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Mendoza professor publishes new study about justice in business

| Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Associate professor of Management & Organization for the Mendoza College of Business Cindy Muir recently released a new study to be featured in the Journal of Applied Psychology titled “It’s not only what you do, but why you do it: How managerial motives influence employees’ fairness judgments.”

The study focuses on the managerial motives of supervisors and the effect they have on how employees judge their fairness. Supervisors that focus more on the well-being of their employees and are more pro-socially motivated tend to be judged as fairer, even after accounting for justice behavior, Muir found.

Muir, born and raised in Miami, Florida, earned her B.S. in psychology from the University of Florida, where she also minored in business.

During her undergraduate years, Muir discerned her path to go to business school when it was recommended to her by a professor.

“My desire [during my undergraduate years] was to get a Ph.D. and become a consultant, but before I solidified those plans, one of my professors recommended I go to the Business School and talk to the Management faculty,” Muir said in an email. “To my surprise, I found a lot of professors with undergraduate degrees in psychology. It was there that I explored the difference between consulting and academia and realized that my passion was research.”

Muir said she was once apprehensive about teaching, but is now highly passionate about it.

“I was honestly apprehensive about teaching as I am fairly introverted, but I figured I had five years in grad school to figure it out. I wish I had known back then how much I’d grow to love teaching,” she wrote.

Muir said she found her inspiration to pursue her current research project in a continuation of her dissertation, which focused on justice and studying different types of supervisor motives.

“My dissertation was on motives and justice, but I took a very different approach then. And after I graduated, I realized that perhaps a focus on prosocial versus self-interested motives would be better than my previous approach,” Muir wrote. “I’ve been collecting data, and my colleagues and I have been refining the explanation on how and why a supervisor’s motives impact his or her employee’s fairness perceptions for several years.”

Her study found that supervisors that are focused on the well-being of employees are more likely to be perceived as fair by employees.

“We found that, even after accounting or controlling for justice behavior, supervisors that are thought of as pro-socially motivated — or focused on the needs of employees — were regarded as fairer than those supervisors seen as self-interested. Finding that motives uniquely predict perceptions of fairness, given how vital behaviors are, is impressive,” Muir explained.

Muir also found that supervisors with pro-social motives are given the benefit of the doubt from their employees when they demonstrate low-justice behaviors. She said employees rate pro-socially motivated supervisors more fairly than their justice behavior would generally predict.

Muir said she hopes her study can pave the way for more pro-social or empathetic employers because promoting the well-being of others does not damage one’s own well-being.

“Some people likely erroneously assume that focusing on others will harm them. To them I would say that being pro-socially motivated does not mean that you eschew your own well-being in favor of others,“ she said in the email. “And because we show that prosocial motives benefit supervisors in various ways, I would hope this work could help inspire people to focus on others by lending some confidence that beneficial outcomes may naturally follow.”

Currently, Muir is researching how to quantify and intervene in work burnout while one of her faculty members, Jason Colquitt, is heading up a new Ph.D. program in Management at Mendoza.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article misstated that Cindy Muir was heading the Management PhD. program. The Observer regrets this error. 

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About Bella Laufenberg

Bella Laufenberg is a sophomore biological sciences major, who likes news much more than organic chemistry. She has a supplementary major in classics and is in the journalism, ethics and democracy minor. At The Observer, she is the New Writer Editor and works production.

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