Five minutes with…Wayne O’Donohue

Dr Wayne O'Donohue

Putting the ‘wellbeing’ into W.O.W, Dr Wayne O’Donohue uses a psychological lens to examine the employer-employee relationship and to understand how and why people behave the way they do at work. We spent five minutes with Wayne to learn a little more about his research…..

In what area/s do your current research interests lie?

I start from the basis that ‘work’ provides people with essential material and non-material returns. In line with this view, I think organisations serve an intrinsic social role – which is far more important than any economic function, for providing meaning and purpose to people’s lives. My research examines worker behaviour by considering how workers perceive their reality, and how they believe their work and workplace should operate if it is to meet their personal and professional goals. These perceptions and beliefs consequently inform their behaviour at work.

Are there emerging or ongoing trends in your field/s of research?

One emerging field of study is expatriates (‘expats’) and psychological contracts. With the expansion of globalisation, advances in technology, and the breaking down of barriers in travel, there is increasing interest in the impact of these changes on expatriate employees, including diversity in the mode and forms of employment, and the ways in which expatriate employees are managed. With fellow WOW member, Professor Kate Hutchings, and Associate Professor Samantha Hansen (University of Toronto), I am co-editing a special journal issue which will specifically address research into the psychological contract (PC) of expatriate employees; that is, the perceived socio-emotional and economic obligations that an expat worker believes they and their employer have to each other. Plenty of research considers the PC within the domestic business environment. Research into the management of ‘expat’ PCs, however, has been sporadic and overlooked.

What are you working on at the moment?

My main research interest at the moment is a pilot project with colleagues at the University of Tasmania (UTas) which considers volunteer workers’ psychological capital (PsyCap); that is, the extent to which individuals have hope, optimism, confidence and resilience about themselves and their work. Unlike emotions, these four psychological attributes are ‘state-like’ and capable of development. With organisations showing increasing reliance on team-based work structures, we see an opportunity to explore the concept of PsyCap at both the individual- and group-level. The project, which is supported by a Griffith Business School Internal Research Grant, will consider whether PsyCap transcends the individual level to form a developable attribute at the collective group level. If so, an individual’s PsyCap may also be influenced by the development of the level of collective hope, optimism, confidence and resilience their work group and team have.

Are there challenges in your field in bridging the gap between research, practice and policy?

It’s always difficult I think to bridge the gap between research and practice; but getting uptake of your research findings is of course always an aim. In the case of our PsyCap work, there are considerable potential benefits for organisations who wish to build a competitive advantage by way of enhanced performance from their employees. While the training and development of the individual has long been a practice, the way organisations today rely on teams means that determining whether, and if so how, PsyCap can be developed at a group-level will make a contribution to the achievement of a competitive people-based advantage.

Secondly, at a broader paradigmatic level, research into employee behaviour is dominated by a positivistic perspective which arguably reinforces the authority of management, furthers management interests, and presupposes that one best-practice can be found to fit all organisations. For example, the unitarist perspective inherent in strategic HRM makes problematic the survival of a diversity of ideas and practices in workplaces, and the benefits that follow from such diversity. Also, many researchers have long held the view that HRM is overly psychologised in its examination of employee behaviour. While I don’t share that particular view, I do think there is an increasing need for critical research that presents alternative perspectives that recognise the plurality of interests that need to be taken into account in our understanding of employee behaviour in the workplace and the management of organisations generally.