Journal of Applied Psychology
Jo, J. K., Harrison, D. A., & Gray, S. M.
September 30, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic introduced unprecedented challenges for individuals in organizations to maintain their interpersonal connections, which are critical for resource exchange. Because prior research has focused on how networks gradually evolve over time, there is little insight into how an exogenous shock, such as the pandemic, would reshape informal ties among colleagues that comprise their social networks. Drawing upon the optimal matching theory of social support, we develop a psychological perspective on how individuals recalibrate their social ties to enable coping with the uncertainty and anxiety introduced by the pandemic shock. We test our theory using a three-wave network data set from a sample of colocated, full-time MBA students before and after the onset of the pandemic. Following the onset of the pandemic, we found there was an overall reduction in the maintenance of advice ties. We also found that emotional exhaustion exacerbated this effect, and when emotional exhaustion was high, racially homophilous advice ties were just as likely to be dropped as heterophilous advice ties. We also found, unexpectedly, that COVID-19 reduced the maintenance of friendship ties, perhaps because social distancing reduced emotional support opportunities. Thoughts of anticipated inclusion mitigated this negative effect, particularly for racially heterophilous friendships. Individuals in organizations have psychological agency for reordering their social networks to respond to demands created by existential crises.