Network brokers in the workplace often end up burnt out and more abusive towards their coworkers according to new research from ESSEC Business School.

Employees often serve as “network brokers”, formally and informally connecting other colleagues or groups who would otherwise do not know each other. These brokers often receive numerous career advantages such as faster promotions, unique information access, or a creativity boost. They play a critical role for organisational functioning.

However, there can be hidden psychological and social ramifications associated with this important role as they’re also more likely to suffer the consequences of being so socially adept, research from Professor Jung Won Lee at ESSEC Business School reveals.

Professor Lee explains that brokering behaviours, particularly keeping disconnected colleagues apart, makes brokers feel stressed due to socialising with people who have different norms and values to their own. Subsequently, they end up feeling burnt out and can become abusive towards their peers, like taking out their mood on their colleagues.

In order to evaluate the effects of brokering on the network brokers, Professor Lee and her colleagues conducted three studies in South America and the United States: 1) a five-month field study of burnout and abusive behaviour, with brokering assessed via email exchanges, 2) a time-separated survey on brokering behaviours, burnout, and co-worker abuse among the employees, 3) an experiment to investigate the effects of different types of brokering behaviours on burnout and abusive behaviour. They found that brokering behaviours that keep separated people apart compared to bringing them together led to higher level of burnout and abusive behaviour.

Brokers have a high value for organisations. But the job of brokering can be so demanding without leaving a room for brokers to recover. Professor Lee and her colleagues show that the implications of network brokering can negatively impact the broker and those that they interact with. She also determined that of the two types of brokering, keeping people apart is far more damaging.

What can be done in organisations to mitigate the negative effects? Employers should be mindful of the effects of brokering before enforcing it in the workplace if they want to ensure a healthy working environment. Employers can recognise the demanding roles of brokers and offer brokers regular opportunities to disengage from brokering behaviour and recharging themselves.

These findings were published in The Journal of Organization Science. You can read the paper here.

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Joanne is the editor for Workplace Wellbeing Professional and has a keen interest in promoting the safety and wellbeing of the global workforce. After earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and media studies, she taught English in China and Vietnam for two years. Before joining Work Well Pro, Joanne worked as a marketing coordinator for luxury property, where her responsibilities included blog writing, photography, and video creation.