Theoretical context of occupational interaction
In a broad sense, occupational interaction refers to interpersonal interactions brought about by work and occupational demands. Occupational interaction, which serves as a critical component of individual social networks, exists in every workplace (Bian 2004). Relevant studies indicate that, just as in other individual social networks, structure and features of occupational interaction are under substantial influences from field domain (e.g., corporate organizational structure and environment) and individual positions (Han 1996; Carroll and Teo 1996; Lazega and Duijn, 1997; Cogliser and Schriesheim 2000; Cole et al. 2002; Hao and Bian 2014). More importantly, as contact objects of occupational interaction hold resources of diverse natures and quantities, they may exert a great impact on individual labor market outcomes, just as is true of the social capital brought by relatives and friends. As a result, the occupational interaction process is also a process of social capital accumulation, mobilization, and use in the workplace (Bian 2004).
In the field of social capital studies, the theory that occupational interaction as a relationship characteristic affects labor market outcomes was first presented by Bian and Logan (1996). From a binary viewpoint of nation and market, power relationship interactions within an organization (e.g., by associating with superiors and leaders that represent hierarchical powers), market link interaction outside an organization (e.g., by associating with market main bodies out of the workplace), non-power interaction within an organization (e.g., having contact with technologies and machines instead of people), and so on were adopted to generalize types of occupational attributes. However, in conducting empirical research, different jobs were simply categorized into the three types mentioned above, and such a method appears to be slightly subjective. In subsequent studies, therefore, Bian (2004) officially put forward concepts of “Hierarchy Association” and “Markets Relationship” based on the 1999 Survey Data of five cities in China. In addition, Hierarchy Association and Markets Relationship are degrees with a series of occupational types that can be measured and treated as explanatory variables of social capital. Such a study provides concepts that operationalize occupational interaction theories of society in the transforming stage by comparing national and market forces.
On the basis of Bian’s studies, analytical insights into occupational interaction can be thought of as position features of social networks, described by Hao and Bian (2014), who classify occupational interactions into outward, internal, and bridged connections, instead of the perspective of the nation-market forces. Among them, great heterogeneity exists between objects and actors of external connections as non-repetitive information can be offered to the latter. Regarding internal connections, objects and actors are significantly homogeneous; however, considering that they belong to an identical bureaucracy, related organizational resources are abundant. Bridged connections are similar to those of structural holes and across structural holes; not only can non-repetitive information be provided but also owns powerful organizational resources. Although trichotomy here fails to be carried out from a binary perspective of nation and market, it offers a perspective of occupational interaction observation for society in a transitional period together with other social situations. In this paper, by integrating analytical insights from Bian (2004) and Hao and Bian (2014), an occupational interaction concept of internal/external connections is adopted based on network locations, so as to analyze its influence on individual labor market outcomes.
The function of occupational interaction
In international sociology study circles, sociologists have been paying close attention to the impact of social networks on individual career development very early (Burt 1992, 2000; Meverson 1994; Podolny and Baron 1997; Kim 2001). Such research, however, emphasizes the measurement and analysis of network structures and in most cases focuses on social network location characteristics of occupational communicators instead of the direct measurement of occupational interactions as social capital. In the organizational management domain, relevant leader-member exchange (LMX) theory indicates that the closer the relationship between leaders and employees is, the higher the possibility that leaders will give priority to in-circle members (Law et al. 2000; Scandura and Schriesheim 1994). In addition, when the quality of interactions between leaders and members is high, it is more likely that the latter will obtain more resources, information, authorizations, etc. (Dienesch and Liden 1986). Leaders are even willing to assist members within the circle to formulate occupational planning and goals and take advantage of their own social networks to provide aid in objective fulfillment (Sparrowe and Liden 2005; Han 2010). In the case that the relationship between leaders and members is positive, or has a higher exchange quality, member career satisfaction also increases (Schriesheim et al. 1998; Wayne et al. 1999). At the same time, it is more probable that employees will achieve professional success (Ng et al. 2005; Breland et al. 2007).
