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About us FEB Research / FEB FEB Research Institute (FEBRI) Research programme OB Research programme HRM&OB

Subjects for future PhD projects

Prospective students are encouraged to develop their own research ideas and must write their own research proposal (around 2 A4) as part of the application package.
However a fit with current research in the programme is a must and therefore the list below provides an overview of research lines that are currently pursued in the programma. By clicking on the title some background information is provided. Please note these are only examples and no vacancies

Subject Possible supervisors Additional requirements
Employee creativity: A dual pathway approach Prof. Bernard Nijstad Knowledge of and experience with quantitative research methods.
Team indecision and performance Prof. Bernard Nijstad Knowledge of and experience with both quantitative field research and laboratory experimentation.
If It Ain’t Broke, Break It! The Role of Trust in Employee Creativity Prof. Onne Janssen
Occupational Identity Formation amongst Healthcare Providers Prof. Eric Molleman
Task Complexity and Multidisciplinary Collaboration Prof. Eric Molleman
The Design and Dynamics of Collaborative Care Prof. Eric Molleman
Effective Leadership in a Global Context
  • Prof. Janka Stoker
  • Prof. Harry Garretsen
Knowledge of and experience with quantitative research methods.
From brain drain to brain gain: A social identity approach to knowledge retention and knowledge transfer in a multigenerational workforce
  • Prof. Eric Molleman
  • Dr Susanne Täuber
Knowledge of and experience with quantitative research methods and interest in field research.

Employee creativity: A dual pathway approach

Employee creativity is a topic that has received considerable research attention in the past decades. However, theoretical progress has lagged behind. Existing theories, such as Amabile’s componential theory of creativity and Woodman et al.’s interactionist approach, emphasize that creativity arises in benign circumstances: one needs autonomy, support, and ample resources. However, recent work suggests that also less benign circumstances, such as time pressure, job dissatisfaction, and negative moods can stimulate employee creativity.

The Dual Pathway to Creativity Model (DPCM; see e.g., Nijstad et al., 2010) may provide a more comprehensive theory of employee creativity. DPCM suggests that benign circumstances create approach motivation which stimulate flexibility of thought and creativity. However, problems and less benign circumstances may stimulate creativity as well, but through different mental processes. Rather than creating flexible thinking, problems create a focused way of thinking that may through persistence also positively relate to employee creativity. Although this model has received considerable support in laboratory experiments, the model has not been tested in field research. The aim of this project would be to do exactly that.

Further readering:

  • Nijstad, B. A., De Dreu, C. K. W., Rietzschel, E. F., & Baas, M. (2010). The dual pathway to creativity model: Creative ideation as a function of flexibility and persistence. European Review of Social Psychology, 21, 34-77.

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Team indecision and performance

Many teams nowadays are self-directed: team members have considerable autonomy and can make their own decisions regarding the work that should be accomplished, who should do what, and when and how tasks should be performed. For these autonomous or semi-autonomous teams, it is important that teams are capable of making their own decisions. However, sometimes decision making may fail and teams may become indecisive. Potentially, this will negatively affect their performance.

The topic of team indecision has received only scant research attention. Existing research, mostly conduced in the laboratory, has found that one factor that may lead to group indecision is conflict and disagreement (see e.g., Nijstad & Kaps, 2008). Indeed, if members disagree there is no easy decision to be made, and such a situation may lead to stalemates and indecision. However, other research has suggested that some amount of disagreement in teams may be beneficial, and would prevent a premature consensus on the wrong alternative (e.g., groupthink). The aim of this project would be to find out, in both laboratory and field studies, when disagreement and conflict create high quality decisions and high team performance, and when it leads to indecision that potentially undermines performance.

Further reading:

  • Nijstad, B. A., & Kaps, S. C. (2008). Taking the easy way out: Preference diversity, decision strategies, and decision refusal in groups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 860-870.

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If It Ain’t Broke, Break It! The Role of Trust in Employee Creativity

Although interpersonal trust is widely claimed to facilitate risk-taking behavior, we propose that trust can inhibit employee creativity. Trust in others relies on perceptions of the others’ ability, benevolence, and integrity. As such, the more employees trust their leader and co-workers, the more they will believe that their leader and co-workers are doing a good job in establishing and maintaining an invaluable work environment, and the less urgency and motivation they will feel to focus on detecting problems and opportunities for creativity and innovation. Moreover, in case of high interpersonal trust, people are less willing to monitor and correct states of affairs because of concerns that pointing out critical issues and pushing for change could be perceived as violation of trust itself. Thus, high levels of trust in their leader and co-workers may induce a tendency in employees to conform to the status quo that might inhibit creativity. In the present project, we examine whether, when, and why interpersonal trust does produce such countervailing mechanisms, and seek to identify factors that not only neutralize such inhibitive effects but can also unleash the facilitative effects of trust on employee creativity.

