Work 72 (4) 1175-1189 [2022-06-21; online 2022-06-21]
Social support from colleagues is a key resource for employees and organizations, with beneficial effects on performance, employee well-being and resilience. Although the importance of social support is well-known, the factors that help to build and maintain social support are not equally well understood. This study analyzes the impact of workgroup characteristics (i.e., workgroup composition regarding national diversity and tenure; workload) and the COVID-19 pandemic on employees' perceptions of instrumental and emotional support, and examines the mediating role of informal interactions. The study is based on responses from 382 seafarers to a cross-sectional online survey. Hypotheses were tested using OLS regression and mediation analysis using PROCESS. Workgroup composition regarding national diversity had indirect effects on social support through informal interactions around social foci (here: joint leisure activities). High workload and pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic reduced interactions around social foci, thus contributing to the erosion of perceived social support. The findings provide insights on the development of social support, suggesting that informal interactions provide an important mechanism for the development of social support at work. From a theoretical perspective, this highlights the value of a relational perspective on the development of social support, a perspective that is based on the insight that social support is embedded in social relationships. From a practical point of view, this indicates that organizations can proactively foster the development of social support through practices that shape workgroup characteristics and social foci.