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MARCH 2016

Professor receives honor for years of rigorous research into work stress

wayne_hochwarterwebWayne Hochwarter is typically a man of many words. 

The Jim Moran Professor of Management has authored and provided his research expertise for hundreds of articles, ranging from scientific studies for top-tier journals to practical pieces for the popular press. He has no problems filling up the long lecture time in front of hundreds of students when they gather for his organizational behavior courses. And, he carries on conversations daily by phone or email with an envious network of business friends and academic colleagues worldwide.

But when it comes to receiving this year’s Distinguished Doctoral Alumni Award for Florida State University’s College of Business, Hochwarter only needs one word to sum up his feelings on the matter: “Gratitude,” he said. “How grateful I am for this honor and for all of those who truly made it possible.”

“He was an easy call,” said Gerald Ferris, Francis Eppes Professor of Management and chair of the college’s faculty committee that annually selects a recipient who has established a well-known scientific career and received impressive accolades. “His publication record is endless and high quality.” The committee includes representatives of each of the college’s seven academic departments. Each recommends a Ph.D. alumnus and submits that person’s vita for review by the entire committee. Hochwarter easily took the No. 1 vote, Ferris said.

The college will present the award to Hochwarter in a ceremony on May 12.

The Chicago native launched his academic career in 1993, graduating from FSU with a Ph.D. in business administration with a major in Human Resources Management and Organizational Behavior. He was hired by FSU in 2001 after successful stints at Mississippi State University and the University of Alabama.

“I continued to work with people who were here after I left. I thought it would be exciting to be here, instead of working with them electronically,” Hochwarter said. “I continue to have great affection for the university, my incredible colleagues in the management department, the College of Business and what we’re trying to do here.”

He was also drawn back to Tallahassee because the community continues to be a great place to raise a family. Hochwarter has two sons: Bo, 17, and Jacob, 15. He took advantage of his flexible schedule, he said, to attend every one of their sports games or other activities.

A prolific researcher, Hochwarter has spent his career delving into how people manage work stressors, such as office politics and leadership changes, and the effects of emotions and behaviors on job satisfaction and work contribution.

Hochwarter said his research, ever relatable to the everyday employee, is the result of seeking out answers to questions he encounters each day:

  • ŸWorking at a food store in his 20s, he experienced firsthand how the entire climate of a workplace could change with a switch in supervisors and began to wonder why.
  • ŸHe started to question the role parental guilt plays in work stress after observing a professionally dressed mother picking her child up late from school and immediately promising the child a trip to the toy store as an apology.
  • ŸHe saw students press for better grades and employees seek out rewards like flexible hours and bigger offices that they simply did not deserve. So he decided to research entitlement and develop better ways to measure it.
  • ŸYears ago following back surgery, he realized the excruciating pain affected how much he could get done each day. So he began to study the interaction of chronic pain and employee work contribution.
  • ŸHearing about the toxic work environments many employees at different companies face led him to examine the dysfunctional supervisor behavior often associated with narcissism.

“I just try to look around at what’s going on in the world,” Hochwarter said. “If I research and write about something I feel or experience, it just works better for me.”

It’s this autonomy that professors have to choose their research pursuits that Hochwarter calls one of the primary perks of academic work. It’s his insatiable curiosity that drives Hochwarter to investigate and produce new knowledge. It’s the quality of his work that keeps prestigious, peer-reviewed journals publishing his work. And it’s because his interesting topics resonate with most anyone in the workplace that his studies have been picked up by the popular press, including magazines like Bloomberg Businessweek and Psychology Today, and newspapers such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. His research has also appeared in international press publications from China to Nigeria.

One of Hochwarter’s recent studies, for example, was published by Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, an academic journal, and then shared as self-help information in business magazines and websites. Based on a survey of more than 600 blue- and white-collar employees, the study compared “forward thinkers,” those able to put bad events behind them and focus on the future, with “ruminators,” defined as individuals more prone to think about past transgressions. Results showed that ruminators reported more negative outcomes, including greater difficulty sleeping, more frequently strained relations with coworkers and higher levels of job stress and depression.

“Certainly all of us know someone who is unable to let go of the past and how uncomfortable this can make others,” said Hochwarter, who decided to research the topic while driving down the road, mulling over how people respond to unexpected circumstances. “Sometimes self-reflection can be a healthy thing.”

Much of Hochwarter’s studies are based on hundreds of surveys sent over the years to employees at public and private workplaces, where he has developed connections. Hochwarter is not the only one who benefits.

“Our doctoral students need data to cut their teeth on, and they gain by observing the process as they mature into independent scholars,” he said. “I am constantly on the lookout for sources of data. If I can get it and share it with them, they can learn more by working and managing data.”

Jonathon Halbesleben, associate dean for research at University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce and immediate past editor of the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, said Hochwarter continually inspires others.

“I have never met someone so dedicated to the success of his students and the quality of their research, Halbesleben said. “He has made me a better researcher and a better person.”

Along with his ongoing research pursuits, Hochwarter teaches a doctoral seminar on leadership. He also continues to teach the required classes in organizational behavior to hundreds of students at time. Many of his classes are now delivered online instead of in large lecture halls, but he still prefers the face-to-face setting for connecting with students. That professor-student bond can persist beyond graduation. He frequently receives email from former students sharing new job challenges they remember discussing in Hochwarter’s class.

“I think I’m much better five-plus years out,” Hochwarter said, “meaning the students appreciate my teaching more once they’ve experienced real-world environments. I don’t claim to teach theory. I would prefer to focus on reality and all of the opportunities and challenges that go along with it.”

In the academic world, it’s not common for an institution to offer a faculty post to a doctoral alumnus. But Ferris said by 2001, Hochwarter had already established himself as an accomplished researcher at management departments at other schools. Their loss was FSU’s gain. Now nearly 15 years later, Hochwarter is an integral part of the FSU College of Business community.

“This is a tremendous achievement, and we are very proud to have Wayne on our faculty,” wrote Interim Dean Michael Hartline in an email congratulating Hochwarter. The announcement prompted numerous congratulatory replies from faculty and staff members throughout the college.

“Besides being a great scholar, he’s a good citizen,” Ferris said. “He contributes a lot here at the college, and he’s such a nice guy.”

Learn more about Hochwarter and his work on his faculty profile page.

Visit the Distinguished Doctoral Alumni Award page to see a list of previous recipients.

-- By Melanie Yeager

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