ECONOMY

Social capital secures careers, scholar says

His research on social capital and its impact on professional success may have been well-publicized abroad, but Nikos Bozionelos, PhD, is hardly known in Greece. Nevertheless, high-prestige international scientific magazines have hosted several of his articles on how connections can secure a good job. «Although the notion of connections is not new, the scientific community has only recently begun studying it properly in the domains of management and administration with the term ‘Social Capital’ coined by US social scientist James Coleman,» says Bozionelos, who is a reader at Durham Business School at the University of Durham in England, one of Europe’s top 20, and a visiting lecturer at the Graduate School of Informatics of the University of Strathclyde in Scotland. In plain terms, social capital could be expressed as «community ties.» One of its versions is what in Greece is known as «meson,» or connections, a term immediately understood by everyone as describing «the achievement of certain objectives with methods that are not compatible with either meritocratic procedures and criteria or the law itself.» The operation of connections signifies the use of contacts with certain people with the ability to affect specific decisions or the flow of some procedures. «In this country it is a common impression that the degree of use of ‘meson’ is very high,» Bozionelos says. «As a result, many Greeks believe that it practically is the only way for an effective and timely completion of everyday transactions, mainly with the state sector, or for meeting certain targets such as finding a job.» He adds however that this phenomenon is not exclusive to Greece. «Its existence is proven in all countries in the world,» the UK-based professor says, adding that «even the best-endowed of us may at some point need their connections.» No less a figure than Albert Einstein used it in 1900 to be hired at the Swiss Patent Office, says Bozionelos. He also explained that although the Social Capital is used in the form of connections, «in other instances it can play a positive role both on a social and on a business level. For example, a survey of executive officers in companies by Professor Ronald Burt of the University of Chicago in the US showed that the use of our contacts in an honest and selfless fashion can improve our performance at work as they facilitate the collection of information in greater quantity, better quality and in good time.» The meaning of connections differs around the world in the degree of use and in the breadth of affairs in which they are used. The terms used to describe this phenomenon are universally negative. For instance in China the term used is ‘Guanxi’ and means «well-connected.» In the professional domain social capital refers to «resources,» or the options at our disposal through interpersonal relations, contacts and our position in a corporation. Recent research cited by Bozionelos concludes that the following three «resources» are offered through social capital: information, mainly about jobs often made known through contacts; influence that can hamper or accelerate decisions for hiring, promoting or funding; and solidarity, which offers psychological assistance and the mutual support to people with common interests. These resources can be combined. They affect developments in our personal and professional life and get results through two very important qualities of social capital: appropriability, which means that interpersonal relations can for a number of aims; and substitutability, which means that social capital can replace quantities, skills and abilities which we may not possess at the degree required. «Let us consider for instance, the hypothetical, although unfortunately realistic, situation in which a person is chosen for a post over other candidates with higher studies and greater experience thanks to knowing some executive officers,» Bozionelos said. «In this case social capital operates as a substitute and a complement to knowledge and experience.»