Further reading:

  • Janssen, O., & Gao, L. (in press). Supervisory responsiveness and employee self-perceived status and voice behavior. Journal of Management. Prepublished on January 17, DOI: 10.1177/0149206312471386.
  • Gao, L., Janssen, O., & Shi, K. (2011). Leader trust and employee voice: The moderating role of empowering leader behaviors. Leadership Quarterly, 22, 787-798.

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Occupational Identity Formation amongst Healthcare Providers

Persons with a strong occupational identity derive part of their self-view from belonging to their occupational group. They therefore see their profession in a positive light and adopt common expertise, norms and behaviors relatively easily. Al though a strong professional identity, and hence a shared frame of reference, enables healthcare providers to communicate and work well within their occupation, it has mixed effects on their functioning outside their occupation. Health care providers with a strong occupational identity are generally motivated to demonstrate the importance of their work for patient care to other occupations. Yet, there are circumstances where their contributions are not immediately positively evaluated by these other occupations, or even challenged. T he experience of identity threat is particularly likely to occur when, for example, persons from different occupations have competing opinions on a healthcare problem (e.g., when the best solution according to one occupation interferes with the solution of another one), when new occupations enter the domain of existing occupations, or when external developments shift the boundaries between occupations (e.g., due to new technologies, new laws or insurance regulations). S trong occupational identities can unintentionally hamper collaborations between occupational groups, which is detrimental for the quality of health care. In this project we study the identity formation of different occupational groups, the identity dynamics between these groups and their impact on healthcare quality.

Further reading:

  • Molleman, E. & Rink, F.A. The Antecedents and Consequences of a Strong Professional Identity among Medical Specialists. Social Theory & Health (in press).

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Task Complexity and Multidisciplinary Collaboration

Past research has shown that functional diversity may have both positive and negative effects on team functioning and team performance. Therefore, it is important to understand when these outcomes will be positive and when they will be negative. Organizations especially use functionally diverse work teams to produce complex products or services. Consider, for example, developing a new product or treating a patient who has multiple interrelated health problems. In this project, we will relate three aspects of task complexity to the functioning and the outcomes of such teams. Understanding these relationships will help in identifying when the effects of functional diversity will be positive and when negative. This will help predict, manage, and improve team processes which, overall, can contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of such teams.                

The three aspects of task complexity are (1) component complexity that refers to the number of distinct information cues that need to be processed to fulfil a task, (2) interrelatedness concerns the degree to which the problems are interrelated or interact with one another and so, as a result, cannot be treated separately, and (3) ambiguity which reflects a situation in which insufficient data can be gathered, or where the information is doubtful or equivocal. If we take making a puzzle as an example task, than component complexity refers to the number of pieces the puzzle has, while interrelatedness refers to a situation in which the pieces do not nicely fit together and ambiguity to a situation in which pieces of the puzzle are missing and one cannot get a complete picture of the puzzle.

Further reading:

  • Haerem, Th., Pentland, B.T. & Miller, K. Task complexity: Extending a core concept.   Academy of Management Review (in press).

Molleman, E., Broekhuis, M., Stoffels, R, & Jaspers, F. (2010). Complexity of Health-Care Needs and Interactions in Multidisciplinary Medical Teams. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83 (1), 55-76.. DOI: 10.1348/096317909X478467.

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The Design and Dynamics of Collaborative Care

Over recent decades, the volume as well as the complexity of health care demands have increased substantially. Given this trend it becomes apparent that to achieve satisfactory health care outcomes for individual patients, contributions are increasingly required from multiple disciplines with different occupational backgrounds. Collaborative care has emerged in all fields and areas of health care such as hospital care, public health, youth care, mental health care, primary care, outpatient care and multi-agency health care. Depending on volumes of certain health care demands, collaborations may emerge on an ad hoc basis, develop into structural forms of multidisciplinary teams or in more loosely coupled networks of healthcare providers. To come to the best quality of care and efficient use of human resources, more insight is needed in the relationship between characteristics of the health care demands, modes of collaboration and the required functional expertise.

esides these structural features, to realize the best health care outcomes, collaborative processes have to be adequately coordinated and managed. Research into interdis­ciplinary teams, for example, has found many potential problematic issues that have their sources in, for example, the differing perceptions of roles, role boundary conflicts, ambiguous responsi­bilities, differing professional standards and norms, dominance of certain participants, status differences or diverging rules, regulations and incentive systems. Adequately managing these issues will shape health care workers attitudes towards inter-professional collaboration and motivate them to optimally contribute to an efficient and effective performance. To be able to do so, more insight in the above mentioned structural and dynamic aspects of collaboration is required.

