1. Study suggests middle managers sometimes turn to unethical behavior to face unrealistic expectations

    October 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    While unethical behavior in organizations is often portrayed as flowing down from top management, or creeping up from low-level positions, a team of researchers suggest that middle management also can play a key role in promoting wide-spread unethical behavior among their subordinates.

    In a study of a large telecommunications company, researchers found that middle managers used a range of tactics to inflate their subordinates’ performance and deceive top management, according to Linda Treviño, distinguished professor of organizational behavior and ethics, Smeal College of Business, Penn State. The managers may have been motivated to engage in this behavior because leadership instituted performance targets that were unrealizable, she added.

    When creating a new unit, a company’s top management usually also sketches out the unit’s performance routines — for example, they set goals, develop incentives and designate certain responsibilities, according to the researchers. Middle managers are then tasked with carrying out these new directives. But, in the company studied by the researchers, this turned out to be impossible.

    “What we found in this particular case — but I think it happens a lot — is that there were obstacles in the way of achieving these goals set by top management,” said Treviño. “For a variety of reasons, the goals were unrealistic and unachievable. The workers didn’t have enough training. They didn’t feel competent. They didn’t know the products well enough. There weren’t enough customers and there wasn’t even enough time to get all the work done.”

    Facing these obstacles, middle management enacted a series of moves designed to deceive top management into believing that teams were actually meeting their goals, according to Treviño, who worked with Niki A. den Nieuwenboer, assistant professor of organizational behavior and business ethics, University of Kansas; and Joa?o Viera da Cunha, associate professor, IESEG School of Management.

    “It became clear to middle managers that there was no way their people could meet these goals,” said Treviño. “They got really creative because their bonuses are tied to what their people do, or because they didn’t want to lose their jobs. Middle managers exploited vulnerabilities they identified in the organization to come up with ways to make it look like their workers were achieving goals when they weren’t.”

    According to the researchers, these strategies included coopting sales from another unit, portraying orders as actual sales and ensuring that the flow of sales data reported in the company’s IT system looked normal. Middle managers created some of these behaviors on their own, but they also learned tactics from other managers, according to the researchers, who report their findings in Organization Science, online now.

    Middle managers also used a range of tactics to coerce their subordinates to keep up the ruse, including rewards for unethical behavior and public shaming for those who were reluctant to engage in the unethical tactics.

    “Interestingly, what we didn’t see is managers speaking up, we didn’t see them pushing back against the unrealistic goals,” said Treviño. “We know a lot about what we refer to as ‘voice’ in an organization and people are fearful and they tend to keep quiet for the most part.”

    The researchers suggested that the findings could offer insights into other scandals, such as the Wells Fargo and the U.S. Veteran Administration hospital misconduct. They added that top management in organizations should do more in-depth work to institute realistic goals and incentives.

    “Everybody has goals and goals are motivating, but there are nuances,” said Treviño. “What goal-setting theory says is that if you’re not committed to the goal because you think it’s unachievable, you’ll just throw your hands up and give up. Most front-line employees wanted to do that. But the managers intervened, coercing them to engage in the unethical behaviors.”

    This type of deception can harm an organization in several ways, including its bottom line through the awarding of bonuses based on this deceptive performance, but also because upper management made strategic decisions and allocated resources based on the unit’s feigned success.

    “How can you lead a company if the performance information you get is fake? You end up making bad decisions,” den Nieuwenboer said.

    One of the researchers gathered data for over a year as part of an ethnographic study, a type of study that requires researchers to immerse themselves in the culture and the lives of their subjects. In this case, the ethnographer studied the implementation of a new unit in the telecom company. As part of the data collection, the researcher spent 273 days shadowing workers, 20 days observing middle managers, listened to approximately 15 to 22 informal — lunch or watercooler — breaks between workers per week and conducted 105 formal interviews. Interactions on the phone, through email and in face-to-face meetings were observed and documented.

