Christian Kiewitz, University of Dayton – Who is Your Co-Worker?

What do you call the people you work with?

Christian Kiewitz, professor of management at the University of Dayton, says there’s more to a name than you might think.

Christian Kiewitz is a Professor of Management at the University of Dayton, Ohio. His research interests center around problematic behaviors in the workplace, such as micromanagement, abusive supervision, organizational politics and justice, plus such behaviors’ antecedents and effects in conjunction with personality, affect, and stress. His research has appeared in the Academy of Management Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Journal of Management Studies, The Leadership Quarterly, and other academic and professional outlets. He currently serves as an Associate Editor for Group & Organization Management.

Who is Your Co-Worker?

Who is your coworker? A rather simple question; until it isn’t. 

For starters, is your boss or department chair your coworker? Would she consider you a coworker?

Unfortunately, the organizational sciences are of no help here because no clear definition exists of what makes someone a coworker. What? Yes, you heard me, my dear “office mate” or “some colleague you are.”

But why is that a problem?

Let’s consider studies of social support: If employees view their supervisor as a coworker, then measures of supervisor support and measures of coworker support actually measure the same thing.  

And hence we really don’t know if support from the person in charge or from a peer reduces the effects of, say, work stressors.

Clearly, we need a “coworker” definition.

But what should be the basis of it? Is it one’s physical location or how one works with others?

We concluded it is the interdependencies that exist due to work. More precisely, the question of whether person A has to interact with person B to get the job done. If the answer is “yes,” we are one step closer to name person B a coworker. 

Before we can do that, however, we need to be exclusive. First, per our definition, neither your boss nor your direct reports are your coworkers. Second, you need to interact with person B in recognizable intervals. For instance, if you work with someone only occasionally throughout the year, labeling that person a coworker might be a stretch.

And there you have it: 

Coworkers are individuals working in or for the same organization with whom the focal person has to interact to get the job done; it’s not their superior, nor subordinate, and they interact in recognizable intervals that are regulated by the flow of work.

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