I see our interactions with one another as the core to understanding organizational functions and success.”
Blunden’s work and research aim to create more collaborative and productive workplace interactions through data analysis and observation. She has long been interested in using data to understand people better, and that interest has permeated her work both in and outside of academia. Professor Blunden began her career as an economic consultant, where she came to understand how critical collaboration truly is to a business’s success.
“I was working inside an organization in finance and strategy at a tech company in New York, and I witnessed people's centrality to an organization firsthand. I was part of a great team!” she recalled. “My experience there motivated me to pursue my MBA and study human capital, and I was exposed to this field of research at the nexus of people and organizations—organizational behavior.” From there, Blunden was further inspired to earn her PhD in organizational behavior from Harvard University and completed it this past spring.Blunden knew she wanted to be in an engaging, active academic environment, and American University fit the bill.
Both the university and Kogod have a deep commitment to pairing research with practice and are known for very involved students, so I knew it would be a good fit.”
“Culturally, the Kogod community is powerful as well, and that is invaluable as a new faculty member looking to join and contribute,” she explained.
Professor Blunden is looking forward to partnering with students and campus organizations to make a positive social impact on the business domain. Like-minded students have plenty of opportunities to get involved. Whether they join a student organization that aligns with their interests, work on entrepreneurial ventures through the American University Center for Innovation, or attend panels and seminars on topics they care about, Kogod students can spend their time on campus discovering new and exciting ways to develop their talents.
For Professor Blunden’s part, she’s looking forward to continuing her research on workplace interactions and answering questions that reflect the current work environment. For instance, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has given her team considerable new data on the future of virtual work, a topic she was interested in even before the past few years. Though the discussion has recently shifted to whether people will return to the office in full, Blunden believes meaningful conversations on a whether a future where remote work remains commonplace can continue to be had.“I think there is an equally rich and valuable discussion around how we can make the most of virtual work,” she said.
There are initiatives leaders and managers can undertake to minimize what are viewed as negative consequences of working virtually but realizing them and bringing them to fruition will take commitment and creativity.”
As Blunden and her team begin exploring their new data on virtual work, Blunden already has questions she hopes to answer. When the pandemic forced a quick adaptation to work online, she began following the experience of over one hundred workers and spent two years gathering data on how they adjusted to the change. “One thing I wonder is the extent to which this experience of having such a wide range of office workers go virtual represents a paradigm shift in how we work and relate to our colleagues,” she explained. “I’m excited to consider a variety of questions: How do people adjust to working virtually and why? Who adjusts better, and how do people’s reactions to virtual work change over time?” As workplaces themselves grapple with the future of work in response to the pandemic, Blunden’s research represents a crucial exploration of how virtual work can be effective and collaborative.
Beyond virtual work, Professor Blunden also studies developmental workplace interactions such as feedback giving. Giving and receiving feedback on work performance can be uncomfortable, and Blunden hopes to shift the attitudes surrounding it to make it a more beneficial experience for everybody involved. “I find that subtly shifting feedback givers’ mindsets—the way they think about the recipient or the task of giving feedback—can affect the type of content they share,” she said. “For example, we found in one series of studies that when we have people solicit ‘advice’ rather than ‘feedback,’ it enables givers to focus more on the future, and they go on to deliver more developmental and actionable insights.”
Blunden’s research focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion as well. She examines how feedback changes depending on the recipient.
Prior research suggests that employees may water down the feedback they provide to women, which impedes women’s growth and advancement.”
“My coauthors and I are investigating the presence of a potential feedback gender gap, and if we find it, we intend to test interventions to help close it,” she said. Existing research on gender differences in feedback ranges in potential reasons for those differences; some studies highlight unconscious bias in how women’s capabilities are perceived, while others suggest the assumption that women are more likely to react poorly to criticism. Blunden and her team aspire to pinpoint patterns and find solutions, so women are not held back by unspecific, ineffective feedback.
Blunden’s effort to understand the business communication factors that individuals experience in the workplace aims to ensure that these differences are considered when establishing communication lines.
Creating workplace interactions that make an impact lies at the core of Blunden’s work. Motivated by her own experiences within organizations and trends that she’s seen in the business world, she strives to gather data that explains these trends on a more personal level. “I focus at the micro-level on employee interactions, so many of the effects I consider often seek to connect people’s behaviors to their internal thinking,” she explained. “To that end, some of my work can also speak to a business psychology audience.”
No matter the specific career path, Kogod students of all stripes need to know how to best communicate with colleagues in their field. Professor Blunden teaches Management and Organizational Behavior (MGMT-353) and uses her expertise by covering topics ranging from leadership skills to conflict resolution. By bringing in her own research aims to improve the outcomes of workplace exchanges, Blunden hopes to contribute to a business world that fosters mutual understanding, collaboration, and success at all levels of an organization.