was especially true for students who were more emotionally exhausted. Students higher on emotional exhaustion were less likely to maintain advice relationships compared to students lower in emotional exhaustion. 

COVID-19 also had detrimental effects on more friendship-oriented connections. Results indicated that friendship connections that formed before the pandemic were less likely to be maintained following the onset of COVID-19. However, people who generally believe that they will be accepted by others were more likely to retain friendships during the pandemic. Interestingly, these people were more likely to retain friendships with individuals of a different racial background.  


This study shows that COVID-19 was largely detrimental for social connections. Maintaining social connections appeared to be particularly challenging for people who are emotionally exhausted. These dissipating social connections may have implications for performance (when advice relationships deteriorate) as well as implications for employee social support (when friendship-oriented connections deteriorate). 

As remote work becomes more prevalent, organizations should strive to maintain social connections through formal and informal organization-sponsored events. Additionally, organizations should provide support for emotionally exhausted employees; these people may have found it particularly challenging to maintain professional relationships throughout the pandemic. 


Jo, J. K., Harrison, D. A., & Gray, S. M. (2021). The ties that cope? Reshaping social connections in response to pandemic distress. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(9), 1267-1282.