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Interpersonal relationships at work have impact on both organizations and employees. This impact can be either positive or negative depending on the nature of the interpersonal relationship. Positive interpersonal relationship can improve individual employee attitudes such as job satisfaction, job commitment, engagement and perceived organizational support (Ellingwood, 2001; Morrison, 2009; Song & Olshfski, 2008; Zagenczyk, Scott, Gibney, Murrell, & Thatcher, 2010). Also negative work attitudes can be reduced when employees discuss bad and unpleasant work experiences (Morrison, 2009; Odden & Sias, 1997; Song & Olshfski, 2008). On an organisational level, valued work relationships can influence organizational outcomes by increasing institutional participation, establishing supportive and innovative climates, increasing organizational productivity and indirectly reducing the intent to turnover (Berman, West, Richter, & Maurice, 2002; Crabtree, 2004; Ellingwood, 2004).

Previous research has examined contextual and demographic antecedents to workplace relationships to better understand what influences the likelihood that employees develop positive relationships at work. One of the key characteristics that has been identified to play a role is personality (Ilies et al., 2009).

According to Akintayo (2012), working environment refers to the immediate task and national environment where an organization draws its inputs, processed it and returned the outputs inform of products or services for public consumption. These include the supplier, customer, stakeholders, social-cultural, economic, technological, managerial and legal environment.

Research in the field of industrial psychology revealed that work environment, which can be measured through employees’ perceptions about the feature of their organisation, has significant relationship with several domains of organisational behaviour such as job performance, organisational commitment, motivation etc. According to Adeniji (2011) researchers in organizational behaviour have long been interested in understanding employees‘ perceptions of the work environment and how these perceptions influence individuals‘ work- related attitudes and behaviours. Early researchers suggested that the social climate or atmosphere created in a workplace had significant consequences- employees‘ perceptions of the work context purportedly influenced the extent to which people were satisfied and perform up to their potential, which in turn, was predicted to influence organizational productivity (e.g Katz & Kahn, 2004; Likert,1997, McGregor, 2000). The construct of climate has been studied extensively and has proven useful in capturing perceptions of the work context (Denisson, 2006; Ostroff, Kinicki & Tamkins, 2007). Climate has been described as an experientially based description of the work environment and, more specifically, employees‘ perceptions of the formal and informal policies, practices and procedures in their organization (Schneider, 2008).  

It is deduced that studies on organizational climate also refers to the work environment since organizational climate, conceptually, is a description of the work environment based on employees’ perceptions. In this study, the researcher probes into the work environment as it affects interpersonal relationship among employees. Also, personality is investigated as a dispositional factor with implications on the level and quality of interpersonal relationships of employees.

1.2          Background of the Study

Work environment on the behaviour of its members has been an important issue of discussion and analysis since long back. In industrial context, the problem of increasing production and making the work environment more pleasant have been approached through the introduction of durable changes in working environment. The environment in work organizations comprises several components of two major categories, namely, physical and psycho-social. During early days of development of industrial psychology only physical environment in work place was given importance and was considered as a predominant determinant of employees’ productivity. Numerous earlier studies examined the effect of illumination, temperature, noise, and atmospheric conditions on productivity of the workers (Bennett, Chitlangia, & Pangnekar, 1977; McCormic & Sanders, 1982; Moreland & Barnes, 1970; Peterson & Gross, 1978; Vickroy, Shaw, & Fisher, 1982). However, no consistent relationship could be noted between these components of physical work environment and performance. After Hawthorne studies industrial psychologists started shifting their attention to the study of social and psychological environment and its effects on employees’ job behaviour.

The recognition of the significant role of psycho-social environment led to the emergence of organizational psychology, and further the concept of ‘quality of work life’. The importance of physical work environment has now been again realized. The modern organizations are making all possible efforts to make work environment more comfortable, safe and healthy, which resulted in emergence of a new branch of industrial/organizational psychology, namely ‘occupational health psychology’. This is a more holistic method of looking at the work environment and the health of the workers.

The influence of organizational climate, which is mostly composed of several organizational, social and psychological factors, has been extensively examined in past two decades. In a number of studies employees’ motivation, job satisfaction, job involvement, job performance, and health have been found to be markedly influenced by psycho-social environment of work organization (Anantharaman & Subha, 1980; Dugdill, 2000; Mishra, 1986; Muchinsky, 1977; Tumuly, Jernigan & Kohut, 1994).

