Charlice Hurst, assistant professor of management, knows about the cringeworthy norm violations that new employees often commit: engaging in inappropriate humor, unintentionally questioning a co-worker’s competence, asking too many questions, asking too few questions, coming across as critical, coming across as inexperienced. The pitfalls are endless.
Hurst joined Mendoza on July 1 from Ivey Business School at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. In this Q&A, she explains some of the implications of workplace relationships.
Q: Why are so you interested in workplace dynamics and relationships?
A: Work is a big part of who we are. We all have a need for life to be meaningful, and work needs to be meaningful as well. We need a sense of belonging and we need a sense of belonging at work.
Q: What’s at stake when people have trouble adapting to a new work environment? What should be done to help them?
A: There are so many little things you have to learn in a new environment. Is it really OK to say no to lunch? Do you linger after meetings? Who do you take advice from? Violating norms can affect people’s adaptation to a new job. If they become too uncomfortable or lose confidence, they might leave, take longer to reach full productivity or develop ongoing difficulties with performance. Employers invest a lot of time and money in hiring new employees, and they need it to pay off.
So it’s important what colleagues do when new employees violate the norms. Do they try to help without being critical? Do they want new employees to succeed? Is there a culture of psychological safety, meaning that people can take interpersonal risks without being made to feel alienated?
Q: This topic is related to another area of your research, employee voice. Do leaders want employees to speak up?
A: Prior research shows that leaders say they want employees to speak up, but there isn’t much research on the impact of speaking up, which we call voice. Some research shows that managers can be defensive toward voice, often because they may not feel up to the task of making changes. In a field experiment I did with a doctoral student at my former institution, we had employees make suggestions, and then had the manager choose which suggestion to adopt. We found managers listened more to employees with whom they had strong relationships. Managers didn’t listen all that much to warnings about risks, even if they had a close relationship with the employee. Managers were much more interested in suggestions about company growth. The downside of that is, who are they listening to about risk?
Q: You’re also researching how transitioning to a virtual work environment affects team member relationships. What have you learned?
A: Virtual workplaces don’t negatively affect team performance. But workers benefit when leaders support the transition to virtual workplaces. Employees have more autonomy in a virtual workplace. Psychological safety within teams was higher with people who are home-based or mobile than with teams working onsite. There can be more diverse perspectives, and people aren’t as afraid to share information. When you think about it, it makes sense—people may be braver communicating by email.
Q: In light of your research insights, what’s it like being the new kid on the block at Mendoza?
A: Notre Dame is like its own little solar system, and I’m having fun exploring it. I’m still learning the norms here, but my colleagues seem nice enough not to hold it against me if I make a misstep from time to time. It’s pretty psychologically safe here!