Here’s something you may not know about Assistant Professor of Management and Organization Eric Anicich: He recently worked as a food delivery driver with Postmates for 130 hours — for research. He wanted to gain first-hand knowledge of the on-demand driving experience for a paper currently under peer review at a journal.
“Fortunately, I have yet to deliver food to any of my colleagues or students,” he says.
Anicich also interviewed a number of part-time and full-time drivers for companies like Uber, Lyft, GrubHub and Postmates and used a computer program to analyze hundreds of thousands of comments posted by drivers in online forums. “These experiences led me to write a paper about the psychological and behavioral strategies that drivers use to buffer themselves against the vagaries of on-demand work,” he says.
"Nearly every encounter I have throughout the day is a demonstration of some interesting concept that organizational behavior scholars study.”—Eric Anicich, Assistant Professor of Management and Organization
Interested in the forms and functions of social hierarchy in groups, Anicich, who joined the Marshall faculty in 2016, has done research in a wide range of areas, including professional sports teams, high-altitude mountaineering teams, fashion design teams and Wikipedia editors.
“I have always been fascinated by trying to understand and ultimately explain human behavior,” he says. “I have the opportunity to study a wide range of fascinating topics that are informed by my everyday experiences. Nearly every encounter I have throughout the day is a demonstration of some interesting concept that organizational behavior scholars study.”
He wrote about his recent research (published in the Journal of Applied Psychology) on restoring autonomy during the pandemic for the Harvard Business Review. In March, Anicich and his colleagues surveyed employees from 41 organizations three times a day for 10 consecutive workdays. Many employees completed the surveys during their first two weeks of working from home.
“We found that employees reported a steep rebound in their sense of authenticity and personal power — both of which are indicators of autonomy — even as the pandemic was objectively worsening,” Anicich says. “These were surprising findings because most previous research on responses to stress and trauma suggested that restoring a sense of autonomy or control can often take months, if not years. We found meaningful increases in reported autonomy over just 10 workdays.”
Here’s another surprise: Anxiety can be “highly functional” and “healthy,” according to his research.
“We found that people who scored higher in the personality trait neuroticism — that is, people who tend to experience certain negative emotions such as anxiety — recovered their sense of autonomy faster than less neurotic people,” says Anicich (who describes himself as a somewhat anxious person).
Making Online Learning Enjoyable and Effective
In the spring, when the semester was disrupted by COVID, Anicich was teaching BUAD 304: Organizational Behavior and Leadership, a core course for Marshall undergraduates.
“I love teaching this course,” he says, “because the topics are extremely relevant to everyday life, like decision making, power and politics, communication, negotiation, and organizational culture and structure.”
One of the most important things he tries to get across to his students is that leadership ability is not innate. “The insights that have emerged from research point to certain skills that students can learn, develop and use in their careers from day one,” he says.
One topic in particular took on more relevance last semester and will again next spring: virtual communication. Anicich thinks it’s definitely harder for students and faculty to build rapport and trust online. “When I teach next semester, I am going to prioritize making myself accessible to students outside of class through increased virtual office hours and short check-ins with students,” he says.
“We are all still learning how to make the online learning experience more enjoyable and effective for everyone.”