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Person in the shadows at work.

When workers feel powerless, they get paranoid—and aggressive


If employees lack power at work, they can feel vulnerable and paranoid. In turn, that paranoia can cause people to lash out against colleagues or family members and even undermine their organization’s success, according to new research published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

This feeling is common, says Min-Hsuan Tu, assistant professor of organization and human resources. If you’ve ever stressed over why a co-worker sent you a terse email or didn’t respond at all, you’ve experienced it too.

Tu and her co-authors ran five studies with more than 2,300 people. Their results showed paranoia increased as people felt less power at work. In addition, paranoid individuals were more likely to engage in mild forms of aggression, like being unpleasant toward co-workers, complaining about work tasks and purposely wasting company resources. Some even took their aggression home, getting angry with a family member or spouse.

“Paranoia can cause people to interpret benign interactions—a colleague not saying hello in the hallway—as hostile or offensive,” Tu says. “Even without any interaction at all, some people may worry others are talking behind their back.”

The researchers discovered, however, that individuals with higher socioeconomic status, and those who felt supported by their company and manager, were less likely to experience paranoia than others with similar levels of power.

“That’s why it’s especially important for leaders to create a supportive work environment,” Tu says, “by allocating resources and offering promotions fairly, strengthening supervisor-subordinate relationships, disincentivizing self-serving behaviors and removing job stressors.”

Michael Schaerer, of the Singapore Management University (SMU), led the study, along with Trevor Foulk, University of Maryland; Christilene du Plessis, SMU; Tu; and Satish Krishnan, Indian Institute of Management Kozhikode.

Two hands holding a video game controller with wrists bound by the cord.

Achievement, escapism can lead to video game addiction


“Gaming can be traced throughout human history as a way to help people relax and retreat from daily routines. But the booming popularity of online games has led to an increase in addiction, which can result in players ignoring family and job responsibilities. Severe cases can lead players to crime, health problems or even death.”

— Lawrence Sanders, professor of management science and systems, on his study showing that some video game players are becoming addicted amid increased popularity and the COVID-19 pandemic. The research appeared in Decision Support Systems.

Robot in a chocolate factory.

Organizations can learn more from internet-connected devices


“Designing algorithms that can learn from data is crucial for businesses. Our model allows devices to communicate with one another—making them robust against network failures—while enhancing the quality of information for decision-makers and doing it several orders of magnitude faster than other similar solutions.”

— Haimonti Dutta, assistant professor of management science and systems, on a new algorithm she created that allows for fast learning among the Internet of Things. The study was published in Management Science.  

Stressed accountant.

Overworked employees are less likely to produce quality audits


“Finding and retaining qualified staff poses serious concern for large audit firms, and employees have been dissatisfied with the long hours associated with their careers. These high workloads can impair auditors’ judgements and lead to compromised procedures, resulting in decreased audit quality.”

— Joshua Khavis, assistant professor of accounting and law, on his research that found accounting firms that overwork their employees are less likely to produce high-quality audits. The study was published in Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory.

Businessperson selecting physician rating.

The problem with doctor rating websites



Online rating sites for doctors are growing in popularity and influence, but the accuracy of information they contain can be lacking, according to new School of Management research.

“The phrase ‘doctors near me’ is now searched almost nine times more than it was five years ago, and more than 30% of consumers compare physicians online before choosing a provider,” says Pavankumar Mulgund, clinical assistant professor of management science and systems. “But physician-rating websites are less popular than similar sites for consumer goods because users don’t trust the accuracy of the data.”

In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the researchers analyzed 49 papers and identified 18 data quality issues affecting physician-rating websites. They classified the issues into categories, measuring such details as accuracy, objectivity, reputation, relevance, timeliness, completeness and believability of the source. In addition, they evaluated the role of the systems that store the data, interfaces that present the data and the safety and security of the data systems.

Their results show a range of issues across all categories, particularly the impact of inline advertisements and the positioning of positive reviews on the first few pages, which is usually deliberate and result from the business model of the sites.

“The main hurdle affecting the accuracy of reviews and rating data was the glaring absence of negative ratings,” says Raj Sharman, professor of management science and systems. “These sites can even allow physicians to become premium subscribers with an option to hide up to three negative comments, which can mislead consumers and raise ethical questions.”

Mulgund and Sharman collaborated on the study with UB master’s students Priya Anand, Priya Karadi and Shashank Shekhar.

Manager speaking to employees at a conference table.

Why leaders should focus on resolving negativity—through humility



A leader who displays humble behaviors can boost team performance by reducing negative relationships in the group, according to new School of Management research.

Published in Human Relations, the study found that while negative relationships in groups are rarer than positive ones, the negative is far more influential on team effectiveness and performance.

“A dilemma for leaders with limited time and bandwidth is where to focus: building positive relationships or resolving negative ones,” says Paul Tesluk, professor and dean. “Human beings are attuned to and more influenced by the negative.”

The researchers conducted two surveys with work teams consisting of 120 formal leaders and nearly 500 members. The first survey asked team members to assess the humility of their managers and the social networks within their teams. Five months later, they surveyed the teams a second time to have leaders evaluate team performance and team members report their assessment of team-helping norms.

Their results show that humble leaders have fewer negative relationships on their teams and more positive ones, which results in members helping each other more—making them more effective and more likely to remain on the team in the long term.

“Studies have shown the harmful impact a few ‘bad apples’ can bring to work groups,” says Prasad Balkundi, associate professor and chair of organization and human resources. “Humble leaders are more self-aware, show more appreciation toward others, engage in more listening and model a culture of learning by accepting mistakes. They also serve as role models, allowing team members to become more positive and forgiving.”

The researchers recommend several ways to improve managers’ humility levels, including fostering a learning organization culture, selecting leaders who can be good role models, and promoting this learning through training.

Tesluk and Balkundi collaborated on the study with School of Management graduate and lead author Chia-Yen (Chad) Chiu, associate director of the Centre for Workplace Excellence at the University of South Australia, and Bradley Owens, associate professor in the Brigham Young University Marriott School of Business.

Meat on a grill.

When meat-eaters feel guilty, they choose healthier meat dishes—not veggies


“Meat eating is thoroughly ingrained in most cultures. Research shows that when our moral standards and self-serving desires come into conflict, our self-interest often wins.”

—Sunyee Yoon, assistant professor of marketing, on her research showing that when most people are confronted with the moral issue of animal suffering, they pick a meat dish that’s prepared in a healthier way over an unhealthy meat option—or a vegetable-based dish—to reduce their sense of guilt. The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.