    “One of the advantages that this kind of data affords you is the opportunity to observe what’s going on across hierarchical levels,” said Treviño. “The middle management role is largely an invisible role. As a researcher, you just don’t get to see that role very often.”


  2. To kickstart creativity, offer money, not plaudits, study finds

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    How should employers reward creative types for turning in fresh, inventive work: with a plaque or a party recognizing their achievement, or with cold, hard cash? According to new research co-written by a University of Illinois expert in product development and marketing, it’s all about the money, honey.

    In contexts where a premium is placed on being original, social recognition as a reward for an especially imaginative piece of work doesn’t necessarily enhance creativity, says published research co-written by Ravi Mehta, a professor of business administration at Illinois.

    “The general consensus in the research literature on creativity is that money hurts creativity,” Mehta said. “But most of that prior research was conducted with children as the test subjects, and the participants were not specifically told that the reward was for being creative. So what is it about the contingency of rewards that impacts creativity, and would adults respond to all types of creativity-contingent rewards the same way?”

    Across five experiments, Mehta and his co-authors examined the role of creativity-contingent monetary rewards versus creativity-contingent social-recognition rewards on creative performance, providing new insights into the underlying motivational processes through which these rewards affect creativity.

    The experiments demonstrated that, within the context of creativity contingency, monetary rewards induce “a performance focus,” while social-recognition rewards induce “a normative focus,” according to the paper. The researchers found that the former enhances one’s motivation to be original, thereby leading to more inventiveness in a creative task, while the latter hurts it.

    “We found that if you tell people to be creative and then give them monetary rewards, they will be more creative,” Mehta said. “But wouldn’t the same be true of all rewards? If you tell people to be creative and then give them a social-recognition reward instead of money, then they’ll be just as creative as those you reward with money, right? We found no empirical evidence for that.”

    Mehta said social recognition is “all about people knowing about you and your work, and thereby influencing one to act more in accordance with social norms,” whereas creativity means “coming up with something different, something novel, something that is not the norm.”

    “As adults, we don’t want to come up with something that’s too radical, too out-there, especially when we know that our peers will be judging us,” he said. “Most of our daily activities as working adults are about adhering to social norms. We don’t want to stand out too much.”

    But when a monetary reward is dangled, people amp up their performance and consciously try to “blow the doors off the competition” in terms of creativity, Mehta said.

    “When you ask someone to be creative, you’re asking them to be transgressive, to think beyond social norms and thought processes that are not automatic,” he said. “That’s why a social-recognition reward kills creativity, because it makes creators more risk-averse. It appeals to conformity, to not standing out, which drives you to the middle, not the edge. It compels you to fall in line with social norms, and there’s less motivation to be creative.

    “People who value creativity value the bizarre, the stuff that’s out there. Therefore, they’re less likely to care about the approval of others, or a sense of belonging with their peers.”

    The research has practical applications for how people generate creative ideas, and how to motivate creative-class employees.

    “There’s a trend among companies for crowdsourcing ideas or user-generated content,” Mehta said. “Virtually all social media is user- or consumer-driven. This ought to point them in the right direction: Money talks, but social recognition doesn’t.”

    The research also is applicable to people who work at ad agencies or in creative fields.

    “A little caveat, though: People in those fields are expected to be creative, so social recognition also would work for them,” Mehta said. “But more money certainly wouldn’t hurt them, either. In that case, both rewards would lead to more creativity.”

    The paper will be published in the Journal of Consumer Research.


  3. Coping with stressful organizational change

    October 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Inderscience press release:

    Stress is not a recent phenomenon, but the modern work environment seems to highlight its detrimental effects on employees. This is no more obvious than during times of organisational change. Research published in the International Journal of Work Organisation and Emotion, considers the impact of such changes on workers in a healthcare authority in New Zealand, highlighting the problems that any organization might face under such circumstances and pointing to possible methods to cope and remediate employee stress.

