Business Research

Professors Forge New Workplace Paths

In the ideal workplace, all job tasks are fulfilling and all policies fair. No one gripes about the boss. Mutual respect for colleagues fuels office relationships, teams operate like functional families, and temporary workers feel embraced by the agencies that send them to work.

In short, work and family not only co-exist peacefully, but each thrives and gives sustenance to the other.

That ideal exists only in theory, but if theory influences reality, the published work of professors at the Hankamer School of Business could be called path forging. Here are descriptions of their work collaborations published in top journals.

Linking Team Resources To Work – Family Enrichment and Satisfaction, Journal of Vocational Behavior, October 2010
Authors: Emily M. Hunter and Dawn Carlson, Baylor; Sara Jansen Perry, University of Houston; Steven A. Smith, University of New Orleans

Teams are more of a workplace norm than a rarity these days, said EMILY HUNTER, assistant professor of Management and Entrepreneurship who also teaches negotiating and conflict management to undergraduate students. When considering team research, think "work spouse," because effective office teams resemble a family by providing a support network and creating a balance between work and home lives.

To gain factual insight about teams, Hunter and other researchers used student groups from universities that were involved in multiple team projects throughout the semester.

"We discovered that individuals working on teams who are similar, familiar, and cohesive tend to experience greater enrichment between work and family and are more satisfied with their work and family lives," Hunter said. "Essentially, we demonstrated that teamwork holds the potential to benefit employees and students by providing them with resources to manage conflicts and enrich both their work and family domains."

The research shows the benefits that effective teams provide to individual members, said Hunter, who used a team model when embarking on the project. She contributed the idea, data analyses and the majority of the writing; Perry, with whom Hunter is working on several projects, collected the data using research gleaned from classes that coauthor Smith taught. And Hunter approached Baylor Management professor DAWN CARLSON about collaborating because of her knowledge and experience in work-family research. Carlson contributed to the framing and theoretical development of the manuscript.

"It helps to know a coauthor's style, preferences, and knowledge base to know how best to use each author's strengths," Hunter said. "My coauthors and I worked very efficiently on this paper. It was a very smooth process." The Journal of Vocational Behavior accepted the paper without revisions, a rare occurrence at top-level publications, she noted.

The research is ongoing, said Hunter. "We are doing more with this dataset, particularly a project that investigates student virtual teamwork and personality traits." She and her research team want to know whether people prefer to work in teams and/or virtual teams, and to what extent managers can assign teams based on personality.

She also continues to study the connection between work and family. She, Carlson and Management professor Merideth Ferguson are studying leader-employee relationships; how control impacts work-family conflict; the processes by which work-family enrichment enhances satisfaction; and the health and turnover of working mothers after childbirth. She is also working with Baylor Management professor Cindy Wu on the effects of workday breaks, using Baylor staff members as study subjects.

Managing Temporary Workers by Defining Temporary Work Agency Service Quality, Human Resource Management, July-August 2010
Authors: Chung-Tzer Liu, Soochow University, Taiwan; Cindy Wu, Baylor; Chun-Wei Hu, specialist, Cathay Life Insurance Marketing Planning Department

If you think of temporary workers as a life-giving blood transfusion when an organization needs it most, you will understand why agencies that supply the best temporary workers are in high demand. To stay competitive, they have to treat both their clients and their employees – temps – as customers, noted CINDY WU, associate professor of Management at Hankamer School of Business.

She and her coauthors explored the issue of good customer service from a temporary worker's perspective and discovered that temporary workers appreciate reliable placement services, interpersonal support, well-apportioned facilities and good equipment, and service convenience. Attracting and keeping temporary workers happy is easier, the researchers found, if agencies strive for both loyalty and satisfaction.

"Our study suggests that temporary workers' expectations of their agency focus on the function of the service, better interaction with the agency, and service accessibility before, during, and after their job assignments," Wu noted. "In addition to being polite™and keeping promises, agencies should focus on offering professional assistance, such as suitably matching employees with task assignments and client organizations and being more involved in the performance evaluation process by initiating and maintaining interaction with client organizations."

The convenience factor means the agency's services are "available, responsive, and easy to use," Wu added.

Thoughtful management of temps enhances their performance for all organizations, Wu noted, including the temporary agency and organizations using them. "Similarly, our research may apply to on-call employees, who may be allowed to work for multiple employers and therefore may experience higher difficulty establishing loyalty with the employing organization relative to regular employees," Wu noted. Such workers share similarities with temporaries "in that they enjoy greater autonomy in exiting the employment relationship," she said. "Organizations that use such employees may benefit from considering them ‘customers' for better management of them."

Wu, who contributed the idea and helped integrate the literature across three disciplines into the theoretical framework, also did most of the writing.

Collaboration happens at the highest level when each participant "has a similar understanding of what good research should be, and all collaborators share a common skill set, yet each contributes something unique," she said. "It is also important to know each person's work style."

Her other current projects continue to focus on human resource management that explores ways to retain entrepreneurial talent, and the effects of ethics-specific human resource practices. Her ongoing projects also focus on work-life balance. One project with Hunter (previously mentioned) examines the effects of employee leisure activities and workday breaks on their work performance, and another looks at the detrimental effects of employees' over-commitment to work roles. She is also working on studies of leadership on employee performance and attitudes.

Pay It Forward: The Positive Crossover Effects of Supervisor Work–Family Enrichment, Journal of Management, March 2010
Authors: Dawn S. Carlson and Merideth Ferguson, Baylor; K. Michele Kacmar, University of Alabama; Joseph G. Grzywacz, Wake Forest; Dwayne Whitten, Texas A&M

The old picture of the man abused at work who then inflicts abuse on his family is turned on its head in "Pay It Forward." Clearly, supervisors' good experiences at work "trickle down to their subordinate(s) to ultimately improve subordinate performance at work," said MERIDETH FERGUSON of the research's premise. "We theorize that a supervisor who experiences enrichment will want to provide subordinates with similar experiences so the supervisor creates a family-friendly environment." That action heightens work enrichment for the subordinate and leads to better performance.

"What is less clear is the process through which enrichment affects performance," she added. "Our study is one of the first to explore this empirically, and we were particularly interested in how enrichment might trickle down the organizational hierarchy and how factors that the organization can control might influence this process."

Ferguson developed the background and theory for how and why the effects of enricshment might trickle down. Then she outlined the findings, and she and colleagues discussed how they relate to existing research and what managers could learn from the findings. Carlson conceptually developed the project, ran the analyses, and integrated the efforts of each coauthor into a persuasive manuscript.

In doing research with others, a deep understanding of collaborators' strengths is necessary, Ferguson said. "Some of my coauthors are incredible theorists, others are great at methods and advanced statistical analyses, and still others excel at couching the research in the broader picture, highlighting how it contributes to what we already know, or crafting a ‘hook' that compels someone to read our work. I tend to look for collaborators who either have interests that overlap with mine or whose interests would blend with mine in an interesting way."

Ferguson, who likes to study how social interactions affect the workplace and beyond, is fascinated by "bad" employee behavior (abusive supervision, employee deviance, incivility) and the work-family interface. Her future studies include a project with Carlson and three others under second review at the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. She also has projects relating to how the experiences of abusive supervision and coworker incivility affect an individual's family life.

Dawn Carlson, Meredith Ferguson, Emily Hunter, Cindy Wu
Baylor University