The COVID-19 pandemic’s unpredictable influence on the economy has likely led to many workers experiencing the stressor of job insecurity (concern about keeping one’s job). Additionally, many workers may be experiencing stress surrounding the switch to remote work, which has drastically decreased levels of daily social interaction compared to doing work in-person. On top of these work-related stressors, people may be experiencing stressful relationships with family members due to health concerns or blurred boundaries between work life and home life.
One way in which people attempt to cope with stress is by seeking social support from others. However, the ability to rely on existing social supports or make new friends may be hindered due to restrictions on social contact (e.g., social distancing, limits on gathering, and remote work). In order to meet social needs, people may be more likely than before to reach out to their dormant ties for support. Dormant ties are relationships between two people who have not communicated with each other in a long time.
REACTIVATING DORMANT TIES DURING COVID-19
The results of this study (Yang et al., 2021) show that employees who were experiencing higher levels of job insecurity were more likely to reactivate dormant ties compared to employees who were experiencing lower levels of job insecurity. Further, this pattern was stronger among employees who reported having stressful relationships with family members.
Additionally, the results show that people who did more of their work remotely were actually less likely to reactivate dormant ties compared to people who did less of their work remotely. While this was an unexpected result, the authors suggest it may be due to the phenomenon of “Zoom fatigue,” in which people experience burnout from telework. This phenomenon may reduce the appeal of reaching out to dormant ties using similar remote technologies. However, people who were doing more of their work remotely were more likely to reactivate more dormant social ties when they also were experiencing stressful relationships with household members.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR EMPLOYEES AND ORGANIZATIONS
Taken together, the results of this study suggest that reactivating dormant social ties may be a way in which employees attempt to cope with work and family-related stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Further, people may be especially likely to reach out to old friends or relatives when they experience stressful relationships with family or household members.
The authors of the study suggest it may be beneficial to encourage employees to reactivate dormant ties in order to help cope with work-related stress. This may be especially useful during times when employees are likely to face higher levels of job insecurity, such as during mergers or acquisitions – times when layoffs and organizational restructuring is expected.
Yang, S. W., Soltis, S. M., Ross, J. R., & Labianca, G. (J.). (2021). Dormant tie reactivation as an affiliative coping response to stressors during the COVID-19 crisis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 106(4), 489–500.