Organizational Newcomers: Conflict Can Lead to Worse Performance

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Organizational newcomers are those employees who are “just off the boat” and are still trying to figure out how work is done at their new organization. Sure, HR-led orientations may be useful for some things, but there are certainly job-related specifics that require more detailed information from people already doing the job. A newcomer’s ability to acquire this information may be the difference between good and bad job performance. New research (Nifadkar & Bauer, 2015) helps us understand what can go wrong in this process.

RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT AND INFORMATION SEEKING

The research was conducted longitudinally (over several different occasions) and found several relationships that explain the process of how new employees seek and receive information that is valuable to learning how to do their job. The first finding is that interpersonal or “relationship” conflict with coworkers can lead new employees to avoid asking these coworkers for the valuable information they need. The authors explain that the feeling of conflict leads to social anxiety, which makes asking for help seem risky. It makes sense, right? If I think you might put me down or yell at me, I’d probably be less likely to ask you for help.

When poor relationships with coworkers make seeking information from them more difficult, newcomers instead turn to their supervisors to seek the much needed information. According to the theory used by the authors (“belongingness theory”) people have a natural desire to establish good relationships or feel like they belong. If employees feel distant from co-workers, they may feel more drawn to supervisors, and therefore identify these supervisors as a good source of obtaining information.

 

LACK OF INFORMATION LEADS TO POOR PERFORMANCE

The authors also found that when newcomers have bad relationships with coworkers, the newcomers end up seeking less information and eventually obtain an inadequate amount of information. This is despite the fact that they may be drawn to seek this information from supervisors. It seems there is no true replacement for the type or quantity of information that can come from people working alongside of you. Results show that the overall lack of seeking and getting information led these newcomers to worse task-performance at their jobs, as measured by supervisors and by self-evaluations.

 

ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS

This study shows that organizational newcomers are negatively affected by conflict with coworkers. When conflict occurs, newcomers seek less information and get less information. Ultimately their job performance suffers because of it. For this reason, say the authors, organizations may want to pay special attention to finding ways to shield newcomers from conflict. While we can’t expect relationship conflict to be eliminated entirely, we need to recognize how damaging it can be to employees who are still finding their way in the organization.

Also, say the authors, organizations need to make sure that coworkers are involved in the socialization of newcomers. Corporate organization-wide orientations have their place as far as explaining certain company policies, but there seems to be an element of job information that is uniquely gained from coworkers. This knowledge, if passed along to newcomers, can result in better job performance. Finally, when newcomers avoided their coworkers, they instead sought information from supervisors. If conflict is occurring in the workplace, managers and leaders should recognize the added role of information provider that they need to take on. This might lessen the harmful effects of relationship conflict, and help newcomers adjust and learn.