Professor Eva Knies researches the ‘shadow side’ of people management

Work pressure, loss of staff due to burnout and lack of labor are high on the agenda in health care and education. This is one of the reasons why the quality of public services is also under pressure. People management (ie the use of HR activities by managers and their managerial behavior to support employees) is often seen as a solution to these important social problems. But isn’t that also part of the problem? Can well-meaning support also have unintended negative effects on employee performance and well-being?

the shadow side

“With an interdisciplinary research team, we primarily want to investigate the ‘shadow side’ of people management,” says Professor Eva Knies. “What factors and mechanisms determine that good intentions can still have negative effects? Because they sometimes cause staff in nursing and education to push the boundaries too much, develop burnout and drop out. And we want to help prevent.”

Education sector and hospital sector

‘People management: too much of a good thing?’ is a research project at the crossroads between management and organizational science, HRM and work and organizational psychology. It consists of two sub-projects carried out by PhD students. One sub-project focuses on the education sector (primary and secondary education), the other on the hospital sector.

“A lot of research has been done on the ‘sunny side’ of HRM / people management,” says Knies, “also by me. The more you invest in your employees, the better, you might think. The idea of ​​the ‘happy productive employee’ “represents the” sunny side “of personnel management, but I will now systematically map the other side, in the public sector, which is underexposed, while it is precisely in, for example, care and education that the problems of work pressure, absenteeism, staff shortages, the quality of the service under pressure plays a major role. “

People management

People management is often presented as a solution to these problems – but can it also be part of the problem? Can well-meaning HR management have unintended negative effects? The purpose of this project is to systematically map the dark side of people management and to explain what factors and mechanisms contribute to unintended negative effects of well-meaning support. This project breaks new ground by testing the hypothesis of too much of a good thing, which says that too much of the good is ultimately bad for human resource management.

Always ready for the organization

“For example, if your manager is always there for you, the organization always thinks of you, then it can arouse the feeling in the employees that they have to give something back in the same way. So always be ready for the organization, always have to say ‘ “Yes, when there is an extra request. As a result, employees sometimes go beyond their own limits. They want to give something back because so much is invested in them. It puts pressure on their well-being.” says Knies.

“It has to do with what we in theory call social exchange; the exchange relationship between employee and organization / manager. It is not always clear when you have fulfilled the other party’s wishes and expectations, when you have ‘fulfilled your debt’. This can work in two directions for performance: On the one hand, it can lead to an employee quickly thinking that he has done enough and therefore underperforming in relation to what the organization expects, based on the investments made.the bar is set so high, that it is no longer possible to ‘pay back’. “

“At least there are always expectations, but they are often not expressed. The balance is often not drawn up, and therefore it is difficult to assess when enough is enough. There may be a ‘tipping point’ in what support contributes to employees and then have unintended negative effects. “

Board game

“We want to develop guidelines for organizations that help them identify the moment when it becomes too much and prevent it from getting stuck,” Eva Knies continues. “In addition to transferring knowledge through articles, videos and a podcast, we want to develop a board game that employees, teams and their managers can play: a game with examples and dilemmas from daily practice. This could clarify mutual expectations and can, among other things, .a. discussed. “

research team

In addition to prof. Dr. Eva Knies’ interdisciplinary research team consists of: dr. Jasmijn van Harten, dr. Julia Penning de Vries, prof. Dr. Maria Peters, prof. Dr. Toon Taris and two PhD students (vacancies). The researchers are affiliated with the faculties of Law, Economics, Management and Organization, Social Sciences and the Future of Work platform for Institutions for Open Society.

An advisory board with experts from health and education practices and from national and international science complements the project group.

By: National Education Guide

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