For studies in China, despite the fact that quantitative research in this domain originated with Bian et al. (Bian and Logan 1996; Bian 2004), the direct association between occupational interaction and labor market outcomes has not been analyzed specifically. Other scholars stress human relationships and the importance of social intercourse in particular workplaces. Some research conducted in English found that the leader-member relationship observed in China is similar to LMX in Western societies, although the former is usually extended to a close, private relationship outside of the workplace (Law et al. 2000). For example, according to the paternalistic leadership style in China (Cheng et al. 2002; 2004), leaders take particular care of subordinates who have a preferable relationship with them, and may even practice favoritism (Westwood and Chan 1992). Especially at times of failure or the unsoundness of formal organizational institutions, the exchange relation between superiors and subordinates turns into an alternative mechanism in such formal institutions to manage individual development (Peng and Heath 1996). As far as research in China is concerned, according to the findings of Ruan et al. (1990), the Chinese attach more importance to workplace-based karmic connection networks than do Westerners, which implies that occupational interaction has a special meaning for Chinese society. In line with Liu et al. (2008), by analyzing paired data of employees, colleagues, and direct leadership in manufacturing enterprises, it is found that the leader-member relationship has a significant influence on employee’s career development prospects. For similar findings, please refer to psychological studies by Li and Tu (2011), as well as management research conducted by Han and Yang (2012). In addition to this, studies on the floating population indicate that the professional network has a special value for migrants, especially migrant workers (Li 1996; Liu 2001; Cao 2003).
Nevertheless, the relevant international and Chinese research mentioned above not only is limited in number but also suffers from three limitations. First, studies on occupational interaction only explore the leader-member relationship. As described above, occupational interaction does not simply refer to the connection between workers and leaders; it should also include communications between hierarchy leaders and colleagues within a workplace, as well as interactions with staff from other workplaces. Second, all the above literature adopts cross-sectional dataFootnote 1 without taking endogeneity problems in social capital into account. In other words, while personal abilities (including character and extroversion) may influence both occupational interactions and career development, it is possible that a reciprocal causation relation exists between the situation of career and workplace social capital. Therefore, statistical correlation found by empirical analysis cannot be employed to prove without a doubt that occupational interaction has a causal influence on career development. Third, previous research fails to emphasize differences in occupational interaction and traditional social capital based on affinity (relatives, friends, etc.). Furthermore, such network component differences may lead to a phenomenon whereby both are provided with diverse features at the time of exerting labor market effects.
Concepts of internal/outward occupational interactions
As mentioned above, the concept of occupational interactions can be operationalized from different perspectives. In terms of feature analysis on intercourse objects, it can be divided into Hierarchy Association and Markets Relationship (Bian and Logan 1996; Bian 2004). But, if analyzed based on the relative location of social networks, it is otherwise categorized as internal/outward associations, etc. (Hao and Bian 2014). In this paper, the concept of occupational interaction is operationalized as the continuation of the location viewpoint described by Hao and Bian (2014). However, it is important to improve on the three types of measurements for occupational interactions.
First, it is irrational to adopt interaction frequencies with clients, service objects, and customers or with different kinds of guests. For example, interaction frequency between workers in service jobs and clients/customers is significantly higher than for employees in managerial posts and so thus may only reflect differences in positions and even the higher frequency-associated disadvantages in job characteristics. After preliminary testing of JSNET2009 data, it is found that, after controlling for profession, interaction frequency with clients/customers has a significant negative correlation to incomes and job levels (among other factors) of workers. Such a result supports our speculations. Interactions with clients/customers may only embody job characteristics in the secondary labor market. Second, “bridged connection” is defined as interactions with agents of other units and organizations, according to Hao and Bian (2014). However, the corresponding measurement becomes interaction with other units (hierarchy departments/units and other departments) without stressing the “agents”. Consequently, what were described as bridged connections in early studies is deemed to be reflections of “outward connections” in most cases.
In this paper, a binary method of “internal interaction” and “outward interaction” is presented and adopted. Here, we emphasize that internal interaction in a workplace refers to interpersonal interactions inside the unit, while an outward interaction in a workplace consists of interpersonal interactions performed outside of the workplace due to job demands. Both internal and outward interactions are specially carried out as a result of professions and jobs; their differences lie in interactions with relatives and friends in a general sense. To a certain extent, the homogeneity of internal interaction is obvious; in comparison, outward interactions can be involved with more extensive organizational resources and even give rise to connections similar to structural holes and across structural holes (Hao and Bian 2014).
