Five minutes with…Dr Sandra Lawrence

Dr Sandra Lawrence

Early on, Dr Sandra Lawrence’s research considered how social support helped people cope in the workplace. A former Research Fellow of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, and now Chief Investigator on two Australia Research Council projects — one of which she leads – we spent five minutes with Sandra to learn a little more about her research’s subsequent trajectory…

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

Although my interests vary also with my Higher Degree Research (HDR) students’ thesis topics, the three main areas in which I currently research look at how Emotional Intelligence (EI) facilitates Emotion Regulation (ER) behaviours in the context of workplace anger arising from managerial injustice; how employees regulate their anger to deal with interpersonal conflict; and how Human Resource Management (HRM) processes influence clinical performance in Australian hospitals.

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

My [Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery project] colleagues and I are interested in how EI facilitates [workers’] ER behaviours when dealing with supervisor-invoked anger, but our exploration of the area has shown a need for much more clarity conceptualisation and measurement of ER at the interpersonal level. The current ER literature uses different theoretical perspectives with a lot of research having been done through the lens of the individual worker. It gets more complicated at the ‘interpersonal’ level however. The consideration of this cyclic process of how we influence others’ emotions in the workplace and they of ours is referred to as ‘interpersonal regulation’.

Tell us more about what are you working on at the moment then….

Our team has recently resubmitted a review article to the Journal of Organizational Behaviour outlining the confusion currently existing at the interpersonal level,…with a view clarifying their underlying theoretical frameworks and paving the way forward for more considered future research regarding this phenomenon. Secondly, in theory, higher levels of EI helps individuals adaptively choose and implement strategies to for regulating their emotions, which in turn, prevents their work-related attitudes, behaviours and performance from deteriorating. Our project has conducted a range of experimental and survey studies with students and employees to look at these links in further detail. Our results are showing that those with high levels of EI do not always behave as expected.

As an Investigator on an ARC Linkage project which is also at write up stage, we are preparing a paper for presentation at this year’s Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management (ANZAM) conference in December, 2015. Using our Linkage partner’s (the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards’ (ACHS)) accreditation data and their clinical program, the paper looks at how HRM processes influence clinical care processes and in turn, hospitals’ clinical performance, e.g. readmission rates, number of [patient] falls.

Finally, are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?

ER research has direct relevance to practice. HRM staff often interpret poor manager performance or interpersonal conflict in groups as a result of poor communication skills, negotiation skills or a lack of understanding about ethical behaviour. However, the way we regulate our emotions underpins how effectively we communicate our true intentions. In this way, some of the problematic situations HR staff face may be more accurately diagnosed as resulting from a deficiency in emotion regulation skills. We aim to convince HR practitioners that managers in particular should have access to emotion regulation training so that they can develop into more effective leaders. Such training can allow managers to become more aware of the influence of their own (and their employees’) emotion regulation decisions on workplace communication, and become skilled at adaptively using a variety of functional emotion regulation strategies to influence themselves and others in order to achieve organisational goals.

With regards to our ARC Linkage project, we hope to influence policy decisions in the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Healthcare (a Federal Government body) – they introduced the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards (NSQHSS) accreditation scheme in January 2013.The new NSQHSS scheme adopted by many hospitals focuses almost exclusively on improving clinical care. In contrast, the ACHS accreditation program focuses on improving a wide range of sub-system processes important to the functioning of hospitals, including a more comprehensive examination of HRM processes. Our project with ACHS will potentially highlight the importance of devoting money and resources to improve a variety of HRM processes (e.g, skills management), as a way of improving clinical performance in hospitals.

[This article was updated 6 July, 2015 (5 pm) from that originally published on 1 July, 2015]