ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2022, Vol. 30 ›› Issue (7): 1463-1481.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2022.01463

• Conceptual Framework • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The antecedents and consequences of workplace loneliness: A regulatory focus theory perspective

CHEN Xiao1, XIE Bin2, PENG Jian3(), NIE Qi4   

  1. 1School of Business, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou 510006, China
    2Physical Education College, Jiangxi Normal University, Nanchang 330022, China
    3School of Management, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
    4College of Economics Management, Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Nanjing 211106, China
  • Received:2021-11-01 Online:2022-07-15 Published:2022-05-17
  • Contact: PENG Jian


With the use of information technology and increased work intensity, employees have less frequent face-to-face and sincere social contact with coworkers; thus, workplace loneliness has become a common problem for employees, which has attracted attention from management practitioners in organizations. Our literature review of workplace loneliness studies suggests that most previous studies have revealed the negative outcomes of workplace loneliness, thus highlighting the importance of focusing on this issue. However, based on the existing literature, we only have a vague understanding of how to prevent and cope with workplace loneliness. To guide employees to cope with workplace loneliness properly, we believe it is necessary to focus on how employees proactively cope with workplace loneliness rather than simply treating them as passive recipients of negative feelings. Understanding how employees cope with workplace loneliness will help propose constructive suggestions for managing it. In addition, to uncovering employees’ coping behaviors related to workplace loneliness, we still need to develop systematic thinking about how to prevent the occurrence of workplace loneliness by addressing the causes of workplace loneliness. Previous studies on workplace loneliness suggest that it is a type of negative emotion derived from a deficiency in high-quality workplace interpersonal relationships. Similarly, Wright and Silard (2021) believe that when employees' actual workplace interpersonal relationships fail to reach the expected level, employees will think that there are deficits in workplace interpersonal relationships and experience loneliness. Wright and Silard’s (2021) view reflects that workplace loneliness is a psychological experience caused by employees' failure to achieve expected social goals. Following this logic, this paper applies regulatory fit theory related to individuals’ self-regulation during the goal-chasing process to understand the generation and coping process of workplace loneliness. Based on the tenets of regulatory fit theory, this paper aims to answer three questions: 1) whether the effects of (in)congruence between leader and follower regulatory focus impact workplace loneliness through the mediating effect of leader-member exchange; 2) whether the effects of (in)congruence between employees and team regulatory focus impact workplace loneliness through the mediating effect of team-member exchange; and 3) how employees choose different social behaviors to cope with experienced workplace loneliness based on different team regulatory focus climate and how different social behaviors impact subsequent job performance. By applying polynomial regression and responding surface analysis methods, we hope to contribute to the studies of workplace loneliness and provide novel understanding about the causes of workplace loneliness. In addition, we hope to contribute to the studies of workplace loneliness by introducing regulatory fit theory to the research field. We believe that understanding individuals’ self-regulation during the process of chasing social goals will help enhance dynamic and systematic knowledge about how employees encounter workplace loneliness and how they cope with such feelings under different situations.

Key words: workplace loneliness, regulatory focus, regulatory fit theory, workplace interpersonal relationships, social behavior

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