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I am a M.A. in industrial/organizational psychology. Most of my experience has been in human resources and change management. My passion lies in employee assessment, organizational development and employee opinions. Website: www.IanMondrow.com LinkedIn Profile: http://linkd.in/drBYoC

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Understanding Participation in E-Learning in Organizations: a Large-Scale Empirical Study

Summary and Commentary by Ian B. Mondrow

In 2009, it was estimated that the training industry was worth $90 billion worldwide (ASTD, 2009 as cited in Garavan, Carbery, O’Malley and O’Donnell, 2010). $20 billon was focused primarily on e-learning (Patterson et al.,2 009 as cited by Garavan et al., 2010). In the UK alone, it is estimated that the e-learning business will increase 8-15% per annum. This increased interest is the reason that e-learning has become a popular topic in academic research.

E-learning is education that is supplied and facilitated through modern technology with the intent of employee development. As e-learning has increased in popularity, several concerns have been identified, including: poor participation, increased drop-outs, and e-learning acting as a sole source of learning. Garavan, Carbery, O’Malley O’Donnell (2010) sought out to examine a several variables that may impact the participation of employees in e-learning training (the dependent variable). These are listed and defined below:

  •  General-person characteristics – The general demographics of a population. In this specific study, it focuses on age, gender, education level, years of experience, mobility experiences and organizational tenure.
  • Instructional Design Characteristics - Characteristics of e-learning that include the quality of the content, quality of facilitation, allotted time and the option to provide feedback or receive additional support.
  • Motivation to learn – An individual’s motivation to learn reflects the extent to which an individual is interested in participating in a training and utilizing the knowledge acquired.
  • Self-efficacy – An employee’s perception of his/her ability to participate in e-learning.
  • Perceived barriers and enablers – Events or conditions that can hinder or encourage the participation in e-learning activities.

Surveys were administered to 275 Irish organizations with a response rate of 557 individuals. 40% of these individuals worked for a multinational organization that were Irish owned. Participants had the option to complete the survey online or mail in a paper copy. The survey asked for responses on a 5 point scale (1 strong disagree/low importance; 5 strongly agree/high importance) with 16 items evaluating motivation to learn, 13 items to measure self-efficiency,  32 items to review perceived barriers and enablers, 12 items reflecting on the instructional design of e-learning.  Participation in learning was measured by asking participants if they had participated AND completed any e-learning sessions in the past year.

General-person characteristics (β = .12, p < .05) shared a positive relationship with participation in e-learning. More specifically, positive small relationships existed between social class (β = .10, p < .05) and participation. Job tenure (β -.12, p < .05) also had a minor relationship to e-learning participation. Several negative relationships were also present for the following variables: age (β = -.42, p < .05) and company tenure (β = -.14, p < .05).

Instructional design characteristics (β = .11 p < .05) had significant relationships to participation. Motivation to learn also had a relationship to participation. After further examination, it was found that content quality (β = .15, p < .05) and feedback/recognition (β = .11, p < .05) shared a weak relationship with e-learning participation.

Furthermore, motivation (β = .49, p < .05) shared a moderate relationship with e-learning participation. Social support and self efficacy (β  = .37 , p < .05) were found to have a positive relationship with learning participation but situational constraints (β = -.32, p < .05)  shared a negative relationship with participation.

The findings show that motivation to learn had the strongest relationship to course participation. Motivation can be influenced by creating a culture that encourages employees to be continuous learners and regularly provides them with learning opportunities. In addition, if leadership and management demonstrate this behavior, employees will be more likely to see the value of education and be more motivated to participate in e-learning. All of the other findings support the notion that training needs to be applicable to the job, easy to understand, and engaging.

Overall, the study had a large population of data to work with, which is a rare quality of academic articles. However, one limitation of the study is that the data was collected using self-reprots from participants. Therefore, there is a possibility of bias from study participants.

As a reader, there were several additional concerns that were noticed. What was most shocking was to find several typos in an article published in an academic journal. There were several instances where the wrong letter was missing or the numbers did not match up to the wording. This raises some questions regarding the validity of the journal and the article. If it was able to be published with these mistakes, what does it say about the researchers attention to detail when implementing the experiment, entering data and conducting analysis. One must question if their results are truly accurate.


While there are some valid concerns about the articles creditability, it introduces some interesting findings.

First and foremost, it identifies that e-learning may not be appropriate for all audiences. There is a possibility that older employees may benefit more from classroom training. Therefore, it is would be an organization’s best interest to determine their intended audience for all training before it is implemented in e-learning. A training is no help if the intended audience has no interest in its training approach.

It also identifies that learner motivation is crucial for participation in e-learning. Therefore, for an organization to  ensure the e-learning courses are being utilized, it is vital to instill a culture that encourages employees to take the initiative in their own professional development. Management should work closely with employees to help them with developmental plans so they are aware of what training they need to grow. Company executives should also demonstrate the importance of learning by regularly discussing its value, participating in professional associations and participating in learning opportunities within the company. An organization that does not communicate this is likely to have employees with less motivation and interest in utilizing the available e-learning courses.

The study also demonstrates the importance of appropriate instructional design. Employees need to ensure that they are receiving the content they need to be successful in their role at the organization. However, there are two levels to content: (1) offering the right courses and (2) providing accurate and easy to understand information. The best way to achieve both of these is to conduct a needs assessment before designing any training. A needs assessment will help to determine if a training will assist employees in their job or if there is a solution outside of training that would be more efficient. During a needs assessment, a designer will also work with subject matter experts to understand the content. This is an opportunity for the designer to ensure that learners will get the information that is applicable to their job and the organization. In addition, learners should have the option to provide feedback on training to allow instructional designers to make needed updates. Employee feedback is crucial for employees to continue using e-learning because they want to ensure that their voice is being heard.

Source: Garavan, T.N., Carvery, R., O’Malley, G., & O’Donnell, D. (2010). Understanding participation in e-learning in organizations: a large-scale empirical study of employees. International Journal of Training and Development, 14 (3), 155- 168). 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Examining the Job Search - Turnover Relationship: The Role of Embeddedness, Job Satisfaction & Available Alternatives

Summary & Commentary by Ian Mondrow, M.A.

