Grumps in the Workplace

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Here are some highlights from this week's On Hiring and Diversity newsletter. If you'd like to subscribe, sign up here.

What’s the secret to keeping tenured professors happy at work?

A new study suggests it’s the attitudes of the people they work with that matter most. According to survey data from more than 3,600 recently tenured associate professors at doctoral universities, how committed faculty members are to their college depends more on whether they think it’s a caring and collegial place to work than on the success of any big initiatives, Peter Schmidt writes in a Chronicle article. The study — conducted by a Harvard doctoral student in education with data from an annual survey of tenure-track faculty members by the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education — found that this is especially true for faculty members from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, Mr. Schmidt observed. “Race- and ethnicity-linked gaps in organizational commitment,” he wrote, vanished entirely when the researchers focused on “associate professors who felt equally that their immediate work environment was supportive.” That’s potentially good news for cash-strapped colleges, since improving how employees treat each other probably costs less than broader strategic initiatives like “hiring a greater number of faculty from diverse backgrounds, installing intensive mentorship programs, and investing additional resources in interdisciplinary activities,” the paper says. But while the solution sounds simple, getting people in academe to actually be kind and respectful toward one another might be easier said than done.

Happy employees may be more committed employees, but they’re not necessarily better ones.

Don’t write off the grumps in your office just yet, suggests an article on Quartz. Studies indicate that cranky people can be more inventive and productive problem-solvers than the chipper among us, writes Meredith Bennett-Smith, deputy ideas editor for the news website. She points to work by Joseph Forgas, a University of New South Wales psychology professor, suggesting that people's communication and critical-thinking skills tend to improve as their happiness levels dip — up to a point, of course. “Negative mood operates as a mild alarm signal, informing us that we face a new, unfamiliar and potentially problematic situation, and so subconsciously produce a more attentive and focused thinking style,” she quotes Mr. Forgas as saying. That is, a mild bad mood primes us to be more attuned to detail. She adds that we can thank human evolution for that. The conclusions are in line with with those of studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Amsterdam, which found that irritation in limited doses can spark clearer thinking and creativity. But only temporarily.

While Ms. Bennett-Smith says she’d like to believe that’s good news for occasionally moody people like her (and me), she’s quick to note that women tend to get a bum rap when it comes to regulating their emotions at work. While guys at the top of the professional food chain, like Jeff Bezos, can get away with occasional outbursts, successful professional women (and women of color) are often forced to walk a ridiculously fine line, she writes. Cultural norms dictate that we put on a happy face, but studies show that women who smile too much aren’t considered leadership material. Meanwhile, those who smile too little risk being perceived as bitchy, unlikable, or overly ambitious, and are penalized accordingly at work, Ms. Bennett-Smith says.

Speaking of things that make one’s blood boil …

A federal appeals court dealt a blow to the fight for pay equity last week. Because of a surprising ruling by a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, it’s now lawful for employers to pay women less than men for the same job if their salaries were different at their last jobs, an article in the Los Angeles Times reports. Never mind that those pay differences themselves were very likely the result of gender bias. The panel upended a lower-court decision from 2015 — which held that pay disparities based solely on salary history are discriminatory under the federal Equal Pay Act — in favor of a 35-year-old ruling that said employers could use past pay information as long as they applied it reasonably and had a business justification for doing so, the Times says.

Undervaluing the labor of women is nothing new.

Female professors have long done more unpaid service work than their male counterparts do, according to an article in Newsweek.

Meanwhile, a recent survey of U.S. physicians by Doximity, a social network for medical practitioners, found that the women among them were paid $91,000 per year less, on average, than the men were, Christina Cauterucci reports in an article on Slate. The pay gap was widest — $125,000 —in Charlotte, N.C., says Ms. Cauterucci, a staff writer.

Getting time off instead of overtime pay.

The House of Representatives passed a measure on Tuesday that would allow employers in the private sector to give workers comp time instead of time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime, a CNN Money article reports. The bill passed by a margin of 227 to 197, mostly along party lines, the article notes. Republicans, most of whom supported the bill, said it would give employees more flexibility. Democrats, who opposed it, said that because employers would get to decide when the comp time could be used, the bill would become a way for employers to delay paying their workers. The measure now heads to the Senate, where Republicans will need to persuade at least eight Democrats to vote for it in order to avert a filibuster. 

It’s too early to know what impact the bill, should it become law, would have on colleges — many of which, as a new CUPA-HR study suggests, have raised the salaries of postdocs and some low-level employees to more than $47,477, in anticipation of overtime rules that are stalled in court.

In other news ...

Which AAU members recruited the most diverse faculty members in fall 2015?

The University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Pennsylvania led Association of American Universities members in the diversity of new tenure-track teaching faculty members, according to an analysis by The Chronicle (for subscribers). Two members of the association in California recruited the highest and lowest percentages of women as full-time tenure-track instructional faculty members, our data team found.

College men are using Title IX to fight sex-assault findings.

The federal gender-equity law that has empowered many female students to report sexual assaults is increasingly being used by male students accused of sexual violence to sue the colleges that expelled them, an article in The Washington Post reports.

Here’s why you should bike to work.

Researchers may have discovered the secret to a long life. Apparently it’s riding your bike to work. According to a study in the British Medical Journal, cycling to work reduces your risk of dying by 41 percent, and it can cut your odds of developing cancer or heart disease almost in half, an article in Forbes reports.

Questions, Comments?

Have a suggestion for the newsletter or a tip or story idea to share? Send it to me at gabriela.montell@chronicle. com or @GabrielaMontell.

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