Mihaylo Management Professor Shaun Pichler has completed numerous research projects on human resources, organizational behavior and workplace discrimination and fairness. Pichler discusses his research, areas of interest and the courses he teaches.
“The main motivation behind my teaching, research and consulting in human resources management –HRM-has been to understand fairness and support in employer organizations,” Mihaylo Management Professor Shaun Pichler says. “This interest developed from my experience working in HRM for the American Hospital Association, where I was responsible for analyzing manager and employee reactions to performance appraisals. I am passionate about understanding what causes employees to feel that they have been treated fairly or not and what organizations can do to create environments where employees and employers succeed.”
Pichler notes that effective HRM can be a major factor in an organization’s success. “When human resources are managed effectively, employees thrive because they feel fairly treated and supported. Employers also tend to perform better, in part because employees are more engaged and productivity is higher.”
Pichler received his undergraduate degree in psychology and Ph.D. in human resource management from Michigan State University. His graduate degree in human resources is from Loyola University in Chicago. Part of the Mihaylo faculty since 2009, he teaches both undergraduate and graduate-level courses on human resources and organizational management. For his service to the university and broader community, teaching performance and research activities, Pichler is the 2015 Mihaylo Distinguished Faculty honoree.
“My teaching philosophy is to set high expectations while providing high levels of individualized support to students,” he says. “I believe this leads to better academic performance while also supporting the diverse needs of students. I try to develop critical thinking and communication skills in all of my classes, which I believe helps students to not only perform better in the classroom but also in the job market and in their careers. Technical skills and business savvy are important, but these are easier to come by than sharp minds and eloquent tongues.”
Performance appraisal and workplace diversity and discrimination have been among Pichler’s recent research areas. “Performance appraisal is interesting, in part, because it is one of the most common management practices: Almost every employee has at some time participated in a performance appraisal review,” he says. “My research has attempted to determine the key reasons as to why employees react the way that they do, often negatively, to performance appraisal reviews. Results of this research program have shown that employees care more about their relationship with their manager and how their manager treats other employees in their workgroup than what they themselves get out of the review process, namely their own performance rating.” This tendency can be counterintuitive, as it puts workplace relationships above self-interested outcomes that impact an employee’s career. “The bottom line is that managers and HR professionals should focus as much or more on how employees perceive their managers in terms of, for instance, trustworthiness and supportiveness, as opposed to perceptions about outcomes of the appraisal review itself, namely performance ratings.”
The effective management of diversity and avoidance of discrimination are major issues in contemporary organizations. “My research on workplace discrimination looks at fairness in a relatively objective sense: To what extent are persons from different groups favored or disfavored in employment decisions, such as in hiring,” Pichler says. “For instance, in one of my key studies, my colleagues and I found that persons who are male, female, gay and straight can be discriminated against for different jobs depending on the perceived gendered characteristics of the candidate and the job.” He notes that despite an emphasis on avoiding stereotypes in hiring decisions, the bias was evident among both trained managers and young people. “Decision-makers in this study comprised two groups: undergraduate students and professional HR managers. The results did not differ across these groups, even though HR managers are trained not to discriminate in hiring decisions.”
Pichler notes that effectively managing human resources in other cultures is vital for businesses expanding into foreign markets. “Human resources management practices themselves do not differ as much across cultures as does the way that they are implemented. Thus, my research has focused on how certain HR practices, such as performance appraisal, might be handled differently in different cultures,” he says. “For instance, one of my key studies found that interpersonal affect – a manager’s liking towards some subordinates and disliking towards others – biased employee performance ratings in India but not in the United States. In our Indian sample, performance ratings of low performers were artificially inflated when interpersonal liking was high. My colleagues and I attributed this to a difference in culture: India is a high-context, collectivistic culture where relationships and group welfare are important; whereas the United States is a highly individualistic culture where individual merit is important.”