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This is not what I wanted: The effect of avoidance coping strategy on non-work-related social media use at the workplace

Jhony Choon Yeong Ng (College of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanjing, China)
Iris Yu Ting Shao (College of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanjing, China)
Yiping Liu (College of Economics and Management, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanjing, China)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 6 June 2016

Abstract

Purpose

Many fresh graduates have unrealistic career expectations. When reality sets in after graduation, they may be disappointed. Due to factors such as the limited availability of feasible alternative career options, employees who have to stay in jobs they dislike may feel trapped. To alleviate the resulting stresses, they may engage in avoidance coping strategies, such as non-work-related social media use, to discharge their mental strains. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how the perception of being trapped can result in the adoption of avoidance coping strategies, and how these strategies can influence individual performance and social media use.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on the literature on avoidance coping strategy, goal orientation theory, and performance theory, the authors proposed a theoretical model on how the avoidance coping strategy of an individual can influence their performance and workplace behavior.

Findings

The authors propose that when a fresh graduate feels “trapped” in a job, the stresses experienced may cause them to hide behind their defense mechanisms. An avoidance coping strategy may then be adopted, and this will influence the individual’s workplace behavior (in terms of non-work-related use of social media) and performance.

Practical implications

If an avoidance coping strategy is an antecedent to non-work-related use of social media, then controlling the use of social media in the workplace may only cause these employees to switch to other forms of self-distraction (for instance, spending more time chatting with colleagues). Under some circumstances, the use of such control mechanisms may even give cyberloafers stronger urges to use social media for non-work-related purposes. If this is the case, managers should reconsider their current approach in handling the related behavior.

Social implications

If the cause of non-work-related use of social media in the workplace is an avoidance coping strategy, then the engagement of such workplace behaviors should not be considered “intentionally harmful actions”. One important criterion for workplace behavior to qualify as a type of counterproductive behavior is that such behavior must be conducted to be intentionally harmful. Given this, the resulting actions of an avoidance coping strategy should not be considered a form of counterproductive behavior, and the authors should reconsider the conceptualization of cyberloafing provided in the organizational literature.

Originality/value

The authors believe that this research represents one of the first attempts to bridge the gap between clinical and managerial literature. It attempts to explain non-work-related use of social media in the workplace from the perspective of trapped perception and avoidance coping strategy, and it argues that not all forms of non-work-related use of social media in the workplace are instances of cyberloafing.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors like to thank Professor Belle Rose Ragins for giving us a friendly review. Her comments have contributed greatly to the writing of this paper. The authors also like to thank the Editor Dennis Nickson and the anonymous reviewer for their valuable guidance and suggestions throughout the review process. This research is supported by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities, Nos NR2015063; 1009-YAH15053; and the Key Research Funds for Jiangsu Province College Philosophy and Social Science, No. 2014ZDIXM024.

Citation

Ng, J.C.Y., Shao, I.Y.T. and Liu, Y. (2016), "This is not what I wanted: The effect of avoidance coping strategy on non-work-related social media use at the workplace", Employee Relations, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 466-486. https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-12-2015-0216

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited