Strength of social ties at workplace

Monday, 20. February 2017

By Faisal Ghaffar, IBM, Ireland


“A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties”

~Albert Einstein


Social and collaborative tools at workplace provide a platform for employees to connect with each other and form communities or teams based on their interests. With these tools, employees have access to platforms which offer the capabilities such as status updates, blog posts, community formation, making direct connections, and activity feeds. Creating social ties with others within the organisation is the platforms basic functionality. These enterprise social platforms have to offer its users and it is as easy as sending a friend request to someone just like Facebook! Oftentimes, employees work hard on building strong ties with co-workers. After all, the better an employee knows someone, the stronger the tie is between them. Strong ties for an employee in the workplace environment could include their colleagues, team members, or friends with whom they meet. However, the question arises what types of social ties are beneficial for an employee for their career growth?

In 1973, Mark Granovetter, a sociologist published a paper “The strength of weak ties” in which he defined the strength of a tie as a “combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy and the reciprocal services which characterise the tie” [1]. Granovetter characterised two types of ties, strong and weak. Strong ties are the relationships that are characterised by strong trust and having frequent interactions between actors such as family and close friends [2]. Strong ties connect those individuals who really trust each other and whose social circles tightly overlap. This is why there is an overlap of information exchange among the people with strong ties. Granovetter also explained the value of weak ties in his paper and characterised weak ties as the relationships between acquaintances that have lower trust barriers between them. Unlike strong ties, weak ties often provide access to unique information since they bridge diverse groups which allows group members to disseminate and access information that they might not otherwise have access to.

Figure 1: A Social network with strong and weak ties
Figure 1: A Social network with strong and weak ties (Ghaffar, 2017)


When it comes to the type of ties that matter the most in the workplace environment for an employee, each (strong and weak) social tie has its own pros and cons in the workplace environment. Strong ties are good for emotional and social support, which can lead to better mental health [5]. However, for the career development of an employee, it is the number of weak ties that matters and it is the weak ties that an employee should pursue for in a workplace environment. Numerous studies have shown that weak ties are better in helping individuals to find jobs, to get promotions and to improve their occupational status [1][3][4]. Building weak ties beyond the organisational subunit boundaries also benefits employees in performing better than his/her peers [6], as well as in job satisfaction [7].  

In DEVELOP, we aim to study the social relationships of an employee in the workplace environment using Social Network Analysis (SNA). DEVELOP aims to determine and measure social capital of employees for their career development. The structure of the social network and the strength of ties of an employee with others in the network can play an important role in determining the social capital for career growth. Using SNA to measure the strength of ties, in particular, the weak ties, DEVELOP can identify the social resources or information that an employee has access to over the network. These identified social resources and the access to information can ultimately contribute to social capital for the employee.


[1] Granovetter, M. S. (1973). The strength of weak ties. American journal of sociology, 78(6), 1360-1380.

[2] Dibie, O., & Sumner, T. (2015, August). Using weak ties to understand resource usage behaviors in an online community of educators. In Proceedings of the 2015 IEEE/ACM International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining 2015 (pp. 533-536). ACM.

[3] Lin, N., Ensel, W. M., & Vaughn, J. C. (1981). Social resources and strength of ties: Structural factors in occupational status attainment. American sociological review, 393-405.

[4] Burt, R. S. (1992). Structural hole. Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA.

[5] Schaefer, C., Coyne, J. C., & Lazarus, R. S. (1981). The health-related functions of social support. Journal of behavioral medicine, 4(4), 381-406.

[6] Burt, R. S. 2004. Structural Holes and Good Ideas. American Journal of Sociology, 110 (2), 349–399.

[7] Seibert, S. E., Kraimer, M. L., & Liden, R. C. (2001). A social capital theory of career success. Academy of management journal, 44(2), 219-237.