Donovan Explores Workplace Behaviors in Research

Dr. John Donovan provides insight from his current research concerning workplace behaviors.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How can employers ensure that they are hiring and retaining their best employees, especially in a volatile job market? Dr. John Donovan, associate professor and the new chair of the Department of Management, is providing insight from his current research concerning workplace behaviors, including job applicant dishonesty and employee motivation.

Dishonesty among job applicants is on the rise, Donovan says, due to personality tests given by employers that allow individuals to skew their answers in order to be seen more favorably. Donovan, who has been researching this particular topic since graduate school, is exploring how often employees lie about their information.

As part of his research, Donovan surveyed pharmaceutical sales representatives who were applying for a particular job. One of the survey questions asked about their experience with a fictitious software system. Approximately 30 to 40 percent of the job candidates said that they were highly skilled in the product.

“It’s interesting and scary at the same time — that people exaggerate their qualities,” he said. “It’s not surprising that this trend is increasing, as we’re seeing a very competitive job market right now. Individuals are finding a lot of different ways to market themselves in this uncertain economy. I don’t think it’s limited to any particular occupation.”

His other research investigates the motivation of people, particularly how individuals respond to the failure to reach their goals.

“There are personality differences among individuals — those who give up and those who keep trying. What makes some individuals more persistent than others?” said Donovan, whose sample includes employees, students and athletes. “Obviously, no one wants to fail, but failure is unavoidable. Some of the best Fortune 500 Companies are not afraid to fail. Instead, making mistakes is a learning experience.”

This practical application of research was what initially attracted Donovan to the study of Industrial and Organizational Psychology as a doctoral student at University of Albany, State University of New York.

“The field explores how we can find and manage the best people for the company. It looks for ways to motivate employees in order to influence business success,” he said.

Similarly at Rider, Donovan finds ways to motivate his students to excel in the classroom by encouraging them to apply concepts to real life scenarios. For example, in his HRM 316 - Compensation Administration course, Donovan assigns his students to interview a full-time employee to find out about their company’s compensation system.  By applying course concepts, the students must evaluate the effectiveness of the compensation system and identify areas for improvement.

“I really believe in the value of applying what you learn. My hope is that students can take what they have learned in their management classes and apply it to the real world,” he said. “From a personal perspective, if I don’t understand why I’m learning information, I’m less likely to learn it. I think that is why it’s important to show students why they are learning these concepts.”

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Dr. John Donovan, associate professor and the new chair of the Department of Management