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Speedy decisions as critical in the workplace as in the courtroom, ASU professor finds

ASU research finds timeliness as important as fairness in workplace decisions.
January 23, 2019

Timeliness on pay, promotions can increase 'citizenship behavior' in employees

Americans have a constitutional right to a “speedy” trial, and new research by an Arizona State University professor has found that the concept of procedural timeliness is critical to employees as well.

Michael Baer, an assistant professor of management in the W. P. Carey School of Business, said that much research has been done on fairness in workplace decisions, but the concept of timeliness has been mostly ignored.

“We said, ‘Let’s revisit this and see how much employees actually care.’ We found that they care a whole lot,” said Baer, whose paper will be published in Personnel Psychology.

In fact, their research found that timeliness mattered regardless of whether employees got a desired result, such as a raise, promotion or desired assignment.

Michael Baer

Michael Baer is an assistant professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“Consistently, people care how long it takes. Even when I got what I wanted, if it took a long time, I still was upset,” he said.

The teamBaer's co-authors were Ryan Outlaw of Indiana University, Jason Colquitt of the University of Georgia and Hudson Sessions of the University of Oregon. put ads on Craigslist around the country to survey people who worked full time. Then, their supervisors also had to agree to be surveyed.

“That was important because instead of them just saying, ‘I helped out more,’ we know from their supervisors whether they actually did,” he said.

The key is for employees to exhibit “citizenship behavior.”

“Research has shown that employees who are willing to go above and beyond their core duties — willing to help the supervisor when not asked, willing to be good citizens who help the work get done — are critical in terms of group performance and organizational performance,” he said.

So they looked at attitudes and emotions that are important for work: trust, anxiety and anger.

Trust is crucial for citizenship behavior in the workplace. Employees trust supervisors who have high ability, care about them and have integrity. The researchers theorized that making decisions in a timely manner indicated proficiency and caring in bosses.

Anxiety and anger cause employees to withdraw, Baer said.

“When things aren’t going your way, you feel righteous indignation, and we tend to want to retaliate,” he said.

“In the workplace, the way we retaliate is by withholding behaviors that the supervisor wants. A lot of research backs that up.”

The team found that timeliness was more predictive of trust, anxiety and anger than even justice was.

“It makes intuitive sense,” he said. “You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes when a decision is being made. Was it unbiased? You don’t know.

“Whereas, timeliness is transparent. If it’s quick, you know it’s quick.”

So timeliness is a transparent reminder of whether the supervisor can be trusted.

But you can have too much of a good thing. Employees also don’t respond well if they perceive a decision was made too fast.

“Timeliness can mean ‘in the sweet spot,'" he said.

“What if you ask your supervisor for a raise and they come back 15 minutes later and say ‘Nope.’ Then you think, ‘Did you actually put any thought into this?’ That makes you question whether they care about you.”

Baer said that timeliness is subjective, and future research could try to pinpoint what that means. But current research has found that communicating with employees throughout the process is always a good thing.

“I teach this in my classes,” he said. “You can’t always give people what they want, but you can always treat them with respect and fairness.”

Top image by Pixabay

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


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Howard Center executive editor ready to lead next generation of investigative journalists

January 23, 2019

Award-winning AP editor Maud Beelman prepares to launch the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism in the Cronkite School

Investigative journalism is enjoying a new golden era thanks to new technologies, cutting-edge reporting techniques and expanding opportunities to hold powerful people accountable.

But there's more work to be done.

To that end, the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication launched the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism this year with a $3 million grant from the Scripps-Howard Foundation to produce a new generation of investigative journalists.

Last month, the Cronkite School hired award-winning Associated Press Investigations Editor Maud Beelman to lead the center, which will focus on high-impact, national issues. The first cohort at ASU’s Howard Center for Investigative Journalism will begin in fall 2019.

ASU Now spoke to Beelman as she begins the process of helping to design the center and courses for the university’s new master’s degree in investigative journalism. 

Woman in red hair with glasses on her head

Maud Beelman

Question: The Cronkite School is launching the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism this year. What is the goal of the center and how far along is it?

Answer: Our goal is to develop the next generation of great investigative reporters skilled in the traditions and ethics of investigative journalism, but also armed with cutting-edge reporting techniques and informed by the methodologies of other disciplines. 

It’s a hugely ambitious goal, but we have tremendous support from the Scripps Howard Foundation and the experienced and talented professionals at the Cronkite School of Journalism, as well as throughout ASU.

The first step in launching the center was the national search for an executive editor, which led to my hiring in December. We have formulated an advisory board and will soon begin a search for additional Howard Center staff. Work is underway on the Howard Center newsroom on the second floor of the Cronkite building downtown. And, most importantly, we are recruiting some amazing students for the first graduate degree program in the nation devoted to investigative reporting.

Q: Investigative journalism has ebbed and flowed throughout the decades, largely dependent on newsroom budgets. In your opinion, what is the current state of investigative journalism?

A: In many ways we are in a new golden age of investigative reporting not unlike the Watergate era of the 1970s that birthed a generation of investigative journalists. 

Questions about Russian influence in our last presidential election are driving a lot of this resurgence. But also the economics of the news business have, in strange ways, been a boon to investigative reporting. In an era in which everyone with an iPhone is a would-be journalist, having a niche product like investigative reporting can be good for a news organization’s business plan. Smart news outlets know how to market the investigative content they offer. 

Additionally, there’s been a dramatic increase in nonprofit investigative reporting outlets to fill the voids created by the downsizing of media in certain markets.

Q: The role of technology and the use of new digital tools to dig up facts seems to have played a role in enhancing investigative journalism. Is that your take as well? 

A: Technology has been hugely important to investigative reporting for decades. Originally it was called computer-assisted reporting, or CAR, but now it’s more broadly known as data journalism.

The importance of technology is such that today no investigative reporter can operate successfully without at least some basic data skills, such as working with spreadsheets or analyzing databases. 

More skilled data journalists employ statistical methodologies, such as regression analyses, or machine learning and artificial intelligence to decode vast amounts of information and help find signs of problems or trends. Satellite imagery and drone technology can play key roles in getting a look at places (that are) typically inaccessible, and as the technology continues to advance, the cost of using such equipment decreases to a manageable level. 

Q: What newspapers do investigative journalism well and what’s the last IA piece that made you stand up and take notice?

A: There’s always a risk in answering questions like this that you’ll inadvertently omit someone or something important. 

Obviously traditional investigative powerhouses like The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and Frontline regularly produce powerful, insightful investigative journalism. In the era of the Russia investigation, they’ve all stepped up their game. But nontraditional or newer media outlets, including ProPublica, Reveal, ICIJ and the Center for Public Integrity are also doing great investigative reporting.

It’s impossible to pick just one piece that stands out, in part because there’s been a lot of great investigative journalism recently. But I did think the Times’ reporting on Facebook late last year was fascinating. There was a level of technical understanding that was needed in order to investigate how Facebook was handling user data, along with the traditional modes of investigative reporting — documents and human sources. 

This is a story that affects billions of people, has vast political implications and pulls the curtain back a bit on one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing investigative journalism?

A: Investigative reporting at the local level has taken a big hit as newsrooms have shrunk, and that is worrisome, since holding power accountable is as important at the local level as it is at the state and federal levels. 

I also think there are unique challenges in doing investigative reporting in a 24/7 news environment. There is tremendous pressure to get the kind of big investigative scoops that typically take months or years on a deadline schedule more akin to wire services. Done badly, that can impact accuracy and have a chilling effect on all journalists’ credibility.

Reporter , ASU Now