Employees in today’s workplace are increasingly viewed by some employers as an “easy come, easy go” type of commodity, says Jone Pearce, Graduate School of Management interim dean and professor and author in the field of organizational design and performance motivation. However, this doesn’t make good business sense, for reasons that Pearce and her colleagues are investigating. Her research thus far has demonstrated that organizations that offer no job security to employees disrupt the natural course of social network building within the company, which is essential to effective problem solving in the workplace.
Assuming employees are expendable can be costly, says the organizational expert, it’s an attitude that not only lowers work-performance, but also limits a company’s ability to attract the best qualified and most competent employees. According to Pearce, “this attitude actually encourages employees to withhold effort on the job to right the balance.”
The explanation for these findings, she says, can be found in the notion of “social capital,” which is a resource individuals possess as a result of their social relationships. Individuals with social capital, according to Pearce, are able to gain access to information and other resources that facilitate getting things done at work.
For example, these individuals may be able to utilize their contacts in the company to gain support for interdepartmental projects, or rely on associates within the company who may be willing to help in accomplishing an organizational goal.
Social capital has a broad range of useful applications on the job, she says, from knowing whom to call to ensure that customers’ bills are paid promptly, to having access to information from a regular golf partner that may help in working through a tough contract negotiation.
Social capital, she explains, is an intangible, yet a very powerful resource in which one can invest with the expectation of future returns. When these types of personal relationships are cultivated in this organizational context, she says, they almost always prove useful for future business activities.
Pearce’s investigation has also demonstrated that when organizations encourage employees to focus on company mobility, employees don’t build social networks within the company, nor do they make a strong commitment to the organization. This is costly to the company in many ways, she says.
Employees that expect to face continued changes in employers spend much more time focused on building social capital outside their work organization as a hedge against job loss. And, this lack of social capital-building with co-workers, Pearce notes, is highly associated with lower job performance.
Pearce, who became interim dean of the Graduate School of Management on July 1, is also interested in the effect of contract workers on organizations. Her research indicates that as the number of contract workers increases, employees begin to view the company as more exploitive and uncommitted to permanent staff.
So it appears, that if employers are looking for high productivity, they should avoid giving the impression that they aren’t in it for the long haul, says Pearce, because ultimately, the entire organization may be less productive because of it.
Pearce and her UCI colleagues have received a National Science Foundation Grant to study the differences in the ways organizations can demonstrate commitment and investment in their employees. The research will shed more light on this workplace dynamic and explore what types of investments may work best for promoting long-term commitment and productivity in the workplace.
Pearce’s research has also focuses on dissecting the complex conversions of state-owned work organizations to private enterprise in former communist countries of Hungary, Lithuania and Russia. Her primary interest is understanding how these work- organizations evolve, and how individuals adapt to the new organizations that emerge in this type of environment, better serving both the needs of employees and the company.
As president-elect of the prestigious Academy of Management, Pearce’s vision is to expand access to management scholarship in ways that promote the exchange of new knowledge internationally. She has an energetic, “build a better world” kind of perspective toward her new role.
“The academy is dedicated to assisting all of its members in gaining a higher level of professional sophistication and expertise. I am particularly interested in expanding the academy’s services to reach those members in countries that might not otherwise have the resources to participate,” says Pearce. The fastest growing portions of the academy’s new membership are non-North Americans. We want to help professors in countries such as India and South America (where salaries may be several hundred dollars per month) have opportunities to enhance their teaching skills and join in scholarly debate through their involvement with the academy, she says.
Pearce also explains that through the academy members can find access to professional networks in the U.S. and abroad, and in some cases, to scholarship funds for academy-sponsored programs. “We are also working on ways to make our website more accessible to our members in all countries, so it can be better utilized as a resource for improving and expanding business curricula.” The distinguished researcher notes that, “I feel strongly that the benefit of this type of exchange and process of sharing what works and what doesn’t in this international setting is a process that continues to reshape the core of management education for the future.”
As organizations embrace new ideas, changing tenor and direction, Pearce and her colleagues are focusing on the shifting dynamics of what makes organizations tick in the emerging global economy. Her positive energy and approach, and commitment to her profession are indicators of her dedication to shaping the future of management research and enhancing the learning process, and the practice of education in the management disciplines around the world.