Further reading:

  • Molleman, E., Broekhuis, M. (2012).How working in cross-functional teams relates to core attributes of professional occupations and the moderating role of personality. Group dynamics Theory, Research, and Practice, 16 (1), 50-67. DOI: 10.1037/a0026408.

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Effective Leadership in a Global Context

The central focus in the existing leadership research domain is at the microlevel of behavior of individual leaders, in interaction with their team (see e.g. Stoker, Grutterink & Kolk, 2012). The organization as such, and the environment in which the organization operates (sector, country) are typically taken as given. Recent papers on the future of leadership research stress the fact that more multi-level research is needed (Dionne et al., 2014), and that the context in which a leader operates should play a more central role, since the effectiveness of the leader also depends on the type of organization and the environment of the organization (such as the sector or country). For example, meta-analytic research on culture and leadership (e.g. Dulebohn et al., 2011 ) indicates that national culture is important for understanding employees' perceptions of leadership and antecedents and outcomes of leadership. In a similar vein, in the field of (international) economics and business, the macrolevel context is typically at the center of the research, and behavior of individuals within an organization is taken as given. Recently however, scholars in this field have argued for more research into the ‘black box’ of behavior and to take differences between individuals into account (Bloom et al., 2014), as well as e.g. intra- and interlevel country variations. Against this background, this PhD-project will use a truly unique dataset on international firms and their managers to analyze the abovementioned micro- and macro relationships between leadership and the context. The data are collected by an international HR-consultancy firm and consist of within-firm data (over many years, countries and sectors) of managers and their subordinates. The data are not publicly available but can be used for this project.

Further reading:

  • Bloom, N., Lemos, R., Sadun, R., Scur, D. and Van Reenen, J. (2014). The New Empirical Economics of Management. Centre for Economic Performance Occasional Paper,41, April 2014.
  • Dionne, S.D., Gupta, A., Sotak, K.L., Shirreffs, K.A., Serban, A., Hao, C., Kim, D.H., & Yammarino, F.J. (2014). A 25-Year Perspective on Levels of Analysis in Leadership Research. The Leadership Quarterly, 25, 6-35.
  • Dulebohn, J., Bommer, W.H., Liden, R.C., Brouer, R.L. & Ferris, G.R. (2011). A meta-analysis of antecedents and consequences of leader–member exchange: Integrating the past with an eye toward the future. Journal of Management, 38 (6) (2011), 1715–1759.
  • Stoker, J.I., Grutterink, H. & Kolk, N.J. (2012). Do transformational leaders always make the difference? The role of TMT feedback seeking behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 23, 582-592.

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From brain drain to brain gain: A social identity approach to knowledge retention and knowledge transfer in a multigenerational workforce

Knowledge transfer and knowledge retention are essential strategies for organizations’ optimal utilization of Human Capital, since economic performance today is mainly based on knowledge. The demographic trend of an ageing and shrinking workforce threatens organizations’ most valuable resource, namely their employees’ tacit knowledge. As opposed to explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge rests within workers’ know-how, and is difficult to formalize and verbalize to other persons. Due to their longer work experience, older workers have more tacit knowledge than younger workers. If older workers retire, their tacit knowledge is lost for the organization. Such knowledge gaps are often unrecognized initially, yet in the long run may cause quality problems, mistakes, costly disruptions in performance or operations, and loss of competitive advantage.

Because of its specific qualities, tacit knowledge is optimally transferred from one employee to another through joint collaboration. Yet self-categorization processes in terms of ‘younger’ vs. ‘older’ workers affect tacit knowledge transfer and retention negatively because they lower the quality of the relationship between different age-groups at work. We expect that divergent work-values between the age-groups trigger such self-categorization processes. Therefore, we propose that the success of strategies facilitating intergenerational knowledge transfer and retention crucially hinges on creating a sense of ‘we-ness’ among younger and older employees. To facilitate such ‘we-ness’ we adopt a social-identity approach in our research model, tested longitudinally and multilevel. Interventions targeting at the creation of more inclusive categories will be tested. The insights derived will support organizations to optimally utilize employees’ different abilities and skills.

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Last modified:27 June 2019 09.41 a.m.