Dr Rebecca Lau Suk-yin
Assistant Professor,
Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administration

Interview with Dr Rebecca Lau Suk-yin: Practising what she teaches

It goes without saying that happy employees are good for business. According to the Harvard Business Review, a positive work culture contributes to higher productivity. The same article states, citing a large number of empirical studies, that positive social connections at work produce highly desirable results in the workplace. For this reason, it becomes imperative to foster social relationships at work. Dr Rebecca Lau, Assistant Professor in the Lee Shau Kee School of Business and Administration, has been awarded a grant by the Research Grants Council’s Faculty Development Scheme (FDS) to examine why some employees, despite the obvious benefits, are still reluctant to build social bonds. Her project — entitled, “Why don’t they return the favour? A study of antecedents to team-member exchange and its impact on work-life balance” — tackles the issue from a personality perspective and examines different individual traits that could hamper social exchange. She is also investigating what can be done to mitigate these personality traits by tweaking the social and professional context. If this is done correctly, Dr Lau hypothesizes that employees may improve their work-life balance by getting more involved.

Anyone who has a quick chat with Dr Lau in her busy office will not fail to notice her willingness to listen and share, and her positive attitude to her interlocutors. Her research interest stems from her background in human resource management and her strong belief in taking a holistic view of personnel. During her postgraduate studies in Hong Kong and the United States, she was trained to be intellectually curious and explore as many topics as possible. Thanks to the advice and guidance of her research supervisor and dissertation director at different stages of her studies, she also learned to settle down, remain focused on a research area, and devote her career to research. Dr Lau’s interdisciplinary FDS project reflects her broad concern with addressing aspects of a complicated social issue, as well as her central goal of improving how businesses and organizations function.

If the employees’ personality traits are difficult to change, Dr Lau attempts to look for evidence that manipulating task interdependence and shared leadership may contribute to a better interpersonal interface, which leads to more resource- and information-sharing. When employees are asked to coordinate activities and share leadership roles, the logic goes, employees are encouraged and motivated to get more involved and take part in the building of a positive work culture. Considering the long Hong Kong working days (often including evenings), Dr Lau is hard pressed to study the Hong Kong context, as similar research has only been done overseas.

Dr Lau’s research has broad social implications. When asked if she would one day use her research findings to develop a workshop or training module to benefit the community, she responded, “stepping out of the ivory tower is definitely a beautiful idea, and I hope my research can help solve real-world problems. But I need to look at my findings first.” She and her research assistant are developing localized survey protocols for use with full-time employees from a wide range of occupations. As this is her first FDS project, she is grateful for her colleagues’ helpful advice on hiring a research assistant and other issues. Practising what she preaches, she encourages colleagues to share experience and knowledge. For instance, a number of research roundtable meetings will be held for first-time recipients of research grants to share tips on research-related administrative matters, and Dr Lau hopes that interested colleagues will join and learn from each other.



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