Strong Work Friendships Reduce Social Conflict in Female Workforce

New research suggests an employer-facilitated workplace culture that supports positive, social relationships between women coworkers reduces the risk of conflict among women employees.

George Washington University investigators discovered the relationship is more pronounced within male dominated organizations.

The study, “Gender and Negative Work Ties: Exploring Difficult Work Relationships Within and Across Gender at Two Firms” appears in the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) journal Organization Science.

Jenifer Merluzzi surveyed 145 management-level employees regarding workplace dynamics at two large U.S. firms that were primarily male-dominated environments. In the worksettings, women represented less than one-third of the workforce and under 15 percent of the senior management.

Merluzzi found that — while men and women are equally likely to cite having a difficult co-worker — compared to men, women are more likely to cite another woman as a difficult coworker than they are to cite a man, or not cite anyone.

However, this tendency is reduced among women who cite having more women coworkers for social support and friendship at work.

Researchers believe managerial appreciation of unique gendered network characteristics and the benefit of employee social support can help organizations create a culture to minimize conflict.

“While gender diversity and inequality are well document topics in management, sociology, and labor economics, few have looked closely at the gendered negative relationships within the workplace from a social relationship perspective,” said Merluzzi.

“Understanding the relational side of conflict also bears practical importance as companies increasingly organize using diverse teams, heightening the reliance on informal ties between and within gender to get work accomplished.”

Source: Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORM)