Social & Cultural Capital, Part 1: How to Benefit from Each in the Workplace

Your success on the job often relies on the type of capital you possess. 

We’ve been discussing social and cultural capital over the past few weeks, and these two types of capital are what matter at work. 

To review, social capital is all about the strength of relationships and connections within a group, whereas cultural capital is the shared values and goals that bring a group together.

Social capital can help you achieve more or reach objectives more easily at work. 

In this post, we’ll take a closer look at social capital and see how to assess and build upon it.

Assessing Your Social Capital

Maybe you don’t even know where you stand with your social capital.

After all, it’s not exactly something tangible that you can measure.

The following questions might help you identify where you’re at with your social capital:

  • Do I carry influence? What is my reputation like? Do others see me as strong or weak, reliable or flakey, positive or negative? Do they want to work with me?
  • How strong are my relationships within my team and without? Do I build connections with others across departments? Do I network?
  • Do I build strategic and enduring relationships or just transactional ones?
  • Do I have the energy and influence to mobilize resources and colleagues to support and achieve my goals? 
  • Do I keep abreast of important news and developments within my workplace and industry?

Improving your social capital can enhance your job performance, satisfaction, and career prospects. 

To do so, networking with peers and colleagues in your industry, cultivating relationships based on mutual interests and values, and offering help and support to others are paramount to banking more social capital. 

Aggregate Benefits

Not only does social capital improve individual success and potential, but the entire workplace improves.

Successful workplaces cultivate social structures in which everyone benefits.

This happens through social intercourse, empathy, fellowship, compassion, consideration, and most importantly, trust.

If the social structure benefits only a small group within the workplace, the organization’s aggregate benefits from their social capital decrease.

It feeds into a negative company culture, in which trust is lost, along with the sense of community.

When none of these things are there, those in the social structure can’t rely on each other and cooperation and society collapses.

If you look at your workplace and you cannot identify its values, then that’s a problem.

It means you’ll have a hard time personally building social capital there…as will the workplace, itself.

Building your cultural capital, which relates to your knowledge, skills, and understanding of cultural norms and practices, is also important for career success.

We’ll talk more about that next week.

3 Different Types of Social Capital: Bridging, Bonding, & Linking

Networking.

That’s what everyone advises you to do in order to advance your career.

Why?

Because it brings you social capital. It allows you to build interpersonal relationships, trust, and ultimately (you hope) reciprocity.

But when we’re talking in terms of society at large, what is “social capital”?

Stick with this post, and you’ll learn the general term along with three different types of social capital.

Social Capital, Defined

Oxford Languages defines social capital as:

“the networks of relationships among people who live and work in a particular society, enabling that society to function effectively.”

Social capital is the net gain of human interaction and can be either tangible or intangible.

The outcome might include job opportunities (as described above via networking), favors, or new ideas.

When a group shares values or resources, they can work more effectively together toward a joint mission.

Three Types of Social Capital

There are three different types of social capital: bonding, bridging, and linking.

Bonding Social Capital – this social capital occurs between groups of people or individuals with shared characteristics – like age, hobbies, politics, etc.

This strongest type of social capital develops into close relationships based on shared bonds. Friends, family members, neighbors, church members – all of these groups may result in bonding social capital. These strong connections lead to helping between the individuals or groups, as one is more likely to go the extra mile for someone they know well and feel bonded with. 

For example, who are you more likely to help move? A friend or a stranger? Even a friend of a friend is pushing it.

Bridging Social Capital – this social capital occurs horizontally between socioeconomic groups of the same level. The “bridge” in this instance is a person or acquaintance that might connect two groups or individuals.

For example, Snoop Dogg was asked to appear as a guest on Martha Stewart’s show in 2008. Though they share a similar level of celebrity socioeconomic status, the pair likely would never have met had an intermediary not “bridged” their initial contact. They became fast friends and remain so to this day. 

Linking Social Capital– this social capital occurs vertically between varied socioeconomic groups. The “communities” of similar socioeconomic groups – or individuals in said groups – reach across socioeconomic barriers to build relationships and leverage resources. For example, a pop star may get involved in a music club in an underprivileged community.

Reaching across ‘social boundaries’ through linking benefits both parties, as new contacts and ties are developed. For instance, the CEO of a large company may be introduced to lower-level staff and, in getting to know them, they may better understand their day-to-day and develop more effective work practices. The lower-level staff may also make connections upward, providing them a vertical bridge.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring social capital and how it develops and differs across cultures.

Technology, Social Environments, and the Character of Communication in Culture

Do you view technology as positive or negative in terms of communication?

How does your culture’s social environment dictate aspects of upward mobility and nepotism?

Last week, we talked about nonverbal communication in culture. This week, we’ll discuss how a culture’s technological and social environments direct the ways in which a culture communicates.

Technology

In the West, the ethnocentric view of technology is largely positive.

Workplaces, friends, family. Personal and professional environments are all connected by technology.

Technological implementations and other modernizations gear businesses and societies toward the future. And Western cultures are generally future-oriented, as are their values.

However, visit countries in central Africa, and you might find skepticism about technology. The physical environment, rather than the virtual environment, is more highly valued in such countries.

East Asian cultures typically try to balance both environments equally – the existing traditional environment and the new technological one – as they are considered equally important.

Aside from technology, what workplace factors does a culture’s social environment dictate?

Social Environments

According to a culture’s social environment, various levels of value are placed on:

Each of these plays its role in a culture’s workplace environment.

We’d like to think in Western cultures that it’s not who you know but what you know that gets you hired, as this seems fair and just – justice being a cornerstone value of many Western cultures.

We also know that’s not always the case. Networking can often get a foot in the door more so than one’s own merit. That being said, nepotism is still not favored, due to cultural values of equality.

However, in many different cultures – in Latin America or Africa, for instance – familial ties are often a job qualifier, and there’s nothing wrong with that, even in the case of a better-qualified candidate.

Those cultures who place value on familial ties view nepotism as a demonstration of commitment to family. There is also generally more trust in a family unit than there might be hiring a stranger from the outside.

In those cultures with a low concept obligation to family, social mobility is more accessible by everyone, as those who are willing to actively work toward their ideal career should theoretically be able to climb the ladder of success.

That’s the “American Dream” in a nutshell.

As you might guess, these contrasting views and values can hit a nerve in cross-cultural environments. We’ll talk more about how to lessen the blow next week.