A Job search is defined as "the actions of an individual to generate job opportunities in other organization" (Swider, Boswell & Zimmerman, 2011).  The relationship between job searching and turnover is based on the notion that a job search reveals alternative employment opportunities. This search identifies favorable alternatives, thus resulting in turn over. Previous research by Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner (2000) demonstrated a positive relationship between job search behaviors and turnover, which accounted for 7% of the variance. Swider, Boswell, & Zimmerman (2011) sought out to examine the search efforts of currently employed individuals. Their study focuses only on voluntary turnover and examines embeddedness, job satisfaction and employment alternatives.

Job embeddedness includes stable forces that refrain employees from seeking alternatives and are broken into three subdimensions: Links (i.e. formal or informal connections), fit (i.e. alignment with organizational culture), and sacrifice (i.e. the cost of tangible or intangible benefits that would be forfeited by resignation). Job embeddedness is defined as the ease at which an employee can be without these subdimensions. In other words, the more difficult it is to be without these ties, the less likely an employee will separate from the organization.

Job satisfaction is the affective and/or attitudinal reaction to the job and its responsibilities. Previous research promotes two models regarding job satisfaction: (1) dissatisfied workers will have a increased desire to seek opportunities with increased likelihood of accepting an alternative and (2) job seekers with low satisfaction are more likely to seek other opportunities with the intent to leave.

Job alternatives is defined as the available opportunities to employees that they are both qualified for and willing to accept. Alternative opportunities may entice employees away from organization and may be a contributing factor in their turnover decision. These opportunities are heavily based on the job market and can fluctuate with the economy.

Griffeth, Hom & Gaertner collected a study sample of staff employees are a large university located in the southwest of the United States. 3,600 individuals were invited to participate in a survey via e-mail. The survey measured job embeddedness using the 31 items from Lee et. al.'s (2004) six job embeddedness dimensions. It measured job satisfaction using 24 items from Spector's (1985) job satisfaction survey. Available alternatives were collected utilizing a weighted average of the nation and local employment level from BLS.gov. Voluntary turnover was collected from the organization's record over an 18 month period.

The study ended up with a total of 895 completed responses. 68% of the participants were female. The race/ethnicity distribution of participants can be seen in Figure 1. Since the dependent variable was dichotomous, a hierarchal moderated logistic regression was conducted. Results showed that all three two-way interactions produced a significant model improvement, X(3) = 13.54, p < .01. Search-job satisfaction and search-available alternatives were also statistically significant at p < .05.

Based on the results, it was determined to examine each two-way interaction independently:

Job search - turnover & job embeddedness: The test was conducted by entering the control variables at step 1, main effects and job embeddedness at step 2 and the interaction in step 3. Step 2 produced a significant chi-squared model improvement, x(2) = 76.62, p < .01, with a significant main effect for job search (p < .01). Adding the search embeddedness interaction produced a marginally significant model improvement, x(1) = 2.94,  p  = .08.  Based on these results, the relationship between job search and turnover was stronger with those who experienced low job embeddedness.

Job search - turnover & job satisfaction: Control variables were entered in step 1, the main effects of job search and job satisfaction in step 2. This produced a significant chi-square model improvement, X(2) = 77.09, p < .01. The interaction was added at step 3 and produced a significant model improvement, X(1) = 9.56, p < .01. These results suggest that turnover was significantly higher for individuals who conducted high levels of job search activity and had low job satisfaction when compared to individuals with similar job search activity and high job satisfaction.

Job search - turnover and available alternatives: Control variables were entered into step 1, main effects for job search and available alternatives were entered into step 2, and the interaction in step 3. Step 2 produced a significant chi-square model improvement, X(2) = 76.60, p < .01. After adding the interaction, a significant chi-square model improvement was present, X(1) = 4.19, p < .05. The results reveal that when more jobs available, turnover is increased.

Overall, the results revealed that job search activity was increased when employees were less embedded, had lower job satisfaction and more employment opportunities were present. Based on the findings of the research, one can conclude that retention strategies that are not targeted are ineffective. Instead, it is beneficial for organizations to regular assess and oversee employee work attitudes. Organizations need to examine market trends to determine where the greatest risk and implement organization initiatives to reduce the likelihood of turnover.

A variety of limitations exist in this study. First and foremost, the study was conducted on one organization and therefore can't be applied to the population. Furthermore, the sample was from a public organization and therefore results may differ in the private sector. The surveys were also self-reported which increase the risk of bias.


The authors of this article suggest that if an employee is exhibiting high levels of search activity, it may be beneficial for a manager or HR profession to approach them & discuss their concerns. This can be a valuable approach if it is implemented properly. When approaching employees, one should always be supportive and emphasize how valuable they are the organization. Ask for their feedback and listen to them more instead of talking. It is also important to understand that turnover happens and you can't stop every employee from leaving. The best approach is collect information to prevent other employees from leaving and do what you can to improve the work situation for the employee who is considering resignation. 

The best approach for any organization is a proactive retention strategy. If employees have already started to actively explore new opportunities, it can be considered too late. One of the most affective strategies is to regularly survey employees on the organizational culture, job satisfaction, and how they perceive their position/organization compared to other companies. The data from these surveys can help HR professionals assess the organizational strengths and the areas that need improvement. However, just surveying employees is not sufficient. HR professionals need to share the results of the survey to employees and take action on the results. Failure to do result will produce counterproductive results of the survey and a decreased amount of participation in the next survey.

Exit interviews are also a valuable source of information when a company is experiencing turnover. Unlike other surveys, these results should not be communicated to the organization but when action is taken, employees should be able to notice the difference. 

When the job market is competitive, it is especially important for organizations to show value to their employees. However, failure to recognize employees in a job market with low alternatives can still result in turnover. Talented employees are generally unaffected by the economy and are likely to be the first ones to leave. Futhermore, when the economy improves, employees will be more likely to jump ship based on how they were treated in the past. Therefore, it is important for organizations to continually evaluate the perspectives of their employees and strive to provide the best workplace for all employees.

