Below I review three recently published research articles, breaking them down into three sections: what it’s about, why it matters, and what you can do about it today. The three articles focus on the following:
The relationship between digital connectivity and job performance,
How the quality of relationships between leaders and followers fluctuate over time, and
The outcomes of humble leadership.
1. Digital Connectivity and Job Performance
Our first study comes from Shuang Ren (at the time of Deakin University) and her colleagues whose article, “Digital connectivity for work after hours: Its curvilinear relationship with employee job performance,” published in Personnel Psychology.
What It’s About
This study took a hard look at how employees’ use of digital technologies influences job performance and other important outcomes, such as emotional exhaustion (a component of burnout). In particular, the researchers focused on how people stay digitally connected outside of normal working hours. Digital connectivity has its positive aspects, as it facilitates remote work and flexible schedules. But it has its potential downsides, because being connected all the time can simply wear you out. It could be, as the researchers note, “too much of a good thing.”
Surveys completed by about 500 employees in the pharmaceutical industry in China at three different time points revealed an interesting trend. Most notably, the data suggested a curvilinear relationship between digital connectivity and job performance. That means that digital connectivity boosted job performance up to a certain point. After that point, more digital connectivity actually correlated with a decrease in job performance.
Why It Matters
Digital connectivity allows many people to work where they want and to some extent, when they want. It also allows managers to hire people from disparate locations and manage work across vast geographies and time zones. That’s great. But managers must take heed of the fact that if they drive too much digital connectivity for themselves or their direct reports, they run the risk of decreasing job performance and increasing burnout. Increasingly, it appears that many people are needing to figure out a sweet spot for their digital connectivity in their work.
What You Can Do
Digital connectivity can help employees up to a point, so managers should invest in helpful technologies for their people. Because people—both managers and their direct reports—can easily fall into the habit of being too connected, it’s increasingly important to set boundaries. Managers could help set norms and expectations around digital connectivity, and they should avoid bombarding their people with digital communication after working hours.
It’s likely that figuring out the “right” level of digital connectivity depends on the nature of the work and the people involved. As such, managers could make it a regular practice to check in with their people about digital connectivity. Managers could do this via direct questions: “Am I communicating too much outside of working hours?” Getting an honest response to this question assumes a level of trust within the team, but it could be helpful. Anonymous surveys could be another tool to use. The bottom line is that managers should be mindful of the fact that when it comes to digital connectivity, more is not necessarily better; in fact, it could be detrimental.
2. Fluctuations in Leader-Member Exchange
A recent issue of the Academy of Management Journal included an interesting study conducted by Nikolaos Dimotakis of Oklahoma State University and his colleges titled, “Gains and losses: Week-to-week changes in leader-follower relationships.” Given its focus on a fundamental aspect of leadership, I’m including it in this month’s research summary.