Apply within: Catherine Connelly studies how people are employed in our changing economy

| Hamilton
Contributed by Izabela Szydlo, DeGroote Research Writer

At McMaster University, students, researchers, faculty, and staff collaborate across disciplines to explore and expand their potential in a globally renowned, innovative education and research community, committed to advancing societal health and wellbeing. For the next several months, the DeGroote School of Business will be highlighting researchers that are contributing to this push for a brighter world.

The old adage “change is the only constant” also applies to the workplace. And DeGroote Associate Professor Catherine Connelly has made a research career out of studying workplace changes and how employees are reacting.

“I first became interested in studying changing workplaces early in graduate school, when I started wondering how well standard organizational behaviour theories applied to the actual jobs that most people have now,” says Connelly, who joined DeGroote in 2004 and is also a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Organizational Behaviour. “Back then, there was a sense that the only ‘real’ jobs were nine-to-five, and that you worked 40 hours per week at a single employer for an entire career.

Now there is a growing recognition that most people will have at least some experience with part-time work, temporary work, contracting, and telecommuting.”

“Now there is a growing recognition that most people will have at least some experience with part-time work, temporary work, contracting, and telecommuting.” she continues. “And if you aren’t doing these things, you are still affected because your co-workers have these arrangements.”

On a societal level, Connelly says changing workplaces are something to which everyone can relate, especially since these changes are happening at such a rapid rate. “Even a few years ago, no one had heard of Uber,” she says. “I just started a project looking at these workers’ experiences, because we need to understand them better if we are going to develop policies to protect these workers,” she explains.

In fact, much of Connelly’s research focuses on workers who she says are often overlooked — part-time workers, independent contractors, temps, mobile workers, temporary foreign workers, and workers with disabilities — and how employers can create workplaces that are healthier, happier, and more fulfilling for this demographic.

“One area I am studying is the Temporary Foreign Worker program in Canada,” she says. “So far, I’m struck by the extreme variation in these workers’ experiences. While some tell me how pleased they are with the program, others have told me about unsafe working or living conditions and terrible management practices. These stories are heartbreaking.”

Meanwhile, another area of Connelly’s research into overlooked workers explores the net cost and value of hiring people with disabilities. Early findings indicate the research has the potential to impact hiring practices as they are showing, she says, that these workers are cost-effective.

“They perform well and they are very loyal,” Connelly says. “Given the looming labour shortages, this suggests an untapped resource that companies should leverage.”

Overall, Connelly says empirical research such as hers is crucial to the business world because so much is riding on it and, sometimes, a decision that looks good on paper has wide-ranging consequences that need to be evaluated too. “For example, companies,” she says, “sometimes make big decisions such as laying off permanent employees to hire temps or contractors without fully considering the implications.”

Aside from her focus in this research area, Connelly also studies knowledge hiding in the workplace as well as leadership, with a focus on the wellbeing of middle-managers.

Catherine Connelly holds a Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Organizational Behaviour, and is a member of the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC). She is also an Associate Editor of the journal Human Relations. Her research focuses on the attitudes, behaviours, and experiences of non-standard workers (e.g., temporary agency workers, contractors, temporary foreign workers), the effects of leadership styles on leader well-being, and knowledge hiding in organizations. Connelly also conducts applied research with several Canadian organizations in both the private and non-profit sector.

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