    Stress is present to some degree in any organizational context as employees, including managers, grapple with a host of work demands, suggests Roy Smollan of the Department of Management, at Auckland University of Technology. Individuals all have different coping strategies although ultimately not everyone copes. It all depends on the specific stressors, the individual’s personality, emotional intelligence, and their social identity. Moreover, specific stressors need tailored coping strategies, suggests Smollan. He reports that stress is exacerbated when processes such as organizational change exist in a cloud of ambiguity and uncertainty, when those processes are undertaken without consultation with employees, and when changes are either miscommunicated or not communicated at all.

    Smollan’s case study of a New Zealand healthcare authority undergoing major restructuring represents a quite unique qualitative examination of the stresses of work life as those involved are caught up in the tumultuous processes of organizational change. It focused on how individuals attempted to maintain their psychological wellbeing during these changes and learned to cope with the stress. Fundamentally, while many people involved eschewed help from others and relied more on their strengths, in part for fear of appearing weak, accessing support networks was critical for others. For all involved being proactive in problem solving and managing one’s thoughts and emotions during stressful times were nevertheless important for everyone involved.

    “Managers have a key role to play in anticipating when organizational change may elicit stress and in helping those affected to cope with it,” concludes Smollan.


  4. Seeking feedback not always sufficient for stimulating creativity

    by Ashley

    From the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA) press release:

    It is widely believed that seeking feedback from colleagues, managers, friends and family enhances employees’ creativity. But is this always the case? No, a positive effect depends on the work environment. This is the conclusion of new joint research study led by UvA work and organizational psychologist Roy Sijbom. The team’s findings were recently published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

    The notion that obtaining external feedback about one’s ideas is essential for increasing creativity is deeply rooted in society. For example, entrepreneurs are encouraged to engage customers in order to ascertain whether their business model is viable and academics attend conferences to obtain feedback on their research results. An implicit assumption is that individuals who have obtained feedback will also actually (be able to) utilize it.

    ‘The idea is simple: seeking feedback from different sources – also known as feedback source variety — benefits one’s creativity since it leads to a greater diversity of viewpoints’, says Sijbom. ‘And the more diverse the viewpoints, the more it benefits one’s creativity because by combining and integrating all the different viewpoints new perspectives will emerge that in turn will result in more creativity. The question, however, is whether these beneficial effects always occur.’

    The researchers examined how specific characteristics of the immediate work environment influence the relationship between feedback source variety and creative performance. They hereby focused on two elements that are typical for contemporary work environments: the perceived rate of change of performance standards (performance dynamism) and the extent to which employees feel they have sufficient time to develop creative ideas at work (experienced creative time pressure). ‘We discovered an exponential relationship between the search for input from a variety of feedback sources and creativity, but only when performance standards within an organization are changing and when a relatively low creative time pressure is experienced‘, says Sijbom.

    Sijbom offers several recommendations: ‘The most important is that when an organization stimulates feedback seeking, it needs to ensure that the work environment is optimal enough to utilize the benefits of feedback. In a more concrete sense, organizations can, for example, consider using feedback workshops in which employees are encouraged to reflect on diverse feedback and equipped with techniques and strategies on how to incorporate feedback in their daily work. In addition, managers should not only stimulate their employees to actively cultivate relationships with potential feedback sources within and outside the organization, but also provide sufficient time to process the feedback obtained from these relationships.’

    The research project consisted of two studies. In the first study, the researchers used online questionnaires to obtain data from 1,031 employees who work in consultancy. In the second study, 181 ‘caretakers’ — nurses and other care professionals — in hospitals were asked to complete a survey, but the creative achievements were assessed by their direct managers.


  5. Study suggests abusive bosses may feel good – but only for a while

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Being a jerk to your employees may actually improve your well-being, but only for a short while, suggests new research on abusive bosses co-authored by a Michigan State University business scholar.

    Bullying and belittling employees starts to take its toll on a supervisor’s mental state after about a week, according to the study, which is published in the Academy of Management Journal.

