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Worried about keeping your job?

Emily Tarr

Dr. Emily Tarr, Assistant Professor in the Management department conducts research on power relationships in the workplace.

Dr. Tarr's research can shed light onto ways that employees can gain the attention decision-makers, like leaders and managers, and be seen as vital to daily operations. Prior research has long shown that the more literally visible employees are in the workplace, the more important they are viewed in contributing to the goals of the organization. However, with many jobs shifting to virtual work, this is no longer a viable strategy.

Dr. Tarr’s research shows that in most situations, high-power individuals pay very little attention to lower-level employees, which may contribute to downsizing—or layoff—strategies if they do not see their employees as “people” but instead a necessary cost that contributes to overhead. So, what can these employees do to gain the attention of powerholders and be seen as valuable and indispensable employees? Besides the obvious of being a diligent and hard-working employee, Dr. Tarr finds that when powerholders see themselves as similar to those lower in the organizational hierarchy, they are more likely to pay attention to them. Subtly highlighting similarities between yourself and managers can result in these managers “seeing themselves in you,” which will lead to them treating you more empathetically. This may be especially valuable during extreme situations such as the current global pandemic. Additionally, when they trust in the integrity of a lower-level employee—meaning that they believe this employee will make decisions that follow sound ethical principles—this increases their attention as well. The key here, then, is to show your organizational leaders that you can be trusted to act in ethical ways that best suit the company.

Dr. Tarr’s research also consistently shows that lower-power employees, like those lower in the organizational hierarchy, pay great and consistent attention to those that hold power over them, especially in uncertain situations. If you are an organizational leader, be aware that your employees are likely paying great attention to you and your actions during this time. The phenomenon of emotional contagion—the sending and catching of emotions among people—is likely to be prevalent right now due to their increased attention on you, and you are going to be the “senders” in this case. This means that it is particularly important to practice emotional intelligence and be aware of your displayed emotions in the presence (even virtually) of your employees.

*Special thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Kohles for helping to publish this research.