The Social Construction of Role Stress

Shihan Li, David Krackhardt, Nynke Niezink


Research has shown that objective job characteristics and individual differences are strong predictors of role stress. However, little has been done to examine the potential social construction effects on role stress dynamics. Prior literature on the Social Information Processing (SIP) perspective suggests that attitudes and experiences in an organization are a function of social cues from colleagues in the social system they are members of. We investigated the extent to which role stress experiences of individuals in an academic community are constructed by their social contacts and personal interactions. We collected four waves of panel data on the networks of 315 first-year master’s students and applied a stochastic actor-oriented model to study this question. Consistent with our theoretical arguments, we found that controlling for competing explanations, study participants tended to change their experiences of two types of stress – role ambiguity and role overload – to become more similar to those of their social contacts. These results underscore the need for further research in the area of organizational stress to take into account social construction processes as part of the explanation of why and how stress occurs in work organizations.

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