1.3       Statement Of The Problem

Interpersonal relationships among employees pose significant concern to management. This is due to the fact that it has serious implications for organisational outcomes. When employees have negative interpersonal relationships, conflict is the inevitable consequence. Thus, studies have looked into aspects of the work environment that could foster an atmosphere of harmony and cohesiveness in the workplace. Furthermore, a boost to productivity is expected when employees have good interpersonal relationship. This is because ideas will flow more easily through the organisations and problems will be solved more readily.

However, the determinants of positive interpersonal relationships is an issue organisational psychologists have been contending with over the past two decades. Aspects of the work such as job design, feedback, etc and individual factors such as motivation, job involvement, have been the focus of most research. Nevertheless, work environment and personality traits are beginning to surface as relevant predictors of interpersonal relationship. The ability of work environment to stimulate positive interpersonal relations and of personality traits to predispose employees to seeking meaningful relationships in the work place are important discourse in the literature on organisational behaviour.  

Taking this fact into consideration, the present study aimed at examining the influence of work environment and personality traits on interpersonal relationships among employees.

1.4       Objectives Of The Study

The general objective of this study is to investigate the relationship between work environment, big 5 personality traits, and interpersonal relations.

The specific objectives of this study are as follows:

(1)                 To determine the relationship between work environment and interpersonal relationship.

(2)                 To investigate the relationship between openness and interpersonal relationship.

(3)                 To examine the relationship between conscientiousness and interpersonal relationship.

(4)                 To observe the relationship between extraversion and interpersonal relationship.

(5)                 To investigate the relationship between agreeableness and interpersonal relationship.

(6)                 To investigate the relationship between neuroticism and interpersonal relationship.

1.5       Significance Of The Study

This study is important for the following reasons:

Interpersonal relationships have significant impact on productivity among employees. Positive interpersonal relationships enhance cooperation among workers and lead to achievement of organisational goals in due time. More so, management does not spend time on resolving conflict when interpersonal relationships are positive and beneficial. Thus, this study, by exploring the roles of two possible determinants of interpersonal relationships (work environment and personality traits) provides insight into better management practice.  

Consequently, in the presence of positive interpersonal relationships turnover intentions are reduced as employees feel they are part of one big family. Successful organisations have succeeded in retaining their best talents by giving a sense of belongingness to them.

Personality traits are individual factors which employers cannot change, per se. nevertheless, they can be used in determining placements for individuals in different segments of organisations. On the other hand, the work environment can be improved with the aim of fostering positive interpersonal relationships. This study highlights this points by investigating the roles played by work environment and personality.  

1.6 Operational Definition Of Terms

Interpersonal relationship: refers to patterns of interaction with specific partners such as fellow employees over time.

Work Environment: In the context of this study, refers to the psychosocial aspects of the office as perceived by the employee.

Extraversion:  this refers to high energy and activity level, dominance, sociability, expressiveness, and positive emotions as measured by the Big Five Inventory by John, Donahue & Kentle (1991).

Agreeableness:   refers to prosocial orientation, altruism, tender mindedness, trust, and modesty as measured by the Big Five Inventory by John, Donahue & Kentle (1991).

Conscientiousness:  refers to impulse control, task orientation, goal directedness as measured by the Big Five Inventory by John, Donahue & Kentle (1991).

Neuroticism:  refers to anxiety, sadness, irritability, and nervous tension as measured by the Big Five Inventory by John, Donahue & Kentle (1991).

Openness:  refers to the depth and complexity of an individual’s mental and experiential life as measured by the Big Five Inventory by John, Donahue & Kentle (1991).

1.7       Literature Review

1.7.1    Theoretical review

Employee Interpersonal Relationships

Past research has focused on the formation of interpersonal relationships at work as a function of employee demographics and the work environment. Song and Olshfski (2008) proposed that who we claim as our friends is influenced by our family ties, class, ethnic background, race, gender, age, experience, interests, and geography. Many theories support the proposition that demographic characteristics impact social relationships between individuals (Sacco & Schmitt, 2005). Social categorization (Turner, 1987) and social identity theories (Tajfel & Turner, 1986; Turner, 1982) put forth that people categorize themselves and others into in-groups and out-groups according to salient characteristics, including race and sex.

Individuals tend to minimize differences among in-group members and maximize perceived differences between groups. Individuals react more positively to interactions with people in the same group, even when group distinctions are arbitrary (Sacco & Schmitt, 2005; Sherif, Harvey, White, Hood, & Sherif, 1961). Similarly, the similarity-attraction paradigm (Berscheid & Walster, 1978; Byrne, 1971) and relational demography theory (Tsui, Egan, & O’Reilly, 1992; Tsui & O’Reilly, 1989) suggest that demographic similarity leads to attraction and liking and positively impacts the social relationships between employees. Interestingly, these theories suggest that demographic effects on workplace relationships and the consequences of such relationships may occur even without extensive employee interaction.