    “The moral of the story is that although abuse may be helpful and even mentally restorative for supervisors in the short-term, over the long haul it will come back to haunt them,” said Russell Johnson, MSU associate professor of management and an expert on workplace psychology.

    While numerous studies have documented the negative effects of abusive supervision, some bosses nevertheless still act like jerks, meaning there must be some sort of benefit or reinforcement for them, Johnson said.

    Indeed, the researchers found that supervisors who were abusive felt a sense of recovery because their boorish behavior helped replenish their mental energy and resources. Johnson said it requires mental effort to suppress abusive behavior — which can lead to mental fatigue — but supervisors who act on that impulse “save” the mental energy that would otherwise have been depleted by refraining from abuse.

    Johnson and colleagues conducted multiple field and experiments on abusive bosses in the United States and China, verifying the results were not culture-specific. They collected daily survey data over a four-week period and studied workers and supervisors in a variety of industries including manufacturing, service and education.

    The benefits of abusive supervision appeared to be short-lived, lasting a week or less. After that, abusive supervisors started to experience decreased trust, support and productivity from employees — and these are critical resources for the bosses’ recovery and engagement.

    According to the study, although workers may not immediately confront their bosses following abusive behavior, over time they react in negative ways, such as engaging in counterproductive and aggressive behaviors and even quitting.

    To prevent abusive behavior, the researchers suggest supervisors take well-timed breaks, reduce their workloads and communicate more with their employees. Communicating with workers may help supervisors by releasing negative emotions through sharing, receiving social support and gaining relational energy from their coworkers.

    Co-authors are Xin Qin from Sun Yat-sen University, Mingpeng Huang from the University of International Business and Economics, Qiongjing Hu from Peking University and Dong Ju from Communication University of China.


  6. When it comes to looking for jobs, it’s not how many you know, but how well you know them

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences press release:

    While online networking sites enable individuals to increase their professional connections, to what extent do these ties actually lead to job opportunities? A new study in the INFORMS journal Management Science finds that, despite the ability to significantly increase the number of professional connections and identify more job leads with limited effort on these sites, unless the connection is a strong one, they typically will not lead to job offers.

    The study, “To Be or Not to Be Linked: Online Social Networks and Job Search by Unemployed Workforce,” was conducted by Rajiv Garg of the University of Texas and Rahul Telang of Carnegie Mellon University.

    The authors surveyed 424 LinkedIn users (all of whom were college graduates and either current or recent job seekers) regarding five major job search avenues: Internet sites (e.g., Monster.com), online social networking sites (e.g., LinkedIn), offline friends and family, newspapers and other print media, and recruiting agencies and career centers.

    The study showed that the highest number of job leads were generated by the Internet job boards, followed by LinkedIn. And while on LinkedIn, weaker ties provided marginally more job leads than strong connections, actual interviews and job offers resulted primarily from strong connections. On average, a 10 percent increase in the number of strong connections on social networking sites resulted in a .7 percent increase in the number of job offers, while a 10 percent increase in the number of weaker connections actually caused a 1.3 percent decrease in the number of job offers.

    “We found that strong ties have a significant and positive effect on job interviews,” said Telang. “Weak ties, on the other hand, while they had a greater impact on job leads, have a statistically insignificant impact on job interviews.

    “One possible interpretation is that, for leads to convert into interviews, your connections will most likely be required to conduct follow up on their end, such as make phone calls or provide recommendations,” added Telang. “If the connection is weak, these individuals may be less likely to undertake these efforts.”


  7. Gaining influence over others does not increase autonomy

    August 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Kent press release:

    Moving up the greasy pole in the office does not make people feel more personally free, new research has shown.

    The research, from the University of Kent, looked at whether exercising influence over others in social situations, such as at work, leads to a greater sense of personal freedom or ‘autonomy’.

    The study found that there was no correlation between elevated social influence, or ‘power’ and elevated personal freedom, suggesting that the relationship between influence and autonomy diminishes with increasing levels of power.