Source: Swider, B.W., Boswell, W.R., Zimmerman, R.D. (2011). Examining the job search-turnover relationship: the role of embeddedness, job satisfaction and available alternatives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96 (2), 432-441.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Assessing the Influence of Psychosocial and Career Mentoring on Organizational Attractiveness

Summary and Commentary by Ian Mondrow, M.A.

Today, organizations receive hundreds of resumes from both qualified and under-qualified individuals. Although there is an abundance of jobseekers, the war for top talent is still intense. Organizations want the best of the best and therefore they need to be innovative and strategic when sourcing talent. Over the past decade, companies such as Siemens and Daimler-Chrysler have developed mentoring programs to proactively recruit potential talent. However, mentoring is a time consuming process which can also be costly and many organizations attempt to simplify this process by providing all mentoring via internet. Overall, there is limited research on the effectiveness of student-mentoring programs and little knowledge of the impact of providing these programs remotely. Spitzmuller, Neumann, Spitzmuller, Rubino, Keeton, Sutton and Manzey (2008) set out to examine  the differences between virtual and face-to-face mentoring and also how these programs impact organizational attractive, intentions to pursue and the acceptance of employment at the mentoring organization.

In an attempt to do, the researchers established a partnership with a German company that focuses on identifying students for partner organizations and the establishing of mentoring relationships between students and mentors. Students' participation was selected based on their majors, past experience and academic experiences. In addition to the mentorship, the organization provided career-related programs and events among participants.

18 organizations nominated mentors to participate in this program. All mentors created an electronic profile that could be accessed by fellow participants, who would submit applications to mentors of their interest. Mentors would then be provided the profiles of interested applicants and selected the students they wish to mentor. After selecting students, mentors participated in a formal mentoring program that was done via internet and/or in paper form. There was no set guidelines for mentors but the partner organization informed them that average mentoring time involved 2-3 hours a month. Mentors were not assigned more than 5 students.

The researchers worked with the partnering organization to develop a short web-based survey that was emailed to all students. Participants were rewarded by the opportunity to participate in a raffle. Overall, 194 students completed the survey, with a response rate of 32.3%. The survey measured several factors including: psychosocial & career mentoring, realistic job previews, method of mentoring (face-to-face vs. internet), organization attraction, intentions to pursue, and attainment of a job at the mentoring organization.

56.7% of students claimed they spoke with their mentor every 6 weeks and 19.1% reported communicating biweekly or more often. All communication methods involved use of internet, therefore no relationship was primarily based on face-to-face interaction.

Two regressions were conducted. The first regression predicted organizational attractiveness from psychosocial functions and realistic job previews. It was found that perception of psychosocial mentoring  was a significant predictor of organizational attractiveness (β = .27, p < .05) and the intent to pursue employment (β = .29, p < .01).The second regression sought to determine if career functions were a predictor of organizational attractiveness and the intention pursue. However, no significance was found. 

Table 1: Perceptions of Mentors
A logistic regression analysis was conducted to predict whether the hiring of a student was based on the perceived quality of psychosocial and career mentoring function in addition to realistic job previews. No significance was found. Group differences were examined to determine if face-to-face interactions  impact psychosocial functions, career functions, and organizational attractiveness. These results were not statistically significant. However, it was found that individuals who had face-to-face interactions rated their relationships with their mentors higher in career functions (t = -2.73, p <.01) and psychosocial functions (t = -2.43, p < .05). Individuals with face-to-face interactions rated their mentors higher in serving in career functions and psychosocial functions. Please refer to the table on the side for the means and standard deviations. 

Results continued to reveal that psychosocial mentoring functions have he largest impact on organizational attractiveness and the intent to pursue employment.  It is believed that high quality psychosocial mentoring functions establish positive attitudes towards the mentor's organization. However, realistic job previews were found to negatively affect one's intent to pursue employment. In the end, it was found that  only 23 our of 188 students obtained an internship, research position or full time position as a result of the mentorship.

If organizations interested in persuading students to seek employment at their organization may want to focus their efforts on providing high quality psychosocial mentoring functions. Therefore, training should be provided to mentors on how to achieve this. However, organizations need to balance the realistic job previews with psychosocial support, as the job preview may discourage students from pursuing the organization as an employer. 

Several limitations exist in this study. The most prominent is that it only studied interactions within Germany and therefore cannot be applied to the population. Furthermore, the study utilized cross-sectional survey data which resulted in low reliability measures on realistic job previews. 

In the war on talent, this sort of mentoring program may assist organizations in attracting talent before candidates begin their job search. However, this study shows that this sort of mentoring program produces little result in candidate placement, as only 23 students landed an opportunity as a result of the mentoring relationship. Organizations interested in participating in such program should do so due to philanthropy efforts or dedication to help students. They should not utilize such program as a method to actively recruit college talent. However, continuous participation in such programs may have a positive image on the organization as a whole and may bring in talent who commend the organization's actions.

If an organization does indeed decide to implement a student mentoring program, it should require mentors to provide some sort of face-to-face interaction with their students. This is likely to increase the student's perception of a supportive mentor. Mentors should also be trained on how to properly provide both career and psycho-social support as both as vital to a successful mentoring relationship. Organizations can assist mentors with providing career support by providing them training on basic practices within career coaching and a background in counseling practices to assist with providing students with psychosocial support.

The most captivating finding of this study is that realistic job previews discouraged students from pursuing opportunities at a mentors organization. I believe this is because students do not have an understanding of the real world and what it is like to hold a full-time job. This supports the notion that colleges and universities need to start providing students with insight on life after college. Students often struggle upon entering their first full-time job because schools only portray the positives of the corporate world and not the realistic aspects. 

Source: Spitzmueller, C., Neumann, E., Spitzmuller, M., Rubino, C., Keeton, K.E., Sutton, M.T. & Manzey, D. (2008). Assessing the influence of psychosocial and career mentoring on organizational attractiveness. International Jour of Selection & Assessment, 16(4), 403-414.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Role of Mentor Trust and Protege Internal Locus of Control in Formal Mentoring Relationships

Summary and commentary by Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Mentoring is a relational process where an individual with a substantial amount of experience, and often higher seniority, assists in the professional development of a protege by providing psychosocial support, career-related support and role modeling. As a result of mentoring, proteges often experience positive work attitudes and an increased chance of career success. Research has shown that informal mentoring relationships have significantly better benefits than a formal mentoring program, which is likely the result of mutual identification and shared interests between the mentor and protege. Yet, corporations often implement a formal mentoring program to assist in assimilating new employees, identify potential management talent, and the development of new personnel. 

