Communication and Well-Being in Organizations

Project 1

Depression and Anxiety in Organizations

Researchers

Brian Manata (Communication Arts & Sciences) and Andrew Read (Biology and Entomology, Biotechnology)

Background Info

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that one in five adults experience mental illness of varying severity. More specifically, a recent study by the NIMH estimated that 31.1% of adults experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Moreover, among adults experiencing anxiety disorders, 43.5% suffer from mild impairment, 33.7% suffer from moderate impairment, and 22.8% suffer from serious impairment because of their anxiety disorder. The NIMH also names major depression as one of the most common disorders affecting individuals in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80% of adults who experience depression reported some degree of functional impairment.

Problem

Recently, scholars have begun to document similar effects in organizational settings. For example, the World Health Organization estimated recently that depression and anxiety have contributed to $1 trillion of economic impact through productivity loss. Although illuminating, it is noteworthy that little research has been conducted on the specific factors that mitigate or exacerbate the impacts of depression and anxiety in organizational settings. Consequently, the general purpose of this program of research is to help address this lacuna.

This program of research has begun to document the extent to which depression and anxiety are prevalent amongst graduate students within the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State University. In specific, a longitudinal survey design was used to track students’ overall mental health over the course of the Fall 2020 semester. Moreover, key factors reasoned to impact depression and anxiety symptoms were measured over time. Measured factors ranged from individual differences (e.g., neuroticism; achievement goals) to those that focused exclusively on interpersonal relationships and communicative behavior. For example, the extent to which graduate students received adequate support from their advisor was considered, as was the extent to which their relationship evidenced relational turbulence.

Goals

The general goal of this research initiative is to delineate the specific individual and communicative factors that either mitigate or exacerbate mental health symptoms in organizational settings. Such information can then be used to make informed decisions about mental health practices in the workplace. Communication-based training programs, for example, could be used to raise awareness about the importance of healthy interpersonal relationships whereby communication behaviors (e.g., support) are paramount to their success.

Progress/Findings

Findings produced from this initiative can be implemented to harness organizational efficiency and improve overall human wellbeing.

 

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Project 2

Interdisciplinary Team Formation and Dynamics

Researchers

Brian Manata (Communication Arts and Sciences), Andrew Read (Biology and Entomology, Biotechnology), and Zachary Neal (Psychology, Michigan State University)

Background Info

In academia, interdisciplinary work is often encouraged, meaning scholarly research that is conducted by teams comprised of researchers from different fields of expertise. For example, the Communication, Science, and Society Initiative (CSSI) is structured so that scholars with diverse areas of expertise are better able to collaborate on interdisciplinary research projects (e.g., communication scholars working with entomologists to investigate public attitudes towards bees). Similarly, the National Science Foundation and other federal funding agencies are known to prioritize interdisciplinary scholarship. Indeed, most in academia would concur with the statement that interdisciplinary research is of decided value.

Problem

The encouragement of interdisciplinary scholarship rests on two important assumptions: (1) interdisciplinary teams are formed easily, and (2) interdisciplinary teams are more effective than non-interdisciplinary teams. These assumptions are notable because (a) the formation of interdisciplinary teams usually occurs by an informal process (e.g., informal peer conversations), and (b) there is a substantial amount of research that shows that diversity in teams can attenuate team effectiveness (e.g., diversity in expertise, tenure, etc.). Consequently, the extent to which the formation of interdisciplinary teams is both feasible and worthwhile constitutes a notable research endeavor.

Goals

First, this program of research aims to study the different factors that promote interdisciplinary team formation. In specific, this program of research aims to examine the myriad characteristics of the interdisciplinary network of faculty members that are affiliated with the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State University (i.e., a network of ~615 faculty members). To accomplish this, a survey was deployed in the Spring and Summer of 2021 to map the interdisciplinary network of Huck-associated faculty members. The survey contained measures of factors that are expected to promote interdisciplinary collaborations. In using these data, one could investigate whether those that were extraverted were more likely to engage in interdisciplinary communication. Similarly, one could also investigate whether one’s extant collaboration network promoted the formation of other interdisciplinary relationships.

Second, this program of research aims to investigate the different factors that promote interdisciplinary team effectiveness. That is, presuming numerous Huck interdisciplinary teams are in operation, a subsequent survey will be delivered to these teams to investigate the myriad team-level communication dynamics that either promote or impede overall interdisciplinary team effectiveness. For example, such a survey could investigate the extent to which collaborators experienced interpersonal conflict when communicating their ideas to one another, and it could also be used to examine the extent to which they managed said conflict when engaging in the act of decision-making.

Progress/Findings

In all, the knowledge gained from this initiative will be used to promote the creation of interdisciplinary teams at Penn State University. The knowledge gained from this initiative will also be used to detail the myriad factors that attenuate or promote effectiveness in interdisciplinary teams. Such information can be used by administrators to facilitate the creation of interdisciplinary project teams, and it could also be used by extant teams to ensure optimal functioning. Stated differently, the knowledge produced from this initiative could be used to both (a) harness the power of diversity, and (b) promote effective working relationships amongst coworkers at Penn State University.