    However, the research, by Dr Mario Weick and Stefan Leach of the University’s School of Psychology and Dr Joris Lammers from the University of Cologne, Germany, did find that a lack of personal power correlates with a lack of social power.

    In one study 800 people from the US, UK, Germany and India were asked to recall events they thought of as either high or low in influence and high or low in autonomy. The researchers then asked participants how influential and autonomous they felt in these situations.

    A second study, asking 200 people to report how much influence and autonomy they experience in their everyday lives, confirmed that the relationship between influence and autonomy grows weaker with increasing levels of power.

    The research suggests that gaining influence over people does not lead to increased personal autonomy. Among the reasons for this, the researchers suggest, is that with every gain in discretionary abilities and control, for instance at work, individuals also gain additional responsibilities and often face an increase in scrutiny.


  8. ‘Smiley’ emojis in formal workplace e-mails could create frowns

    August 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev press release:

    A smiley face emoji and similar emoticons included in work-related e-mails may not create a positive impression and could even undermine information sharing, according to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU).

    “Our findings provide first-time evidence that, contrary to actual smiles, smileys do not increase perceptions of warmth and actually decrease perceptions of competence,” explained Dr. Ella Glikson, a post-doctorate fellow at the BGU Department of Management, Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management. “In formal business e-mails, a smiley is not a smile.”

    According to a new paper, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers from BGU, University of Haifa and Amsterdam University conducted a series of experiments with a total of 549 participants from 29 different countries.

    In one experiment, the participants were asked to read a work-related e-mail from an unknown person and then evaluate both the competence and warmth of that person. The participants all received similar messages. Some included smileys while others did not. The results demonstrated that in contrast to face-to-face smiles, which increase both competence and warmth, the smileys in an e-mail had no effect on the perception of warmth, and in fact had a negative effect on the perception of competence.

    “The study also found that when the participants were asked to respond to e-mails on formal matters, their answers were more detailed and they included more content-related information when the e-mail did not include a smiley,” says Dr. Glikson. “We found that the perceptions of low competence if a smiley is included in turn undermined information sharing,”

    In another experiment, the use of a smiley was compared to a smiling or neutral photograph. The findings show that in case of a photograph, a smiling sender was perceived as more competent and friendly than a neutral one. However, when e-mail on formal work-related matters included a smiley, the sender was perceived as less competent. The smiley did not influence the evaluation of the sender’s friendliness.

    Contributing to the ongoing discussion regarding the role of gender in use and interpretation of emoticons, this study found that when the gender of the e-mail writer was unknown, recipients were more likely to assume that the e-mail was sent by a woman if it included a smiley. However, this attribution did not influence the evaluation of competence or friendliness.

    “People tend to assume that a smiley is a virtual smile, but the findings of this study show that in the case of the workplace, at least as far as initial ‘encounters’ are concerned, this is incorrect,” Dr. Glikson says. “For now, at least, a smiley can only replace a smile when you already know the other person. In initial interactions, it is better to avoid using smileys, regardless of age or gender.”

    Dr. Cheshin of the Department of Human Services at the University of Haifa, and Prof. Gerben van Kleef of Amsterdam University also participated in the study. The study was funded by a grant from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

     


  9. Study suggests managers can help prevent employees from working while sick

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    A new study indicates that managerial support can help prevent employees who work extremely hard out of an obsessive drive (‘workaholics’) from forcing themselves to attend work when feeling sick. Such support from managers can also help address work-family conflict in workaholics.

    Increasing the awareness of supervisors of the harmful consequences and costs associated with showing up to work while ill (presenteeism) could allow them to recognise the value of rest and recovery. This could help prevent employees from feeling unable to cope efficiently with obligations pertaining to work and family.

    Managers should be trained to develop supportive leadership skills that are able to function as a protective factor buffering the detrimental association between an overwhelming compulsion to work and presenteeism,” said Dr. Greta Mazzetti, lead author of the International Journal of Psychology study.