Wang, Tomlinson and Noe (2010) sought out to examine mentoring relationships in more detail. One aspect they examined included trust. Trust is defined as "the extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to act on the basis of the words, actions and decisions of another," (McAllister, 1995 as cited in Wang et. al., 2010). Trust is further broken down into affect-based trust and cognition-based trust. Affect based trust refers to the connection between two individuals as a result of emotional bonds and similarities, which is often a result of social interactions. Cognition-based trust is based on one's perception of "competence, reliability and dependability" (Wang et. al., 2010), which is developed from observing one's character. 

The researchers also set out to examine internal locus-of-control (LOC), or a personality trait that describes ones perceived ability to influence outcomes. Individuals with a higher LOC tend to pursue career goals with persistence and dedication, even when faced with obstacles. These individuals are more likely to seek out opportunities to help them to develop themselves. Therefore, it is assumed that these individuals are more likely to embrace their mentoring relationships and utilize them for advice and as a role model. It is this dedication that may encourage the mentor to provide his/her protege with more development opportunities.

The researchers collected data from a large utility organization with over 9,000 employees in China. The company was state-owned and controlled by a board of directors, instead of the Chinese government. Lifetime employment was not offered at this company. Participants were mentors and proteges that were participating in a two year formal mentoring program designed to assist new employees in learning the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in their career. While all new hires were required to participate in this program, mentors were volunteers with an acceptable level of technical skills (as identified in their performance evaluation). Proteges were matched to mentors based on their career goals, concerns and preferences. Each couple met at least 30 minutes each week. 

Surveys were administered to both mentors and proteges via office mail. The survey taken by mentors assess the mentors affect-based trust and cognition-based trust. Proteges took a survey that assessed LOC, mentoring received and relationship information. A total of 140 mentor-protege dyads were included in the final sample. 

The omnibus multivariate test for the full model was statistically significant, Wilks's ^ = .59, F(30,373) = 2.49, p < .001. Therefore, further regressional analysis were conducted. Mentors' affect-based trust was positively related to the proteges' report of career-related support (b = .34, p < .01), psychosocial support (b = .25, p < .05), and role modeling (b = .26, p < .05). Cognition-based trust was not significantly related to any mentoring behaviors. Protege LOC was positively related to their perception of extent modeling (b = .29, p < .05) and career-related support (b = .21, p < .05), but not significantly related to psychosocial support.

An interaction was present between mentors' cognition-based trust and protege internal LOC  was significantly related to the proteges' perceived career-related support (b = -.29, p < .01), psychosocial support (b = -.19, p < .05) and role modeling (b = -.27, p < .01). This showed that when internal LOC was lower, mentor cognition-based trust was positively related to career-related support, psychosocial support, and role modeling. While there was no relationship when internal LOC was high.

Results showed that affect-related trust is a significant contributor to a successful mentoring relationship. This suggests that when there is an comradely relationship between a mentor and protege, the protege receives a more fulfilling mentoring experience. Results also showed that when a protege had a high level of LOC, they felt they received more support and role modeling from their mentoring. The most interesting finding is that when a protege has low LOC but the mentor is confident in the protege's ability, the mentor is more likely to provide psychosocial support in addition to career coaching and role modeling. 

This study has a variety of limitations. First off, the study was conducted on a Chinese audience and therefore cannot be applicable to all cultures, specifically westernized cultures. Furthermore, the population was predominately men and therefore it is difficult to determine how gender would influence mentoring relations. Finally, the study only examined one organization and therefore only examined one organizational culture. For the findings to be applicable, the sample would need to be more diverse.


First off, the studies findings should be taken with a grain of salt because it can't be generalized to the population. It does, however, provide some interesting input for human resources professionals.

First and foremost, it shows that for a mentoring program to be truly successful, mentors and protege's much have a relationship based on affect-based trust. This can be difficult to achieve as it can't be forced upon individuals and many factors can influence the trust. One possible (but controversial) solution would be to allow the mentors to pick their proteges. The organization can host a networking event in which mentors and proteges interact in a casual setting. This allows them to explore each others' interests and personalities. Mentors can later choose which proteges they would like to assist. The downside to this method is that there is a good chance not all proteges will be selected by a mentor or multiple mentors may want to work with the same protege. Therefore, it would result in some mentors being forced to take on additional mentors that do not have as high of appeal to them. 

Another option is to allow proteges to start their job without mentors. As they do their work, they will interact with senior employees who they enjoy working with and vice-versa. Proteges/mentors can then be surveyed a week or two later asking them to identify an individual they would like to be paired with. This will created a mentoring relationship that is based on affect-based trust because relationships have already started to form. It also puts less stress on the organization because less effort is spent on trying to match proteges with mentors. 

For proteges that have demonstrate a low internal LOC (this can be observed through their behaviors), it would be helpful to place them with mentors that identify the potential with these individuals. As shown by the results, the mentors would be highly dedicated to assisting these individuals because they are confident in the proteges abilities. This can assist in raising the protege's internal LOC and assisting him/her with professional development. 

While a structured mentoring program isn't bad, having too much structure in the early stages can negatively affect the relationships between the mentors and proteges. Organizations can still implement a formal program but should not force relationships upon individuals. Instead, encourage the individuals to identify their own relationships. Doing so will ensure a more successful program. 

Source: Wang S., Tomlinson E.C., Noe R.A. (2010). The role of mentor trust and protégé internal locus of control in formal mentoring relationships. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95 (2), 358-67.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Lesson for HR from Maroon 5 & Christina Aguilera

Maroon 5's third album "Hands All Over" was released in September 2010 with disappointing sales. It was one of the band's worst selling albums. Compared to their two prior albums, "Songs About Jane" and "It Won't Be Soon Before Long", "Hands All Over" was just missing their previous spark. Their debut single "Mercy" had plenty of airplay but their following singles had minimal airplay.

