Social Isolation in the Workplace: A Cross-National and Longitudinal Analysis

38 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2011

See all articles by Aleksandra Kacperczyk

Aleksandra Kacperczyk

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT); London Business School

Date Written: November 17, 2011


This study examines the degree of social connectedness in the workplace. Organizational theory and sociology of work lead to the expectation that informal ties have become more prevalent at work over the past two decades. In contrast, influential accounts of decreasing civic engagement would predict that co-worker ties have declined along with increasing social isolation. Using data from two waves of the General Social Survey, we find evidence that co-workers have not absorbed the decline in other social ties; instead, prevalence of co-workers in core discussion networks has significantly decreased between 1985 and 2004. Moreover, cross-national comparisons based on data collected in 29 nations by the International Social Survey Program reveal social isolation in the workplace to be deeper in historically Protestant nations, including the United States. Yet American workers are even more disconnected from close contacts than are workers in other historically Protestant nations. We suggest that historical trends in cultural value orientations shape current constraints of social connectedness at work in the United States and elsewhere. The conclusion offers novel insights on fraying social fabric in the United States and the social implications of the rise of organizations.

Suggested Citation

Kacperczyk, Aleksandra, Social Isolation in the Workplace: A Cross-National and Longitudinal Analysis (November 17, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Aleksandra Kacperczyk (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

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London Business School ( email )

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