  10. Study suggests how we balance work, family life may be learned from our parents

    August 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    The extent to which we prioritise work versus family life may be shaped by our childhood experiences in the family home, according to a study co-authored by Dr Ioana Lupu from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

    Previous work-life balance research has focused more on the organisational context or on individual psychological traits to explain work and career decisions. However, this new study, published in Human Relations, highlights the important role of our personal history and what we subconsciously learn from our parents.

    “We are not blank slates when we join the workforce — many of our attitudes are already deeply engrained from childhood,” according to co-author by Dr Ioana Lupu.

    The study argues that our beliefs and expectations about the right balance between work and family are often formed and shaped in the earliest part of our lives. One of the most powerful and enduring influences on our thinking may come from watching our parents.

    The research is based on 148 interviews with 78 male and female employees from legal and accounting firms. Interviewees were sorted into four categories by the researchers: (1) willingly reproducing parental model; (2) reproducing the parental model against one’s will; (3) willingly distancing from the parental model; (4) and distancing from the parental model against one’s will.

    The study shows a number of differences between women and men who grew up in ‘traditional’ households where the father had the role of breadwinner while the mother managed the household. Male participants who grew up in this kind of household tended to be unaffected by the guilt often associated with balancing work and family.

    Male participant in the study: “I’ve always had a very strong work ethic drilled into me anyway, again by my parents, my family. So, I never needed anyone looking over my shoulder or giving me a kick up the backside and telling me I needed to do something — I’d get on and I’d do it. So, I found the environment [of the accountancy firm] in general one that suited me quite well.” (David, Partner, accountancy firm, two children).

    Women on the other hand were much more conflicted — they reported feeling torn in two different directions. Women who had stay-at-home mothers “work like their fathers but want to parent like their mothers,” says Dr Lupu.

    Female participant in the study: “My mum raised us…she was always at home and to some extent I feel guilty for not giving my children the same because I feel she raised me well and she had control over the situation. I’m not there every day … and I feel like I’ve failed them in a way because I leave them with somebody else. I sometimes think maybe I should be at home with them until they are a bit older.” (Eva, director, accountancy firm, two children).

    Women who had working mothers are not necessarily always in a better position because they were marked by the absence of their mothers. A female participant in the study remembers vividly, many years later how her mother was absent whereas other children’s mothers were waiting at the school gates.

    Female participant in the study: “I remember being picked up by a child-minder, and if I was ill, I’d be outsourced to whoever happened to be available at the time . . . I hated it, I hated it, because I felt like I just wanted to be with my mum and dad. My mum never picked me up from school when I was at primary school, and then everybody else’s mums would be stood there at the gate . . . And it’s only now that I’ve started re-thinking about that and thinking, well isn’t that going to be the same for [my son] if I’m working the way I am, he’s going to have somebody picking him up from school and maybe he won’t like that and is that what I want for my child?” (Jane, Partner, law firm, one child and expecting another).

    An exception was found in female participants whose stay-at-home mothers had instilled strong career aspirations into them from an early stage. In these cases, the participants’ mothers sometimes set themselves up consciously as ‘negative role models’, encouraging their daughters not to repeat their own mistake.

    Female participant in the study: “I do remember my mother always regretting she didn’t have a job outside the home and that was something that influenced me and all my sisters. […] She’d encourage us to find a career where we could work. She was quite academic herself, more educated than my father, but because of the nature of families and young children, she’d had to become this stay-at-home parent.” (Monica, director, AUDIT, one child)

    “We have found that the enduring influence of upbringing goes some way towards explaining why the careers of individuals, both male and female, are differentially affected following parenthood, even when those individuals possess broadly equivalent levels of cultural capital, such as levels of education, and have hitherto pursued very similar career paths,” says Dr Lupu.

    She says the research raises awareness of the gap that often exists between unconscious expectations and conscious ambitions related to career and parenting.

    “If individuals are to reach their full potential, they have to be aware of how the person that they are has been shaped through previous socialisation and how their own work?family decisions further reproduce the structures constraining these decisions,” says Dr Lupu.