Published: 28 January 2019

Spotlight on Dr Tara Reich, Senior Lecturer in Work and Organisational Psychology

Dr Tara Reich is Senior Lecturer in Work and Organisational Psychology at Surrey Business School, with a broad research interest in the area of employee well-being, with a specific interest in the psychology of workplace mistreatment.

Dr Reich shares with us what has inspired her career choices so far; as well as offering a closer look at an interesting new project she is leading in uncovering how targets of mistreatment at work can empower themselves.

  • What inspired you to pursue a career in the field of organisational behaviour and employee well-being?

My interest in understanding why people do what they do led me to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Psychology from the University of Manitoba (Canada). However, my interest in Organisational Behaviour wasn’t sparked until I met my PhD supervisor, Professor M. Sandy Hershcovis (now at the University of Calgary), who was studying workplace mistreatment. Initially I worked for Professor Hershcovis as a research assistant on one of her projects; my job was to interview employees of a large furniture manufacturing company about their negative experiences at work. The project had a big impact on me. I was floored by the employees’ stories of being mistreated, some of which were so heart-breaking that they stick with me today. The descriptions of these incidents really got me thinking about how much potential witnesses of mistreatment have for making things better (and worse) for the person targeted.

Soon after we finished our interviews, I approached Professor Hershcovis with the idea to explore how and why those who witness but are not involved in an incident of mistreatment at work react toward the people who are. She took me on as her first PhD student, and I have been studying “observers of mistreatment” ever since.

  • What’s the best piece of business advice you would give to someone starting out in your industry?

Since joining Surrey Business School, I’ve been really fortunate to teach on the Executive MBA programme in a module called “Managing the Agile Business”. This module integrates material on organisational operations with organisational behaviour; with the aim of helping organisational leaders see the interconnection between their decisions and the consequences these have for employees. We don’t need to look very hard to find examples of decisions, often intended to cut costs, appearing entirely logical on paper, but are overturned by the negative reactions of employees who are supposedly beneficiaries of these efficiencies.

So my broad advice for anyone who wants to (or has to) make operational or other strategic decisions for their organisation is to think through the consequences for the human beings that will be affected by it, and plan accordingly.

  • What notable project are you currently working on and why are you excited about this?

I am currently working on a project with some colleagues in the Department of People and Organisations, examining how targets of mistreatment can use humour to influence how witnesses perceive and react to them. I’m really excited about this one because we are challenging an assumption in this literature that targets are passive recipients of their mistreatment. For example, existing work (some of which I have been involved in), suggests that witnesses who are powerful are willing to confront the perpetrator but avoid the target, whereas witnesses who are low in power support the target and avoid the perpetrator. Unfortunately, this perspective doesn’t offer much in the way of useful advice for targets, other than to try to make sure that witnesses with the “right” level of power are present when mistreatment occurs. By contrast, our approach opens up the possibility of empowering targets to use humour as a means to solicit the support they need.

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