America did not hear anything about Maroon 5 until The Voice, a televised singing competition, premiered on TV; which featured Adam Levine as one of the judges. Levine was joined by Blake Shelton, Cee-Lo Green and Christina Aguilera, who also released a failed album earlier that year. Towards the end of the first season, Maroon 5 took to the stage to perform one of their singles,"Moves like Jagger". Audiences were surprised when Aguilera joined the band on stage to add a new twist to the song. The song was later recorded with Aguilera and released with soaring sales. The song has been one of the best selling songs on iTunes and today it continues as the #2 selling song on iTunes.

What can HR professionals learn from this story? It teaches us that while we perceive ourselves as experts, new ideas are crucial to success of an organization. If organizations (and HR departments) fail to bring in new talent, their actions become routine and innovation begins to flat-line. However, when new talent or consultants are brought into an organization, they challenge the organization's current processes with new ideas or constructive feedback. In regards to Maroon 5, adding a "voice" to their group brought variety and revived the band's popularity. Bringing new talent to an organization can produce the same effect for internal credibility and innovation.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Harming High Performers: a Social Comparison Perspective on Interpersonal Harming in Work Teams

Summary and Commentary by Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Interpersonal harming within the work environment is behavior that contradicts the interests of another person within the organization. These type of behaviors can include disturbing others while they are working, starting arguments, and gossiping about coworkers. Social comparisons (comparing one's performance to another individuals as either better or worse) may be cause of interpersonal harming. A upward comparison is when an individual views him/herself as better than others and is self-affirming. A downward comparison (viewing oneself as inferior to another) may be perceived as threatening and therefore the individual may compensate by doing emotional harm to others. When a downward comparison is negative, conducting interpersonal harm may negatively affect the target's job performance and therefore reduce any threats perceived by the harmer.

Two independent studies were conducted, one with student teams from a university and another with work teams within a corporation. Study 1 collected data from students at a university in Macau, China with a final data set of 141 students and 30 teams. Students were working in teams of three to seven to complete a group project. Data was collected at two different time periods. Time 1 occured 1.5 month after the team has been working together and Time 2 was conducted one month later.Study 2 collected data from sales associates in a state-owned telecommunications company in China. Teams consisted of four to five members. All members in the team were of the similar seniority. The final data set included 128 individuals from 31 teams.

Two items from Lockwood et. al. (2002) were used to measure  interpersonal social comparisons. Respondents were also asked to compare their performance to their team members on a 9 point scale. Respondents were then asked "how likely is it that you will perform like this member?" This question was also measured on a 9 point scale.  Three items from Tjosvold et. al. (2004) were used to assessed cooperative goals within the team based on a 5 point scale. Interpersonal harming  was measured using peer ratings developed by Cohen-Charash & Muelle (2007), which distinguishes between six types of harmful behaviors. In study 2, supervisors were asked to evaluate each team's performance.

Researchers found a three-way interaction between social comparison, anticipated future performance, an cooperative team goals with statistical significance in Study 1 (B = .07, p<.01) and Study 2 (B = .06, p<.001). This suggests that teams with less cooperative goals and an individual exhibiting a upward comparison was positively related to the possibility harming a target when the expected future performance was considered low to the target.  However, when expected future performance was high, there was no relationship to social comparison. Furthermore, when highly cooperative team goals were established,  then there was no relationship with interpersonal harming and/or social comparison.

Results revealed that harmful behavior was positively correlated with upward comparison and negatively related to expected future performance. However, these results were only applicable to Study 1 and not Study 2. In both studies, it was found that interpersonal harming and cooperative team goals were negatively correlated. Results continued to show that team members were more likely to to harm others when there was an upward performance comparison accompanied with low expectations of future performance.

Results of this study suggest that establishing team goals is crucial to reduce the likelihood of toxic behaviors occurring. When goals are not established or agreed, individuals are more likely to compare themselves to others and possibly cause interpersonal harm. Therefore, to increase the chance of team success, teams should establish goals from the start and ensure that everyone agrees with them. This will reduce the possibility of team members comparing themselves to one another and instead create a sense of community, in which the perceived success of the individual depends on the success of the team.

The study has several apparent limitations. First, it was studied in China and therefore may not be applicable to all cultures. Future studies should examine multiple cultures to determine if it can be considered a variable. Second, the sample n Study 2 was only from one organization within a specific industry. This makes it difficult to generalize to the population. In future research, the researchers should be sure to include several companies of different industries to ensure it can be generalized to the public.

For organizations that require employees to work in teams (i.e. consulting, marketing, etc.), this study brings some valuable perspective. It suggests that by establishing cooperative team goals, it can create a positive dynamic between team members and encourage them to work as one.

Therefore,  there are several things that can be done to encourage success among teams. When teams are about to start projects, the project lead should hold a "kick off session". Within this session, the lead explains the project and what the work will entail. Then the team can work together to establish goals that can be applied to the project. Most often, the project lead will establish the goals without consulting with the the team members. In this case, team members feel as if they have no voice and are more likely to create a competitive environment. When goals are established and agreed by everyone on the team, it creates a sense of unity that can be reinforced throughout the project.

How can human resources professionals encourage this practice? Its rather simple. HR professionals can hold a one hour training session for project leads on how to establish team goals and how to facilitate the brainstorming process. Project leaders should be educated on the benefits of this practice and provided tools that can help them facilitate a goal-setting session with their team. If these individuals are not provided with training, there is a greater chance that they will create the goals independently or not even bother to establish goals.

Overall, success within teams thrives on establishing the message that the teams success means success for all team members. An individual can not be successful independently unless the team succeeds as well.

Work Cited
Lam, C.K., Van der Vegt, G.S., Walter, F., and Huang, X. (2010). Harming high performers: a social comparison perspective on interpersonal harming in work teams. Journal of applied psychology, 96 (3), 588-601.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Managing the Inner Contractions of Job Descriptions: A Technique for Recruitment

Summary and commentary by: Ian Mondrow, M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology

A job description is a document composes of several sections, including: job title, supervisor title, job responsibilities, and qualifications for hiring. This single document is sole resource for many organizational operations such as recruitment, performance review, training/development, organizational structure, and more. However, Stybel (2010) claims that job descriptions are merely intended for audiences within the organization. However, issues occur because job descriptions are also used for external and internal job postings. Such that, job descriptions are written to be "public" friendly and do not always obtain the most accurate information needed for the internal operations.

