A scientific approach to human behavior in the workplace

A scientific approach to human behavior in the workplace

Job satisfaction and dissatisfaction, the match between job opening and ideal candidate, navigating the multinational conglomerate workforce—we are cajoled by the likes of Career Builder, Indeed, and Monster.com to help us find our dream job. We go through the process—create an account, submit a polished résumé, invited for an interview, a second interview and, if lucky, we’re hired! In the difficult job market of recent years, popular news reports focus on getting a job, any job, and being glad you got it. So take heed because, as the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for, you might get it!

Seasoned veterans of the workforce, take a minute and think. Out of all the jobs you have ever had, which was the best? Which was the worst? Have you had a job so exciting that you almost felt like it’s a sin to get paid? Or, what about the job that you had to drag yourself out of bed for day after day? No doubt you have experienced both the highs and the lows in the course of a long-term job. But when the lows drag on and become the norm, you start thinking of moving on or you might just try to make the best of it and wistfully wish you were one of the lucky few whose employer is on the Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for®” list.

Carrie Picardi, Ph.D., assistant professor of management in UB’s Ernest C. Trefz School of Business, is intrigued by this phenomenon of employees’ workplace perceptions as they’re portrayed in lists like the one generated by Fortune.

Theorizing that organizational appeal can be attributed in part to its personification by current and would-be employees, Picardi, an organizational psychologist, is developing a survey instrument that incorporates Hofstede’s cultural dimensions of organizations with organizational personification indicators. Hofstede, a 1970s trailblazer in organizational social psychology, conducted extensive research to identify quantifiable dimensions of organizational and national cultures. Picardi’s instrument includes these cross-cultural dimensions but adds questions that are designed to measure the level and facets of how employees attach human qualities to their company.

According to Picardi, considerable market research of this type has already been applied to branding, but her interest extends to the organization as a whole. So she applies the market-research approach as applied to branding, and modifies it to measure employee satisfaction in their workplace vis-à-vis the personified workplace culture.

But Picardi doesn’t stop there; she goes full circle. Not only is she interested in how employees anthropomorphize their employers, she has also worked on developing and validating competency models and assessment blueprints for company use in vetting potential employees. While at first glance these two research interests might appear unrelated, an end game of sorts could be the best match employer-employee match.

Much like the highly sophisticated backstory to the popular online relationship-services provider, eHarmony, Picardi and fellow researchers have sought to identify the global company’s preferred competencies for leadership for global enterprises, followed by the development of an instrument that could measure the associated behavioral standards. This scientific approach to the study of human behavior in the workplace could produce commercial benefits. At present, phrase-laden resumes and cover letters provide a watercolor view of the applicant and employers often must rely on word-of-mouth, who-knows-who introductions as the litmus test to identify those best suited to the job from the pile of applications. Automated systems rely on electronic document scans to identify and quantify appropriate phrases. The development of a valid, reliable instrument that could identify and measure the desired competencies objectively could boost the employer-employee successful match to new levels. The result, Picardi speculates, could be the match of the applicant’s strength of cultural competencies with the employer’s culture within its inter-continental company operations. In this case, the win-win would be that the employer gains a culturally competent employee and the employee gains the satisfaction of working for an employer whose culture reflects those desired by the employee.

This is a research trajectory that Picardi expects to follow for quite a while. And with the explosion of multi-continental businesses and the “shrinking” globe, there should continue to be a hot topic in the field of organizational psychology and international business.

Plus her interests don’t stop there. Picardi is also keenly interested in disseminating her growing expertise for use in the classroom. In 2013 she co-authored the textbook, Research Methods: Designing and Conducting Research with a Real-world Focus, and is currently working on two new books on workforce assessment; the first focuses on design and development, and the second, a companion piece, presents tools and techniques for assessing the existing and prospective workforce.

Stay tuned.