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In many workplaces today, diversity is ubiquitous. NYU Abu Dhabi psychology major Dinara Mukhayarova, Class of 2017, grew up in the UAE has worked in many diverse employee pools as an intern. These workplace experiences, she said, inspired her to pursue Capstone research that explores the relationship between team diversity and employees' willingness to comply with demands from a supervisor.

Surprisingly, the research results suggest that in diverse workplaces many employees with different viewpoints and experiences prefer to be told specifically what to do to avoid ambiguity, rather than have the autonomy to get it wrong.

The findings "have the potential to shed light on the most effective ways for supervisors to interact with subordinates in settings with different levels of diversity," Mukhayarova said, possibly leading to improved organizational performance and less employee burnout.

How and where did you collect data?

We distributed an online experiment and survey to over 300 individuals in the United States. We manipulated team diversity and measured participants’ need for closure and willingness to comply with harsh (controlling) power tactics and soft power tactics (tactics that emphasize autonomy).

What did you find out?

The study found that individuals in diverse teams have a higher motivation to avoid ambiguity, which in turn, motivates them to comply with harsh power tactic. We didn't find any evidence that individuals on diverse teams in the workplace are more willing to comply with soft power tactics.

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This study helps shed light on the best ways to manage diverse teams in order to avoid negative outcomes for employees and the organization as a whole.

Dinara Mukhayarova, Class of 2017, psychology major
Dinara Mukhayarova, Class of 2017

What surprised you about the results?

In most workplaces, soft power tactics are perceived as invariably better than harsh power tactics, and many people assume that employees don’t like to feel controlled. However, counter to this intuition, we found that, in diverse settings, individuals are actually more willing to comply with power tactics that are seen as controlling, and less willing to comply with tactics that give them greater autonomy.

Our results suggest that team diversity may lead to a desire to avoid conflicting viewpoints in order to reduce ambiguity. Employees achieve this goal by preferring to comply with power tactics that emphasize control over tactics that provide autonomy. This leads to interesting implications for further research to investigate how this desire to avoid conflicting viewpoints can be managed and reduced.

What are the practical applications of the research?

Studies have shown that mismatch between employees’ motivations and supervisors’ use of power tactics is associated with increased burnout and stress for the employees and decreased organizational performance for the company. This study helps shed light on the best ways to manage diverse teams in order to avoid negative outcomes for employees and the organization as a whole.