Imagine All the People: A Motivated Model of Work-Related Imagined Interactions

By: Beth Schinoff, Kris Byron

Schinoff, B. S., & Byron, K. (in press). Imagine All the People: A Motivated Model of Work-Related Imagined Interactions. Academy of Management Review.


As jobs become increasingly unstable and contingent and employees are increasingly geographically separated and likely to communicate via technology, employees may find it more difficult to feel connected with each other and to navigate work interactions. We theorize that, given such circumstances, employees are likely to engage in work-related imagined interactions, mental simulations of interactions with work-related others. Drawing on a core social motives framework (Fiske, 2010), we propose two primary types of work-related imagined interactions: those aimed at helping employees feel more connected with others (i.e., imagined interactions concerning socio-emotional goals) and those aimed at helping employees gain confidence to influence others (i.e., imagined interactions concerning socio-instrumental goals). We explicate the conditions that motivate employees to imagine each type of imagined interaction and examine the content of these imaginings, explaining with whom they imagine interacting, what the imagined interaction is like, and when the imagined interaction occurs. Our theorizing sheds light on employees’ intrapersonal relational landscape of work. In doing so, we contribute to the management literatures on relationships and social cognition and to the literature on imagined interactions. We conclude by highlighting important implications for both managers and employees.