In addition to demographic antecedents, organizations have many environmental characteristics that can facilitate friendship making (Pogrebin, 1987). Song and Olfshki (2008) suggest that organizational cultures which foster informal communication provide more opportunities to form friendships. Specifically, organizational norms and rules that encourage communication between immediate superiors and subordinates have a positive impact on friendship opportunity. Further, friendships at work may form simply because of the close proximity, interactions and shared experiences of coworkers (Lu, 1999; Berman et al., 2002).

Rousseau (1995) suggested that managers may be instructed to promote a climate of openness and friendship among their staff and to set positive examples of desired workplace relationships. In a study of senior managers, Berman et al. (2002) identified common strategies for promoting a climate of friendship. The strategies included providing employees the opportunity to socialize; encouraging them to act friendly toward one another and to seek each other for emotional support; and training supervisors to establish positive relationships with employees.

Relationship between Personality and Interpersonal Relationships at Work

The research focus thus far on demographic and situational antecedents of interpersonal relationships at work neglects the argument that an individual’s dispositional differences likely also influence the formation of positive work relationships. Indeed, researchers have paid limited attention to identifying individual, non-demographic attributes that facilitate the construction of social ties even though meaningful relationships on the job are likely to be a function of the nature of two people who come together. Developing positive interpersonal relationships at work should be rooted in dispositional differences. Kalish and Robins (2006) suggest that psychological predispositions are critical factors at the most basic level of a social relationship between two individuals. The five-factor model of personality (Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001; Hogan, 1991; Hough & Furnham, 2003), including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (emotional stability), provides a meaningful theoretical framework for postulating the likelihood that certain traits lead to the development of interpersonal relationships at work.

Extraverts are described as energetic, participative, gregarious and expressive. Because they tend to be social, assertive and bold in nature, extraverted individuals should form and maintain interpersonal relationships at work. Employees high on extraversion enjoy socializing and developing relationships. They are therefore more likely to cultivate social interaction and build new connections. Taking a social networks perspective, Kalish and Robins (2006) provide evidence that extraverted workers tend to construct broad, dense, heterogeneous social networks.

Extraverts not only have a higher quantity of interpersonal relationships, but they also perceive those relationships to be of higher quality. Extraverted individuals feel closer to their friends and value those relationships more highly (Berry, Willingham & Thayer, 2000).

Agreeable individuals are described as compassionate, flexible, fair, generous and considerate (Goldberg, 1992). They have the tendency to be highly approachable because of their supportive nature and sensitivity. Costa and McCrae (1992) suggested that agreeable people are altruistic, sympathetic, and eager to help others, with an expectation that such behaviour will be reciprocated. Such individuals strive for cooperation over competition. The formation and development of interpersonal relationship are partially a function of warmth and kindness, both attributes of agreeableness (Sprecher & Regan, 2002). Klein, Lim, Saltz, and Mayer (2004) found that agreeable individuals are central in friendship networks, perhaps due to their longing for close relationships (Graziano, Jensen-Campbell, & Hair, 1996), their ability to provide social and emotional support to others and their welcoming of new friends. Agreeable individuals are predisposed to seek out interpersonally supportive and accepting environments (e.g., Barrick et al., 2002; Wiggins, 1991). Agreeable people strive to foster pleasant and harmonious interpersonal relationships (Ilies et al, 2009) and increase group harmony (Graziano et al., 1996). People prefer to be friends with individuals high on agreeableness because there is less irritation in the friendship (Berry et. al., 2000). They like other people more and tend to be liked by others in return.

Emotionally stable individuals are described as confident, controlled, and well-adjusted. They have a tendency to be calm, unemotional and secure (Barrick & Mount, 1996). These characteristics combined with their positive disposition attract others to emotional stable individuals as a source of support. Emotionally stable individuals are pleasurable to be around because they tend to be happy (Hills & Argyle, 2001; Vitterso, 2001). Contrarily, individuals low in emotional stability (i.e., high in neuroticism) often express anger, moodiness or insecurity and are not central in their friendship networks (Klein et. al., 2004). Individuals high on emotional stability experience more positive relationships with others because they possess higher levels of tolerance, forgiveness, and an even-temperedness resulting in less conflict (Berry et al., 2000; Walker & Gorsuch, 2002). Emotionally stable individuals are more likely to be liked by others, a basic prerequisite for forming and maintaining interpersonal relationships at work (Xia, Yuan, & Gay, 2009).

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