Author(s), Title and Publication

Bartels, J., van Vuuren, M., & Ouwerkerk, J. W. (2019). My colleagues are my friends: The role of Facebook contacts in employee identification. Management Communication Quarterly, 1-22. doi: 10.1177/0893318919837944


The boundaries between work and private life are blurring, and social media has contributed to this process. Although a body of research on the impact of social media in a professional context has emerged over the past few years, less is known about the role of work-related Facebook contacts when it comes to developing a strong identification with one’s organization. The authors of the current study investigated how work-related friends on Facebook may affect employee identification at different levels of the organization. More specifically, they explored how the perceived quality of online relationships with work-related Facebook contacts, and the perceived authority or power of such contacts, is associated with identification with one’s department (i.e., close colleagues) and with the overall organization. To test their hypotheses, the authors conducted an online survey among a convenience sample of 1,002 Dutch employees who had a full-time job and a Facebook account.

The study revealed that positive perceptions of having colleagues on Facebook can lead to stronger employee commitment at different organizational levels. More specifically, the results showed that first, if employees experience their online colleagues on Facebook as “real” friends, they are more committed to the department and, second, having a colleague on Facebook who tends to have some form of power in an organization is associated with greater employee commitment to the overall organization. Previous research on friendship behaviors in an offline context has shown that having coworkers as friends produces positive effects on an employee’s well-being. The current study suggests there may also be a spillover effect: online professional friendships affect employees’ positive feelings toward the organization. Additionally, if an employee has colleagues on Facebook who seem to have some power in the organization, this could lead to the employee feeling more a part of the organization.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) pay closer attention to developments in the social media sphere and be aware that perceiving employees as online friends is linked with stronger identification with the department or organization, and (2) create an atmosphere that supports accepting a supervisor’s Facebook request could improve employee commitment to the overall organization, and (3) be aware that some employees simply do not wish to be befriended by “their boss” online, and therefore accept that employees can reject Facebook requests.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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