Stybel and Peabody (2007, as cited by Stybel, 2010) introduced a new section into the job description called the "Leadership Mandate". This new section communicates how an individual advances within the company's strategic plans. They now use 2 documents when conducting a candidate search: (1) a job description for the general public to attract candidates in applying and (2) a leadership mandate which is given to final candidates. Stybel (2010) claims that creating these two documents protects the company against fraud charges.

The leadership mandate is merely another section of the job description that is limited to specific audiences. This new section defines what changes the company expects within the 90-120 days, what responsibilities are considered critical/time-sensitive, which responsibilities are to be placed on the back-burner (not address immediately) for the next 4 months, what is to be avoided at all costs in the upcoming 90-120 days.

This article does emphasize the importance of job descriptions for both internal and external purposes. It provides the foundation on what tasks a specific job is responsible and what is considered successful in finishing this work. Every job within an organization should have a description. Using the same job for multiple positions produces a variety of risks for a company including: employee turnover [since the job was not what they thought], adverse impact [success factors are not consistent], inadequate opportunities for growth [because there is no defined career path], and more. Therefore, this articles emphasis on the value of job descriptions is extremely beneficial.

To be blunt, this idea of creating two documents is crap. While the notion of the leadership mandate and its content are good, the fact is that the information is not static. In January, the leadership mandate could be entirely different from the leadership mandate in May. Change occurs every day in an organization and therefore, creating such a document can be time-consuming and counter productive. Finally, creating such a document does not prevent fraud as a job description should include all responsibilities expected in a position.

On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the recruiter and the hiring manager to clearly communicate this content to candidates (which is emphasized more in the article title than article text). Creating a leadership mandate would be more beneficial to remind managers of what candidates need to be informed about. A leadership mandate is more suitable as a tool to help managers and not as a formal HR document.

It is crucial to emphasize the value of communicating the leadership mandate information to all job finalists. It will give them an accurate portrayal of what to expect in the months to come. This will reduce turnover and increase job satisfaction as the hired employee(s) will not be caught off guard. As HR professionals, we strive to ensure that applicants are satisfied in their jobs. This is one way to prevent any unexpected disappointments or dissatisfaction.

Stylbel, L.J. (2010). Managing the inner contradictions of job descriptions:a technique for use in recruitment. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 13, 105-110.

** I am not a lawyer or legal professional and therefore it is important to be aware of all state and Federal laws before considering implementation of any content read in this posting. I hold no liability for your actions. 

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Uniqueness Effect in Selection Interviews

Summary and Commentary by: Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

It is a known factor that gender, physical appearance and race can influence an interviewers evaluation, whether intentional or unintentional. Studies have also shown that interviewers tend to prefer applicants that are similar to themselves. The contrast effects also impacts interviews where candidates are evaluated based on preceding interviews.  Roulin et.al. (2011) has decided to introduce a new bias called the "uniqueness effect".

The uniqueness effect was first introduced by Sndyer and Fromkin in 1977. Roulin et. al. (2011) has taken their definition and adapted it to personnel selection. Roulin et. al. define the uniqueness effect as "the effect of an applicant's distinctive characteristics or answers on recruiter's evaluations and decisions in the selection process (p.44)."

79 participants were recruited from a swiss university. 85% of the participants were masters students and 15% were senior bachelor students. Participants were asked to read one of two types of job descriptions, a creative position (marketing) and a less creative position (accounting). Following reviewing the descriptions, participants read four transcribed answers to interview questions. The transcriptions were obtained from four mock interviews from male job seekers. Questions included:

  1. Tell me about yourself
  2. What is your main weakness?
Question one included responses of equal values. Three applicants gave non-unique answers to question two and one provided a unique answer. After reviewing the Q&A, participants evaluated the answers based on quality, job-related competence and the likelihood of termination for each applicant on a 6 point likert scale. Participants were also asked to select one applicant to hire.

The researchers conducted a 2 X 2 X 2 factorial plan to analyze results using a within-subjects methodology. A main effect was present for uniqueness, F(1,75) = 8.94, p < .01, in which unique applicants were rated higher than (M = 4.25) than non-unique applicants (M = 3.81). Job type (creative vs. non-creative) also produced a main effect, F(1,75) = 10.0, p = .002, which creative jobs recieving lower evaluations (M = 3.81) than non-creative jobs (M = 4.14). Results compared unique candidates to non-unique candidates are demonstrated in Figure 1. Figure 2 demonstrates the hiring choice for unique applicants in job type.

Several limitations to the study are present. More specifically, all participants were students and therefore are more likely to place more emphasis on academic background than job qualifications. Furthermore, the study is limited to the swiss culture and therefore may not be applicable to all cultures. 

The study demonstrates that providing unique responses to an interview may increase one's attractiveness as an applicant. However, HR professionals must question if this a positive or negative. Uniqueness does ensure that the candidate is not providing a "cookie-cutter" answer but it also risk being less applicable to the job. Unique answers can be effectively evaluated by incorporating anchors into the interview. This assists managers is effectively evaluating the answers. It also ensures that unique answers are tracked and recorded for further debate. Furthermore, using anchors will reduce the likelihood of similarity effects or contrasts effects. 

Quality of an answer is far more predictive of performance instead of unique answers. Therefore, the downside of unique responses is that it may not be representative of the skills needed to be successful in the job. This once again reinforces the need for anchored responses. While a unique answer may be easily recalled, using anchors ensures that responses are scored based on the required knowledge, skills and abilities. 

Source: Roulin, N., Bangerter, A., Yerly, E. (2011). The uniqueness effect in selection interviewing. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 10 (1), 43-47.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Seeking Work-Life Balance: Employees' Requests, Supervisors' Responses and Organizational Barriers

Summary and Commentary by: Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Work-life balance has become a sensitive topic for many employees. Daily needs, such as child care and elder care, require a significant amount of time and technology (such as blackberries and e-mail) have made it difficult to "leave work at work. Previous research on this topic has focused on the consequences of work-family conflict and the benefits of successfully managing the two. The balance is also important to employers as successful work-life balance is positively correlated with job satisfaction, life satisfaction, productivity, and attendance. Lauzun, Morganson, Major and Green (2010) set out to examine work-life balance in the context of company policies and organizational support.

