Communication science scholar Jos Bartels joined Hong Kong Baptist University in 2020 under its Talent100 initiative. A Dutch native, Bartels started his career at the University of Twente (UT). Prior to joining HKBU’s Department of Communication Studies, Bartels was Assistant Professor in Communication Science at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and at Tilburg University, the Netherlands.
He completed his PhD at UT in Communication Science focusing on the relationship between communication climate, perceived external prestige and employees’ organizational identification at different organizational levels.
Bartels won the award for the Best Teacher of Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences in 2019–2020.
His research activities focus on quantitative studies on organizational communication, social media usage and organizational identification, and corporate social responsibility and environmental sustainability. His research in these areas have appeared in several ISI-ranked academic journals such as Management Communication Quarterly and International Journal of Business Communication.
His most recent work is a chapter, “The role of social identity in organizational communication over time”, in the Handbook of Organizational Communication Theory and Research, edited by Vernon Miller and Marshall Scott Poole (DeGruyter: in press). Through this chapter he discusses how the COVID-19 pandemic has made the role of social media in organizations more prominent than ever before and that the possible consequences of new ways of communication in organizations for different forms of employee identification will need attention from both communication and management scholars in the years to come.
We spoke to him about his research work and his views on the importance of social media in organisational settings.
Tell us something about your Research work
My research mainly focuses on the bonding role of social media in organizations and on private social media (Facebook, Instagram, WeChat) usage of employees to communicate with other organizational members. Informal communication between colleagues via private social media (PSM) can lead to more positive feelings of being part of an ingroup. This is also called social identification or in an organizational context, organizational identification. Both, communication with colleagues (horizontal communication) and with your supervisor (vertical communication) can lead to such ingroup feelings.
We know that positive perceptions of using social media lead to stronger identification. Moreover, a large variety of studies have already shown that employee identification with the organization can lead to greater job satisfaction, happier employees, and positive behaviour towards colleagues and towards the organization (so called organizational citizenship behaviour or “walking the extra mile”). In short, although both ESM and PSM definitely can have negative consequences, I mostly focus on positive outcomes of social media usage in organizations.
Dr Jos Bartels is an associate professor in Organization Communication.
What would you say is the role of social media in implementing effective organizational change?
In general, there is still a scientific debate on whether social media is good, bad or ugly in organizations. We see that social media can fulfil different roles. Researchers who are critical about social media mostly focus on excessive usage (which can lead to stress and burnout), privacy concerns (organizational silence, when people do not dare to speak-up) and work-life balance problems (being ‘online’ all the time to respond to supervisor or colleagues’ messages). Although, I think social media can be good, bad and ugly, in general, I am along the stream of researchers who think that it can play a positive role in organizations and organizational change. The more functional (positive) affordances focus on, for example, quick information flow, “flat organizations”, availability of information, everywhere at any time. This can facilitate quicker decision-making. Moreover, social media can make organizations more accountable, since it is open. Organizations cannot ‘hide’ anymore. So called, Enterprise social media (ESM) can establish this.
How can business benefits be derived out of social media platforms?
From my field of expertise, the (social) bonding or social capital functions of social media can make organizations benefit. Social capital focusses on networks of relationships among employees who live and work in a particular society, enabling it to function effectively. In this case, the organization. Social media can increase peoples’ social capital more easily compared to “before the social media or computer-mediated communication” age.
What methods can organisations implement to ensure that employee usage of social media, while at work, is useful and not distracting or harmful to the organisation?
Social media is not harmful in itself. It is the way we use them. If you think that social media create peoples’ behaviour, you clearly have a different view than when you think that people create social media. Both are true, but I think management should focus more on the latter approach. Focusing on privacy and controlling peoples’ behaviour in organizations does not lead to a better organizational climate/ atmosphere. I further believe that it does not start with the question if social media can be harmful. That is (in my view) not the correct question to ask. For example, if employees would post something negative about their organization on their private social media, the damage has already been done much sooner. Yes, as an organization you could then terminate the person, but this does not necessarily solve the problem in the organization. I think an organizational climate of (procedural) justice, openness, and taking employees seriously are more important than social media usage. The implementation and especially the intentions of an organization when implementing social media (policies) decides how these social media and the usage by employees will look like.
To sum up, the role of social media in organizations (good, bad or ugly) is mostly dependent on the organization’s (or management of that organization) view on how you see the world and how you see people. This view has major consequences for how an organization deals with today’s challenges of ESM and PSM usage by employees. Both as a person and as a researcher, I tend to follow the latter view. As a consequence, I believe social media usage can be a positive development in organizations.
Nawaz, K. M., Shahzad, K., & Bartels, J. (forthcoming). Examining Boss Phubbing and Employee Outcomes through the Lens of Affective Events Theory, Aslib Journal of Information Management, [ISI, Q3].
Majeed, M., Irshad, M., & Bartels, J. (2021). The Interactive Effect of COVID-19 Risk and Hospital Measures on Turnover Intentions of Healthcare Workers: A Time-Lagged Study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(20), 1-15, 10705, [ISI, Q1].
Irshad, M., Bartels, J., Majeed, M., & Bashir, S. (2021). When Breaking the Rule Becomes Necessary: The Impact of Leader–Member Exchange Quality on Nurses Pro-Social Rule-breaking. Nursing Open, 1-15 [ISI, Q3].