The University Network

Professor Teaches Students How To Enjoy Life, Both On And Off The Clock

There are many benefits to attending college, but higher education is primarily geared to prepare young adults with the skill sets they need to excel in their future jobs.

And in order to enjoy a long, rewarding and happy career, students must learn more than, for example, how to draft a report, create a spreadsheet or become a master coder.

Young adults also need to learn how to work effectively and cordially with their colleagues or co-workers. After all, at least five days a week will be spent interacting with these people, and finding a way to be comfortable at work can greatly impact quality of life, both on and off the clock.  

But maintaining a healthy workplace is a difficult task, and recent studies prove that it takes effort and compassion from both employers and employees.

Kate Zipay, a researcher and assistant professor in the University of Oregon’s Lundquist College of Business, understands the importance of maintaining a civil workplace. Reinforced by evidence from her research, she teaches students how to lead and be led.

“I think it’s important to ask what a compassionate workplace looks like,” Zipay said in a statement. “I teach not only what is leadership at work, but also what is exceptional and kind leadership.”

In two separate papers, which were conducted while Zipay was still a doctoral student at the University of Georgia, she and her colleagues found that when an employee vents to a coworker about their supervisor’s decision, the overall performance of the complaining employee declines.

However, if the person listening to the coworker’s rant is able to reframe the situation instead of being passive, the negative effect is lessened.

The findings from the two papers highlight the importance of empathy in the workplace.

In the first paper, Zipay and her fellow researchers surveyed 170 London bus drivers and 25 of their supervisors about how a disagreement played out.

Additionally, in an experimental setting, the researchers split up college students and assigned them to roleplay as either a talker or a listener in a set-up scenario of a co-worker complaining about their boss.

“When we set up questionable scenarios, there was a lot of employee venting,” Zipay said in a statement. “We’re told that talking about all these things, letting it off your chest, is good, based on social assumptions, but we found that many of these people were leaving their sessions more angry.”

However, if the listener is able to reframe the situation, the angry employee is more likely to empathize with the boss, understand his or her perspective or realize that the boss might have been having a bad day, according to Zipay.

In the second paper, the researchers assessed the impressions of 165 Irish employees during their first 10 days with Big Four accounting firms, and they made another mock scenario with students in an experimental setting.

Through this portion of the research, they determined that the physical environment of a workplace can also impact workers’ feelings of comfort and trust.  

“We argued that there are things you look for in an organization when you are new and are determining your trust,” Zipay said in a statement. “Does the place look normal and safe? How aesthetic is the place? A lot of research has focused on the benevolence and the integrity of a company. In addition, we found that the workplace environment also matters in building and earning trust.”

It is important for people be comfortable at work, while also enjoying life outside of it, according to Zipay. The information gathered from these two projects can help both managers and employees be pleased with their lives both at and away from work.

“Hopefully, people can find a good balance,” Zipay said in a statement. “What I’m trying to do is help people achieve better well-being, yet also perform well at work. We need to get away from the notion that work and nonwork are in opposition with each other. Experiences from both inside and outside the workplace are important for living holistic lives.”