Associate Professor Ashlea Troth has always been interested in people. She likes to know what makes them tick!! We spend a lot of time in the workplace, she says, and how one thinks and feels at, and about work, has a huge impact. So we spent five minutes with Ashlea to learn a little more about what she thinks and feels about being a researcher…
In what area/s does your research interests lie?
Ultimately, I’m interested in things that improve [employees’] work experiences, their wellbeing, and from that, their performance. We spend a good chunk of our lives at work and thus our worklife experiences have a big impact on our overall quality of life as well as our identity. This is one of the reasons why I moved across from social psychology to organisational behaviour; it has greater practical implications for a large group of people. More specifically, my research focuses on how employees and teams manage their own and others emotions in the workplace, and the impact this has on their workplace communication and performance.
Over the years, I have become increasingly interested too in multilevel research that spans the individual, interpersonal and team level. I have always found it ‘odd’ that a lot of HR [human resources] and Employment theories are rational and logical models and frameworks. For me, this does not accurately capture what happens in the workplace, and emotions research at least partially fills this gap.
At the moment I am also interested in how frontline managers regulate their emotion when engaging with different daily tasks (e.g., giving negative or positive feedback; resolving conflict etc.).
I’m interested too in understanding why some people are better, or not so good at, managing their and other people’s emotions.
Are there emerging or ongoing trends in your fields of research?
Emotions research [is] limited a lot by its methodology – surveys and interviews traditionally. But…[just as] emotions…change moment by moment, the methodology is changing swiftly…and range from using smart phone apps and watches that capture real-time emotion and emotion regulation strategies in response to certain events, to getting neuro- and physiological data (e.g., brain imaging, collecting cortisol and other biochemical markers etc.). Another trend, as for most OB [organisational behaviour] research, is to examine how workplace emotions (and consequences) occur at multilevels (e.g., within person, individual, dyadic, team and organisational level), and identifying some of the boundary conditions around these relationships.
Has there been major developments or key findings that have directed the trajectory of your research?
My work with Professor Peter Jordan kick-started my interest in emotions research many years ago in the area of emotional intelligence. Since then our work has transformed to a greater focus on employee’s use of different forms of emotional regulation strategies for specific emotions (e.g., anger). We have had two successful ARC [Australian Research Council] Discoveries [grants] on these topics.
Most recently, my research has taken a new and exciting direction with Dr Rebecca Loudoun, Professor Paula Brough and Dr Amanda Biggs. We are currently in the process of developing and validating a safety culture tool for a large organisation that includes a large proportion of blue collar workers employed within facilities and property, labour hire and maritime management. This organisation embodies health and safety practice and principles and the tool will help them recruit people who embody the same. It [also seeks to] identify areas within the organisation where there is health and safety risk not already identified by their existing tools…, as well as…areas for more education on health and safety matters. As we develop and validate this tool, the same project [calls upon my] psychology training [alongside that of] fellow psych. colleagues, Paula…and Amanda.
Another direction I’ve been involved in is multi-level research:…how individuals with skills have an impact on team performance, or how the relationship between a frontline manager impacts on the employees within that relationship. In the past, both I…and the OB area have neglected the team-level focus.
Where my earlier research looks at the cause of things and why it happens, it hasn’t really looked at how it can help an organisation. Community impact and agreement is so important now and this is partly why I’m doing these projects – you feel like you’re making a difference now.
What are you working on at the moment?
Recent tangents [include] a project with Associate Professor Keith Townsend and Rebecca funded by the Centre for Workplace Leadership (University of Melbourne) on frontline managers — people who have a lot of pressure on them — and how they manage an array of tasks daily, how they feel about it, and how they regulate their emotions around those tasks; and the aforementioned recruiting for organisational values research. These proceeded work with long-time collaborator Peter, and Dr Sandra Lawrence, on how employees regulate their emotions, and especially, how they regulate their anger.
Finally, are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?
A lot of organisations can see the benefit in training people up in emotional regulation or intelligence skills. One challenge though is letting an organisation know that it’s not the panacea and that they should be looking at the recruitment and selection stage – hiring people with [the] sorts of attributes [they desire] and not just the hard skills, for example, engineering [qualifications].