What does Social Capital mean for an employee?

Monday, 10. July 2017

By Faisal Ghaffar, Innovation Exchange, IBM, Ireland

In our previous post we highlighted the benefits of social technologies adoption in this “Enterprise 2.0” era and discussed the potentials that workplace social interactions data has to offer as a result of social technologies. Then, later in another post, we emphasized the importance and the benefits of combining the social capital with the human capital in Human Resource Management (HRM). We described the social capital and the human capital as complementary to each other for the successful HRM operations. In this blog article we look into the benefits of social capital from an employee’s perspective.

Social capital is a broad term in Sociology and its definition varies among researchers. The term “social capital” has various usages and in one usage, as exemplified by Burt – social capital is realized as the value for individuals’ social relationships with others [1]. Social relationships provide access to resources, information and emotional support. This type of social capital is further theorized by Lin [2]. Generally, benefits received from social relationships can be conceptualized and defined at individual, group or organisational level [3]. Social capital at a group level is beneficial for activities with shared value such as social responsibility. However, social capital at an individual’s level can be used for the benefits of those individuals.

Generally, the value of social capital for an employee is assessed based on its potential impact on the employee. Social capital can be used within an organisation to develop skills and capabilities of employees. Employees can decide whether to focus on their personal internal social capital or external social capital. For example, by focusing on social capital that belongs directly to employees (internal social capital), they  can be aware of their social norms, values and can develop cohesiveness among other employees with shared values. Looking externally, social capital on the other hand, can help employees in deciding where to source the resources, knowledge and information they do not have but require for their success in the organisation.

In order to determine the value, determinants of the social capital that have impact on the employee are identified. Generally, the indicators or elements used to measure social capital fall into four categories: social networks; trust and reciprocity; norms and values and civic engagement [4]. In a systematic review report measuring and valuing social capital [4], a model that summarises the relationships between indicators of social capital, its definition, measurement elements and benefits is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: An integrative model of social capital sources, definitions, measures and values [4]
Figure 1: An integrative model of social capital sources, definitions, measures and values [4]


The first three determinants (Social Networks, Trust and Reciprocity and Norms) can be used to measure social capital value for an employee and the organisation, and a summary of items used under each of the three determinants is presented in Table 1. Social networks and their properties are key elements in measuring the social capital for an employee. Different measures of social networks exert different impact on social capital value. For example, a higher number of social relationships and heterogeneity in relationships have a positive effect on the value of social capital, whereas a higher density of connectedness among friends of an individual has a negative relationship with social capital value.

Table 1: Measurement items employee social capital [4]
Table 1: Measurement items employee social capital [4]


In DEVELOP, we aim to determine the social capital value for employees by analysing their workplace social networks. With the use of computational models (as discussed in our previous post) for social network analysis, DEVELOP aims to measure elements of employee social network measurements that are key contributors to the value of social capital. It is expected that social capital will help in determining personalized learning interventions for the employees to progress their career in the workplace. In our future posts, we will discuss social capital determinants and their impact on employee career development in more detail.  


Find related articles on Social Capital in our blog. You are welcome to discuss this article on Medium.



[1] Burt, R. S. 2005. Brokerage & closure: An introduction to social capital. New York: Oxford University Press.

[2] Lin, N. (2002). Social capital: A theory of social structure and action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[3] Adler, P. S., & Kwon, S. W. (2002). Social capital: Prospects for a new concept. Academy of management review, 27(1), 17-40.

[4] Acquaah, M., Amoako-Gyampah, K., & Gray, B., Nyathi, N. Q. 2014. Measuring and Valuing Social Capital: A Systematic Review. Network for Business Sustainability South Africa. [Retrieved from: nbs.net/knowledge on 8th July, 2017].