Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Co-Evolution of Informal Networks and Organizational Commitment: The Social Side of Individual Beliefs

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 11:15 AM
Pearson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Michael D. Siciliano, University of Pittsburgh
Recent scholarship indicates the need to view the individual bureaucrat not simply as an independent actor but rather as embedded in a broader social structure (Gofen, 2014; Hupe & Hill, 2007; Keiser, 2010).  It is within this social structure that street-level workers interact with their peers to obtain needed information, resources, and help (Hill, 2003; Maynard-Moody & Musheno, 2003) and these social interactions can shape individual attitudes (Ibarra and Andrews 2003). Despite the acceptance that social networks provide a more complete understanding of employee attitudes (Moynihan & Pandey, 2008), research on individual networks in public organizations remains scarce.  A recent literature review by Kapucu et al. (2014) covering 39 public administration journals for the past 15 years found only 11 articles utilizing social network analysis at the individual level. 

Thus, the vast majority of research on public employee attitude formation focuses on individual and organizational characteristics, while implicitly assuming that employee beliefs form independently of their peers’ beliefs. The assumption of independence is potentially problematic as the “natural units of analysis for attitudes are not isolated individuals but social networks” (Erickson, 1988, p. 99). Erickson (1988) argues that “People do not form attitudes in direct response to their attributes” but rather, “ Attitudes are made, maintained, or modified primarily through interpersonal processes” (p. 99).

This study applies social network theory to study the formation of organizational commitment beliefs among street-level bureaucrats. Organizational commitment has been shown to be an important construct for public managers given its impact on performance (Meyer, Paunonen, Gellatly, Goffin, & Jackson, 1989), turnover (Porter, Steers, Mowday, & Boulian, 1974), and organizational citizenship behaviors (Somech & Bogler, 2002). Employee commitment is particularly important given that public agencies are under ever-increasing pressure to achieve high performance while simultaneously subject to tighter constraints on resources.

This study collected traditional survey data and social network data at three different time points from 431 public school teachers in 14 elementary schools.  The longitudinal nature of the data allows for the investigation of the co-evolution of employee commitment and social networks through the use of a stochastic actor oriented model (SAOM) for network change.  The two primary processes by which attitude similarity may emerge among individuals, social selection and social influence, are assessed. The model tracks how attributes of each teacher, the attributes of his or her peers, and the broader social structure in which the teacher is embedded influence the formation of social ties and commitment beliefs over time. 

This study contributes to our understanding of the formation of organizational commitment in public organizations and also provides insight into the broader social processes that may shape attitudes and behaviors more generally. Initial findings suggest that social commitment may indeed be socially determined.  The finding that employee attitudes may be partly determined by their social networks has implications for how public organizations structure work teams, hire and promote employees, and engage in reform efforts.