Date of Award


Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Psychology, PhD


School of Social Science, Politics, and Evaluation

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Ellen Choi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

M. Gloria González-Morales

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Stephen W. Gilliland

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

Stewart Donaldson

Terms of Use & License Information

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rights Information

© 2023 Alyssa Birnbaum


burnout, high quality connections, media naturalness, remote work, videoconference, work engagement

Subject Categories



As companies loosened in-office requirements as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and employees increasingly started working remotely or in a hybrid fashion, interpersonal dynamics amongst coworkers shifted while burnout skyrocketed. This research integrates relational cultural theory, resource-based theories (e.g., conservation of resources theory; Hobfoll, 1989), transmission-based theories (e.g., crossover model; Westman, 2001) and media theories (e.g., media naturalness theory; Kock, 2004) to highlight the importance of relational interactions and assess whether those interactions can still thrive in a virtual setting. These studies investigate high quality connections (HQCs; Dutton, 2003) – momentary, dyadic, positive interactions – among coworkers to better understand the following research questions: 1) How do HQCs impact burnout and work engagement? 2) What antecedents of HQCs are relevant? 3) Does media naturalness (i.e., the degree that a communication medium feels like a natural interaction) impact HQCs? I conducted two studies using a sequential mixed methods design. In Study 1, two surveys were distributed several days apart, and participants were asked to engage in the Day Reconstruction Method (DRM; Kahneman et al., 2004) during the second timepoint to capture the range of interactions participants engaged in throughout their workday. I measured HQCs’ relationship with work engagement and exhaustion, Dutton’s (2003) proposed pathways to HQCs (i.e., respectful engagement, task enabling, and trusting), the effect of media naturalness (i.e., in-person vs. camera-on videoconference vs. audio or camera-off videoconference) and how media naturalness impacts the relationship between HQC’s pathways and HQCs. Hierarchical regression results from Study 1 (n = 247) revealed that higher levels of HQCs predicted greater end-of-day engagement and lower end-of-day exhaustion. The proposed pathways each individually predicted HQCs, but none of them predicted HQCs in a full model. Multilevel modeling results indicated that audio interactions were less effective at producing HQCs than other forms of interactions, but there was no significant difference between in-person and camera-on videoconference interactions. Furthermore, the pathways did not moderate the relationship between media naturalness and HQCs. In all the tested relationships, burnout (as a control variable) continuously explained the largest proportion of the overall variance, suggesting that it influenced HQCs and its effects. In sum, although HQCs’ pathways warrant further investigation, the Study 1 results demonstrated that engaging in higher quality connections throughout the day led to greater engagement and less exhaustion at the end of the day, and that phone calls or camera-off videoconferences were less likely to generate HQCs than in-person or camera-on videoconferences. The findings also suggest that burnout plays a critical role, as burnt out participants were less prone to engage in HQCs or reap the benefits of HQCs. In Study 2, I qualitatively assessed HQCs and media naturalness via 22 semi-structured interviews to code different themes in relation to HQCs and fill the gaps around how and why HQCs occur in different contexts, and how HQCs impact employees’ energy. Analyzing the data using reflexive thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006), I adopted a social constructionist epistemology, a predominantly inductive approach, and a combination of semantic and latent coding (with an emphasis on latent coding). I identified nine themes that both elaborated upon and extended the Study 1 findings. The first themes, categorized under energizing and depleting interactions, include: 1) not all energizing interactions are HQCs, 2) exhausting interactions often come from notoriously difficult individuals, 3) a sense of accomplishment can lead to simultaneous feelings of energy and exhaustion, 4) managers and team climate influence the quality of team member interactions, and 5) sustaining high-quality relationships requires effort and HQC renewal. The second batch of themes, categorized under virtuality and media naturalness, include: 6) the transition from in-person to remote and from remote to in-person require an acclimation period, 7) working in-person generates more interpersonal benefits whereas working virtually confers more personal benefits, 8) in-person interactions are more energizing, for better and for worse, and 9) although camera-on videoconferencing is more beneficial overall for HQCs, there are reasons when camera-off is sufficient. This research aims to ignite HQC research in a post-COVID-19 and increasingly dispersed work landscape. I propose a conceptual model to amplify HQCs in the workplace to encourage new avenues for research. I also offer a range of practical implications for organizations, managers, and individuals to both cultivate HQCs (e.g., recommendations to support and reward relational practices) and encourage balance by preventing burnout (e.g., suggestions to measure burnout and manage employees’ workloads).



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