425 supervisors [from a Fortune 500 company producing consumer goods] were asked to respond to 5 questions for each employee supervised. A total of 1,150 requests were reported. Figure 1 elaborates on the type of employees evaluated. Supervisors were ask the following questions when an employee made a request for work-life balance:

  1. Please provide the specifics of each employee's request.
  2. Did you accommodate the request?
  3. If you answered YES, how did you accommodate the employee's request?
  4. If you answered NO, why did you not accommodate the request? (Lauzun et. al., 2010)
The results were analyzed using a deductive open-coding approach and a codebook was developed to identify reoccurring trends. Two coauthors examined the data with the codebook and a high level of interrater reliability was established. 

In total, 1,150 work-life requests were received from employees. 752 of these requests were accommodated and 326 provided reasons for not approving the requested. 72 responses did not include data from the supervisor or the researcher could not properly code the data. The most frequent type of request for schedule changes or time to be off-site (n = 523). There was a high demand for work schedule flexibility (n = 265). Some employees even asked for the possibility to telecommute (n = 46). 

The second most common type of request focused on an employee's daily workload (n = 33). Many individuals felt that a collection of their meetings were not a valuable use of time. Previous research has found that meeting frequency is linked to daily fatigue and subjective workload (Luong & Rogelerg, 2005 as cited in Lauzun et. al., 2010). There were also requests to improve operating procedures.

The third most reoccurring requests were for resources to better assist the work-life balance (n = 230). This could include technology or additional staffing needs. 

A collection of employees requested social support and emotional support that did not fit into the other themes (n = 64), such as emotional support, compensation or on-site amenities. 

Figure two demonstrates the frequencies for the amount of requests and their themes. 

When responding to the requests, 58% of supervisors accommodated employees that expressed interest in schedule changes (n = 523) or accommodations (n = 301). 81% of requests for work resources were also approved, with 230 requests for resources and 186 accommodations. Solutions included coaching, training, increased/reallocation of staff and additional tools/equipment. 333 requests were made to change one's daily work but only 46% (n = 146) were approved. For an overview of results, please refer to Figure 3.

When examining requests for emotional and instrumental support, 119 accommodations were made when there were only 64 requests. Several reasons were identified for this difference: (1) supervisor communicated with employees when work/life balance requests were made and (2) supervisors provided support when they were unable to satisfy requests in an instrumental matter. 

Further analysis of the data revealed several barriers that overpowered a supervisors ability to grant requests. A total of 326 were identified and sorted into 6 categories: authority, seeking resolution, policy/culture, insufficient resources, job requirements, and multiple involvement. 109 requests were denied because the supervisor lacked the authority to authorize the request. It was also found that 40 requests were not approved because the appropriate staffing or funding was not available (Resources). Several requests were denied because of organizational policy or norms (n = 18) and and others were denied because the job requirements (n = 18) forbid such a requests. Supervisors were unable to approve all the requests and some needed the involvement of other parties (n = 18). Although many requests were denied, there were 91 instances where a supervisor continued to pursue the request for his/her employee. Pleasure refer to Figure 4 for a visual layout of the results.

This study produced several findings. Flexibility in work time and location seems to be the greatest in demand for work-life balance. Telecommuting can also benefit employers as it can reduce building and maintenance costs. It was also found that adjusting work responsibilities and providing additional resources could assist in work-life balance.

A variety of limitations exist in this study. First and foremost, the study was based upon self-report data and therefore the data is vulnerable to recall bias. Additionally, subordinates may be hesitant to make requests to their supervisor in fear of negative consequences. Another vital limitation is that the study focused on one organization and therefore cannot be applied to the population.

As one of the few qualitative studies to examine work-life balance, this study produces some interesting findings. However, it also suggests valuable information for human resources. One key point is that human resources professionals should empower managers to control the schedules of their employees. There should be no need for managers to obtain input from others or to seek alternative resolutions. This can discourage employees from making future requests and create anxiety as they wait to hear if their request is approved. Supervisors should have a general understanding of the needs of their departments and thus have no need to check with others. If this were my company, I would likely investigate why input is needed from others. It is possible that this manager needs assistance in managing resources.

Flex-time was identified as one of the most common requests among employees. Given today's technology and globalization, it is sometimes in a company's best interest to allow employees to telecommute. As mentioned by the researchers, it can reduce costs of upkeep and properties. It also makes it easier to find the most suitable candidates for open positions, as a company does not need to limit their search to local candidates. There are incidents when telecommuting is not possible or it does not align with the company culture. A company must weigh the benefits and draw-backs to determine if telecommuting is compatible with the organization's needs.

It is reassuring to see that managers are likely to provide emotional support when requests are not approved. However, managers should always be emotionally supportive of their team. Support fosters trust, and an employee that trusts his/her manager is more likely to be committed to the job. Managers do not need to be best friends with their employees but they should be able to talk to employees when they notice unusual behavior. For instance, after taking a call, my co-worker becomes immediately withdrawn. After noticing this, my managers takes her to the parking lot to talk. She later hands her the keys and says,"if you need to go home, I will understand". That is support and it strengthened the relationship between my coworker and my manager. Heck! It made me view my manager in a whole different light!

Source: Lauzun, H.M., Morganson, V.J., Major, D.A., & Green, A.P. (2010). Seeking work-life balance: Employees' requests, supervisors' responses, and organizational barriers. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 13 (3), 184-205.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Can personal control over the physical environment ease distractions in office workplaces?

Summary and commentary by Ian B. Mondrow, M.A.

Personal control is defined as the perceived control an individual has over various characteristics of his/her environment, which includes: (1) the organization of one's workspace; (2) personalizing one's workspace; (3) control over social contact; and (4) control over temperature, lighting and the work process (Lee & Brand, 2009). Distraction is the extent to which an individual feels diverted, disturbed or annoyed by an unwanted stimulus in the work environment.

