Connecting otherwise disconnected individuals and groups—spanning structural holes—can earn social network brokers faster promotions, higher remuneration, and enhanced creativity. Organizations also benefit through improved communication and coordination from these connections between knowledge silos. Neglected in prior research, however, has been theory and evidence concerning the psychological costs to individuals of engaging in brokering activities. We build new theory concerning the extent to which keeping people separated (i.e., tertius separans brokering) relative to bringing people together (i.e., tertius iungens brokering) results in burnout and in abusive behavior toward coworkers. Engagement in tertius separans brokering, relative to tertius iungens brokering, we suggest, burdens people with onerous demands while limiting access to resources necessary to recover. Across three studies, we find that tertius separans leads to abusive behavior of others, mediated by an increased experience of burnout on the part of the broker. First, we conducted a five-month field study of burnout and abusive behavior, with brokering assessed via email exchanges among 1,536 university employees in South America. Second, we examined time-separated data on self-reported brokering behaviors, burnout, and coworker abuse among 242 employees of U.S. organizations. Third, we experimentally investigated the effects of the two types of brokering behaviors on burnout and abusive behavior for 273 employed adults. The results across three studies showed that tertius separans brokering puts the broker at an increased risk of burnout and subsequent abusive behavior toward others in the workplace.
LEE, J.W., QUINTANE, E., LEE, S.Y., RUIZ, C.U. et KILDUFF, M. (2023). The Strain of Spanning Structural Holes: How Brokering Leads to Burnout and Abusive Behavior. Organization Science, In press.