The process by which outsiders become organizational insiders is known as organizational socialization. While early research on socialization focused on indicators of adjustment such as job satisfaction and performance, recent research has emphasized the links between organizational socialization and work stress.
Socialization as a Moderator of Job Stress
Entering a new organization is an inherently stressful experience. Newcomers encounter a myriad of stressors, including role ambiguity, role conflict, work and home conflicts, politics, time pressure and work overload. These stressors can lead to distress symptoms. Studies in the 1980s, however, suggest that a properly managed socialization process has the potential for moderating the stressor-strain connection.
Two particular themes have emerged in the contemporary research on socialization:
- the acquisition of information during socialization,
- supervisory support during socialization.
Information acquired by newcomers during socialization helps alleviate the considerable uncertainty in their efforts to master their new tasks, roles and interpersonal relationships. Often, this information is provided via formal orientation-cum-socialization programmes. In the absence of formal programmes, or (where they exist) in addition to them, socialization occurs informally. Recent studies have indicated that newcomers who proactively seek out information adjust more effectively (Morrison l993). In addition, newcomers who underestimate the stressors in their new job report higher distress symptoms (Nelson and Sutton l99l).
Supervisory support during the socialization process is of special value. Newcomers who receive support from their supervisors report less stress from unmet expectations (Fisher l985) and fewer psychological symptoms of distress (Nelson and Quick l99l). Supervisory support can help newcomers cope with stressors in at least three ways. First, supervisors may provide instrumental support (such as flexible work hours) that helps alleviate a particular stressor. Secondly, they may provide emotional support that leads a newcomer to feel more efficacy in coping with a stressor. Thirdly, supervisors play an important role in helping newcomers make sense of their new environment (Louis l980). For example, they can frame situations for newcomers in a way that helps them appraise situations as threatening or nonthreatening.
In summary, socialization efforts that provide necessary information to newcomers and support from supervisors can prevent the stressful experience from becoming distressful.
Evaluating Organizational Socialization
The organizational socialization process is dynamic, interactive and communicative, and it unfolds over time. In this complexity lies the challenge of evaluating socialization efforts. Two broad approaches to measuring socialization have been proposed. One approach consists of the stage models of socialization (Feldman l976; Nelson l987). These models portray socialization as a multistage transition process with key variables at each of the stages. Another approach highlights the various socialization tactics that organizations use to help newcomers become insiders (Van Maanen and Schein l979).
With both approaches, it is contended that there are certain outcomes that mark successful socialization. These outcomes include performance, job satisfaction, organizational commit-ment, job involvement and intent to remain with the organization. If socialization is a stress moderator, then distress symptoms (specifically, low levels of distress symptoms) should be included as an indicator of successful socialization.
Health Outcomes of Socialization
Because the relationship between socialization and stress has only recently received attention, few studies have included health outcomes. The evidence indicates, however, that the socialization process is linked to distress symptoms. Newcomers who found interactions with their supervisors and other newcomers helpful reported lower levels of psychological distress symptoms such as depression and inability to concentrate (Nelson and Quick l99l). Further, newcomers with more accurate expectations of the stressors in their new jobs reported lower levels of both psychological symptoms (e.g., irritability) and physiological symptoms (e.g., nausea and headaches).
Because socialization is a stressful experience, health outcomes are appropriate variables to study. Studies are needed that focus on a broad range of health outcomes and that combine self-reports of distress symptoms with objective health measures.
Organizational Socialization as Stress Intervention
The contemporary research on organizational socialization suggests that it is a stressful process that, if not managed well, can lead to distress symptoms and other health problems. Organizations can take at least three actions to ease the transition by way of intervening to ensure positive outcomes from socialization.
First, organizations should encourage realistic expectations among newcomers of the stressors inherent in the new job. One way of accomplishing this is to provide a realistic job preview that details the most commonly experienced stressors and effective ways of coping (Wanous l992). Newcomers who have an accurate view of what they will encounter can preplan coping strategies and will experience less reality shock from those stressors about which they have been forewarned.
Secondly, organizations should make numerous sources of accurate information available to newcomers in the form of booklets, interactive information systems or hotlines (or all of these). The uncertainty of the transition into a new organization can be overwhelming, and multiple sources of informational support can aid newcomers in coping with the uncertainty of their new jobs. In addition, newcomers should be encouraged to seek out information during their socialization experiences.
Thirdly, emotional support should be explicitly planned for in designing socialization programmes. The supervisor is a key player in the provision of such support and may be most helpful by being emotionally and psychologically available to newcomers (Hirshhorn l990). Other avenues for emotional support include mentoring, activities with more senior and experienced co-workers, and contact with other newcomers.