RESEARCH

Karen P. Harlos is Project Director of the SSHRC-funded Workplace Bullying and Mistreatment Partnership for Prevention, a 3-year inter-institutional, interdisciplinary, and international research project aimed at producing sound evidence for practice, policy, an decision support so that those who most need help can access effective resources. She is a Professor (Full) and past Inaugural Chair in the Department of Business and Administration, University of Winnipeg (PhD, Commerce; MA, Industrial/Organizational Psychology). Her field of study is organizational behavior and she conducts research that centres around three lines of inquiry. The first line focuses on ways to measure and model workplace mistreatment and bullying, their impact on individuals and organizations, as well as management and prevention. The second line examines conflict resolution related to organizational policy and practice around employee mistreatment complaints. This work, unlike many traditional approaches, accounts for the tendency for some individuals to silence or withhold complaints from organizations. The third line of inquiry bridges management and healthcare, including worklife quality and health human resources.

Her earliest work was on employees’ experiences of workplace injustice using an inductive approach to capture the range of domains that hitherto had been examined singly and independently. The emergent taxonomy, shown to be confirmable and transferable, yielded four distinct patterns of injustice that extend knowledge beyond existing categories of pay and performance. This award-winning work examined how employees respond to mistreatment, in particular focusing on employee silence of complaints and on voice for remedy. Honours range from its funding for scholarly merit through the prestigious Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada doctoral fellowship programme and for its originality and rigour as a finalist in the 1996 INFORMS College on Organization Science Best Dissertation Proposal Competition as the only Canadian finalist among leading US research universities such as Stanford, MIT, and UCLA. This competition “rewards and encourages risky, innovative and relevant research on the cutting edge of organizational studies.” The work was also chosen as a finalist in the 1999 Best Dissertation Competition in the Social Issues in Management Division, Academy of Management Conference and won a Best Paper Award at the 1999 Australian Industrial and Organizational Psychology Conference (see Harlos, 1998; Harlos & Pinder, 1999 in Publications tab). Subsequent descriptive analyses provided one of the first accounts of the emotionality of injustice experiences and the nuanced, textured veins of affect that run throughout (see Harlos & Pinder, 2000 in Publications tab).

From her foundational dissertation, “Organizational Injustice and its Resistance Using Voice and Silence”, subsequent theoretical work (with C. Pinder) introduced the concept of employee silence to the organizational literature with two forms: acquiescent silence (i.e., disengaged behaviour based on resignation) and quiescent silence (i.e., self-protective behaviour based on fear). This work was a Best Paper finalist in the 40th Western Academy of Management Conference (2000) and later published in Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management (2001). The editor, Gerald Ferris, observed that the construct of employee silence is novel, interesting, and has “…much potential for theory and research in the field” (p. 10). Within the scholarly community, her work on employee silence theory is seen as pioneering. Recently, the conceptualizations of quiescence and acquiescence as silent responses to mistreatment and bullying have been empirically validated, spurring renewed research and pedagogical interest as a focus of systematic studies and as core reading in graduate courses in communication and management (see Pinder & Harlos, 2001).

Later work (with L. Axelrod) branched into measuring and modeling the nature of workplace mistreatment to unpack the roles of interpersonal interactions and organizational practices in the pursuit of healthy workplaces. This approach involved exploratory factor analytic techniques that yielded reliable and valid measure of workplace mistreatment comprising three dimensions: verbal abuse, work obstruction, and emotional neglect. This work also contributed to knowledge of healthy work environments by demonstrating how mistreatment is related to important individual and organizational outcomes (i.e., employee well-being, work satisfaction, organizational commitment, intent to leave) and how another contributor of healthy workplaces – organizational (or “context”) support – can mediate interpersonal relationships and negative outcomes from mistreatment. Healthcare organizations provide rich venues for the study of mistreatment and bullying amid declining work conditions and mounting concern about quality care. Her work on hospital administrators, a neglected professional group within organization studies, included the study of anger associated with types of negative work events and its impact on turnover intentions. Textual data analysis of anger from open-ended survey responses revealed that events involving people contributed to higher levels of anger than events involving policies. Further, person-related anger significantly predicted turnover intentions after rigorous controls. Together, these studies provide a foundation for policy recommendations to build healthier workplaces and improve the quality and stability of hospital services (see Harlos & Axelrod, 2005; Harlos & Axelrod, 2008; Harlos, 2010 in Publications tab).

In a related vein, Professor Harlos has studied how organizations respond to mistreatment complaints. Building on her earlier work on frustration effects from employee voice, which provided empirical evidence of the so-called deaf ear syndrome wherein organizations not only fail to respond effectively but also exacerbate the very mistreatment they are designed to remedy, she used a scenario study design to investigate how gender, power relations and individual attributes interact to influence employees’ willingness to approach an organizational mediator for help. Thus study yielded the first-known empirical evidence of systematic disinclinations to approach a mediator among women and people with low work-esteem when a boss (versus co-worker) instigates mistreatment. These preliminary patterns in the hesitation to voice challenge the assumption of equal access to justice and that building remedial voice systems using a ‘one size fits all’ approach may not address needs of some employees. More work is needed using a social-psychological perspective integrating persons, situations, and their interactions (see Harlos, 2010 in Publications tab).

More recently, Dr. Harlos’ work as co-supervisor of a master`s thesis on nurse bullying involved replicating an Australian model of bullying among Canadian nurse coworkers and exploring the construct validity of measures using well-established measures, including the verbal abuse, work obstruction, and emotional neglect measures that she and Larry Axelrod developed. This student has now gone on to doctoral studies in nursing while thesis findings have been published in the Journal of Nursing Management (see Blackstock, Harlos, MacLeod & Hardy, 2015 in Publications tab).  Professor Harlos has served on graduate committees for 4 doctoral students and 5 master`s students (3 as supervisor, 2 as co-supervisor) and on examination committees for doctoral (2) and master`s (2) students. This active involvement in the development of scholars has spanned universities in Quebec, British Columbia, Halifax, and New Zealand and across disciplines of management, nursing, psychology, strategy and marketing. She also co-developed and co-delivered workshops on effective research presentations for doctoral students.

More broadly, her publications are accessed, downloaded and cited by a wide range of academic and community researchers, practitioners, and industry executives and leaders [see Google Scholar; ResearchGate at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Karen_Harlos/stats?ev=prf_stats]. While at the University of Otago, her early career success was honoured by appointment as the University`s Emerging Scholar Representative. At the Dean`s request, she designed and delivered a Faculty-wide workshop on writing grant proposals and she was asked to lead as Social Sciences Panel Chair in bringing together scholars from different disciplines, paradigms and methodologies to award nearly $¼ million in research funds. To date, Professor Harlos herself has been awarded nearly $¾ million as principal investigator of team and solo projects and she has been co-investigator on projects valued at nearly $2 million. In this capacity, she has provided hands-on research training to numerous students. These budding researchers are co-authors of published work and conference presentations from various projects. Professor Harlos has been invited to serve on several national review panels such as the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

In Fall 2013, she presented her work and exchanged ideas with key researchers in workplace bullying, healthcare management, and quality of worklife through a series of invited scholar visits to universities in England, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Germany. These collaborations helped her shape and lead a project team to advance knowledge of workplace bullying and mistreatment using international and integrative perspectives, successfully funded by SSHRC (2015-2018). She is completing drafts of papers on role stressors and workplace bullying and on an occupational healthy and safety approach to preventing workplace bullying and mistreatment.