What will bring you the greatest amount of fulfillment in your work?
There’s no easy answer to this question, but Ashley Nixon, Assistant Professor of Human Resources and Organizational Behavior helps MBA students find out.
“I try to do this with individuals and my in classes,” says Prof. Nixon. “There’s nothing wrong with pursuing typical types of achievement, such as pay or hierarchical career paths, but if that’s not going to make you happy, we have to know that and build on that. Success is relative.”
That’s not idle talk. Prof. Nixon researches occupational stress, including job stressors, employee strains and well-being, and moderators of the stressor-strain process.
For example, if a hospital is considering a candidate for a position, the hiring board needs to know if that candidate attributes others’ behavior to intentions (e.g. ‘She meant to be rude on purpose.’) or stress (e.g. ‘She must be having a difficult day. I won’t take her words personally.’). These diverse responses can have important implications for the employee’s long-term health in a hospital environment, where arguments can happen frequently.
“If we can understand the drivers of motivation, we can customize them for the individuals we work with,” she says. “If I know you’re particularly driven by personal success, I’ll try to motivate you in a different way than someone who’s motivated more by intellectual exploration. It depends on how you’re the happiest at your work.”
“In my research, teaching, and relationships I want to enhance well-being and understand what drives well-being. I want to help employers and employees, students and colleagues find a path in life that brings them fulfillment, success, and satisfaction. It’s not easy. We have to be honest with ourselves, and potentially move past traditional business mores such as “I should make money” and “I should have a great title.” Is that going to bring you personal satisfaction over the long term?”
Isn’t that a little pie-in-the-sky for a management school? Not at all: “That’s what’s unique about Willamette’s MBA program. Because we teach to the three sectors, we don’t get a typical management-school crowd. We get people who are a little more societally focused.”