It is worth noting that the internal interaction and outward interaction concepts utilized for the workplace are related to the concept of homophilous resources presented in the latest international literature, although they differ from each other in essence. According to Chen and Volker (2016), under the market economy condition, patrons and job seekers with the “same post” (or in the same trade) are able to intensify pull effects of social capital on incomes, status, etc. That is, the homogeneity of “having the same post” will enlarge the effect of social capital. In terms of the internal interaction in a workplace proposed here, it largely belongs to the category of having the same post. What it measures, however, is not a single patron but the intercourse object of the entire unit. With regard to outward interaction, it not only covers those of the same post from diverse units but also consists of those from different posts and units. It is also about measurements at the group level, rather than the individual level.
Three hypotheses of occupational interaction
For internal and outward interactions, the social resources of others can theoretically be brought to individuals through occupational interactions. Both, therefore, can be classified into “available social capital,”Footnote 2 which is the “network social capital” defined by Mouw (2003) or the “possessive social capital” described by Zhao (1998). In spite of the different language, those concepts all stand for the sum total of potential social capital embedded in a given egocentric network (Chen and Fan 2011). From the viewpoint of occupational interaction element features, objects of occupational interactions reflect the network structure of laborers in the field domain of work, while the frequency of interaction signifies the possibility for laborers to retrieve resources from the network structure (Bian 2004).
In conformity with market transition theory, thanks to the transformation from planned economy to market economy, the human capital ROI of China gradually increases while the rate of return for political capital gradually decreases (Nee 1989). By contrast, much of the literature emphasizes that China’s social transformation is a process of double intensification including reallocation and market mechanisms reflected in the simultaneous increase in return on revenue for political and human capital, instead of an inversely proportional relationship (Walder 1995; Bian and Logan 1996). In China, human relationships, social networks, and interpersonal interactions are usually the main approaches to bearing, providing, and drawing support from the redistribution of power, which is also known as political resource (Akos 1994; Lin 1995). In this way, the higher the resource content of a social network, the greater the income returns that accumulate will be (Bian and Zhang 2001). On this basis, we speculate that, as a special social capital, the value of occupational interaction in cities will continue to have the ability to absorb external resources for the long term. Based on the above theories and the large corpus of empirical literature about the social capital labor market (see Zhang et al. 2004; Zhang, 2011a; Chen and Fan 2011), we propose hypothesis 1.
Hypothesis 1: Both internal and outward interaction in workplaces contribute to personal income improvement for urban residents.
As mentioned above, outward interaction brings external social resources from other units. Compared with internal interaction, therefore, its resources have greater heterogeneity. In other words, external resources represent a higher power range as well as non-redundant and updated work information (Lin 2008). Thus, it can be further speculated that influences of outward interaction on labor market outcomes should be stronger than internal interaction. From this, hypothesis 2 is presented below.
Hypothesis 2: Internal interaction in the workplace has less influence on income than outward interaction.
According to the findings of Zhang and Cheng (2012), the degree of marketization is able to reduce income effects of potential social capital (attributes such as the upper bound or span of individual social networking, including the New Year Greeting NetworkFootnote 3) and mobilized social network capital (e.g., social intercourse on catering). In other words, the higher the degree of marketization, the weaker the effect of social capital. However, as has been mentioned at the very beginning, occupational interactions are different from individual social capital (Chinese New Year Greeting Network; catering network) based on social relationships such as friends and relatives. The relevant reason is that social ties of occupational contacts are established dependent on job demands and post settings, during which self-selectivity will not be too strong (for nonrandom literatures related to social networks, please see Mouw 2006; McPherson et al. 2001). With this in mind, the degree of “personalization” and “instrumentality” of information and resources transferred by them may become even lower. When compared with social resources based on intimacy networks, however, occupational interaction brings more “specialized” information centering on professional posts or has more influence. In this way, we predict that in departments where the degree of marketization is high, occupational interaction will give rise to stronger effects. Otherwise, in governments and state-owned enterprises with a low degree of marketization, such effects are insignificant. On this basis, hypothesis 3 is put forward.
Hypothesis 3: The influence of occupational interaction on income will be stronger in non-state sectors.