The strong, the weak and the meaningful: Do friends or acquaintances help us get "any" job, or "meaningful" work?



Publication Details

Patulny, R., Ramia, G., Feng, Z., Peterie, M. & Marston, G. (2019). The strong, the weak and the meaningful: Do friends or acquaintances help us get "any" job, or "meaningful" work?. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 39 (5/6), 376-394.


Purpose: Governments increasingly promote employment through social networks (whether via formal job networks or informal personal networks). However, they rarely account for how weak-tie "bridging" networks and strong-tie "bonding" networks differentially affect employment outcomes. Given criticism that (usually weak-tie bridging-focussed) formal job networks are overly focussed on finding entry-level (i.e. any) jobs, it is imperative to understand the impact of strong and weak ties on securing work with good conditions, or of meaning to the worker. Such links are poorly understood in the present literature. The paper aims to discuss this issue.

Design/methodology/approach: This study uses national Australian survey data to assess whether support from close "friends" or distant "acquaintances" is associated with employment outcomes such as finding any work or "meaningful" work.

Findings: The results show that relatively distant ties (close acquaintances) and emotional support from friends are each associated with reduced chances of being an unemployed/discouraged worker. Stronger ties (close friends) are associated with better chances of a having a "meaningful" job.

Practical implications: More attention should be paid to tie strength dynamics and meaningful employment outcomes in the delivery of employment services. In particular, a role for active "close-tie brokers" in promoting networks should be investigated, instead of expecting/pushing the unemployed to rely on either extremely close or distant connections.

Originality/value: This is the first study to find a link between network type and meaningful work, which has important implications for the delivery of employment services.

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