Little consensus has been achieved on  on control in the workplace, therefore much of the information was obtained from previous studies to create the control construct for this study. 9 items were developed to measure control using a 7-point likeart scale. Statements were collected from a previous study conducted by Weisman (1986) which measured concentration and noise level. 8 statements were extracted and utilized a 7-point likeart scale. Finally, one's judgement on his/her performance was collected based on Oldham's (1988) aspects of quality, quantity and creativity. These items were scored on a 5-point scale.

A sample population was collected utilizing three manufacturing companies based in Michigan. A total of 384 surveys were analyzed. Information about the physical aspect of each building was also collected, including, year constructed, facility size, renovation history, distribution method of HVAC systems and workspace specifications.

Demographics include the following:

  • 62% male; 38% female
  • 28% worked in engineering; 12.8% worked in marketing; 58% were employed in engineer/technical/ professional positions; 24% were managers; 13% were clerical/support and 4.2% considered themselves as other
  • 74% worked in an open office  with high dividers
  • Office type varied based on job category (i.e. clerical personnel were more likely to work in a cubicle and a professional is more likely to have an office
The analysis methodology was unclear and questionable. It is possible that I may not have a background in this methodology but there was no p-value to designate the significance of the results. However, the authors state that perceived control over the physical environment environment mediated the negative effects of distraction on one's performance.  Therefore, the negative effects of distracting noise can be decreased by providing employee's control of their personal work place. 

Results need to be interpreted delicately as they were collected based on self-report. Clearly self-report surveys are vulnerable to biases. 

While the topic requires further research, it does reveal some helpful information. First and foremost, private offices are the ideal workspace for any employee, as it dramatically reduces the possibility of distractions. However, private offices for every individual employee is not always feasible and therefore, companies often resort to a public work environment.

When a public work environment is needed, employers should try to eliminate distractions as much as possible. One popular method is to use cubicle walls to provide employees with privacy. Some companies choose to avoid cubicles due to the stigma it can create. Even with cubicles, distractions, such as noise, are impossible to avoid. This article suggest increasing an employee's sense of personal control can assist them in blocking external distractions. Simple yet effective methods can be used, such as: 
Believe it or not, it is possible to get cubicles with doors
  • Instead of using overhead fluorescent lights, give employees lamps with a dimming feature
  • Allow employees to layout furniture
  • Encourage employee's to decorate their desk with pictures of their liking
  • Allow employees to which desk they want to sit at (if possible)
  • Enclose a cubicle and give employees the right to have a door

Source: Lee, S.Y., & Brand, J.L. (2010). Can personal control over the physical environment ease distractions in office workplaces? Ergonomics, 53 (3), 324-335.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Resume or curriculum vitae?

Summary and commentary by Ian Mondrow

Throughout my career, I have met people of different backgrounds. Some people have doctorates, others have been working for fifth-teen years and some people are just entering the job market. It was not until I applied for my friend's former position, that I realized some people use curriculum vitae (CV) instead of a resume. I decided to investigate this methodology further by asking my HR and recruiter friends. 

A survey was developed using Google docs and participants were obtained via LinkedIn and LinkedIn. In total, 12 participants completed the survey. Of these participants, 4 of them were human resources professionals, 4 worked in the recruitment industry, 3 were company owners and 1 person identified themselves as other. All participants were asked to rank a collection of statements based on a 5-point likert scale of agreement (1 = disagree and 5 = agree). Below are the following statements that were assessed:

  1. A resume should only be one page.
  2. A curriculum vitae works just as well as a resume.
  3. A curriculum vitae is best suitable for a PhD or PhD ABD.
  4. An individual with a graduate degree can have a resume that is more than one page.
  5. A resume can be more than one page if a candidate has enough job experience.
  6. A curriculum vitae is only applicable for jobs in academics.
  7. A curriculum vitae is only applicable for jobs in research.
  8. Bachelor graduates should not use a curriculum vitae.
  9. A resume is far more effective than a curriculum vitae.
  10. Recent graduates should apply for jobs with a curriculum vitae.
Figure 1: A resume should only be one page
Questions 1, 4, and 5 questioned respondents on the lengths of resumes and their preferences. Contrary to the teachings of many career centers, 10 out of 12 respondents disagreed that resumes should only be one page. Furthermore, no respondents agreed with that statement. Figure one demonstrates these results in a bar graph. Questions 4 and 5 continue by asking if there are exceptions to the 1 page standard. 9 out of 12 respondents agreed that it is more acceptable for individuals with advanced degrees (i.e. Masters, PhD, etc.). Moreover, all participants agreed that it is acceptable to have more than one page if an individual has enough job experience. Figure 2 demonstrates their agreement in a bar graph. 

Items 2,3 and 6-10 focused on the usage of a CV instead of a resume. As expected, most participants agreed that a CV is best for candidates with a PhD, at least according to 10 participants. It was expected that CVs would be preferred for academic or research jobs but there was no consistent pattern between participants. Please refer to figure 2 and 3 for a representation of these results. Surprisingly, no one completely agreed with statements 6 and 7. The usage of the word "only" in these statements may have impacted the results.

Figure 2: A CV is only applicable for jobs in academics

Figure 3: A CV is only applicable for jobs in research
Results continued to shock as no participants showed any agreement to item 10, which states that graduates should use a CV. In general, there was no preference between a CV or a resume.

In general, one's job experience seems to be the determining factor of resume length. If an individual has enough experience to fill more than one page, it is more acceptable to include 2 pages if the content consumes at least half of the second page. One respondent mentioned that recruiters won't read 2 pages but all participants agreed that having a 2 page resume can be beneficial if it contains significant accomplishments and relevant information. 

The only exception to that rule is if an individual utilizes a CV. CVs are generally longer in length. Using a CV instead of a resume appears to be personal preference and hiring managers have their preference as well.  When participants were asked if they prefer a CV or a resume, most of them responded that it varied on the market and the job. Therefore, job applicants should conduct research to determine if a resume or CV would be more suitable. 

Figure 4: A CV is only applicable for jobs in academics
There are several limitations to this study. First and foremost, the participants are not a true representation of the population. This representation is difficult to achieve with only 12 people. Second, the size of the participant pool can drastically alter the results of a study. The fewer participants that participate, the more weight their market has. 

Thank you for all those who have participated!