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Russell Johnson - Michigan State University. East Lansing, MI, US

Russell Johnson Russell Johnson

Associate Professor of Management | Michigan State University


Expert on psychology of the workplace, employee-management relationships, motivation, leadership





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Russell E. Johnson (johnsonr@broad.msu.edu) is an associate professor of management in the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University. Previously, he was a member of the faculty at the University of South Florida. He received his Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Akron. His research examines the roles of motivation-, justice-, and leadership-based processes that underlie work attitudes and behaviors. His research has been published in Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Management, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Personnel Psychology, Psychological Bulletin, and Research in Organizational Behavior, among other journals. His research has been cited in popular press outlets such as Forbes, The Globe and Mail, Harvard Business Review, NBC's Today, NPR, Psychology Today, TIME, and Wall Street Journal. He is a past associate editor at Academy of Management Review, and serves on the editorial boards at Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Journal of Organizational Behavior, The Leadership Quarterly, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Personnel Psychology, among others. In 2013, Dr. Johnson received the Distinguished Early Career Contributions Award for Science from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and in 2018 he received the Cummings Scholarly Achievement Award from the Organizational Behavior Division of Academy of Management. Originally from Canada, he still dreams of one day playing in the National Hockey League.

Industry Expertise (5)

Talent Management

Management Consulting



Human Resources

Areas of Expertise (11)



Organizational Commitment






Organizational Justice

Employee Self-Concept

Implicit Information Processing

Accomplishments (4)

Cummings Scholarly Achievement Award (2018) (professional)

From the Organizational Behavior Division of Academy of Management

Seshe Reviewer Award for Timeliness and Productivity (2012) (professional)

From The Leadership Quarterly

Outstanding Reviewer Award (2011) (professional)

From Academy of Management Review

Outstanding Reviewer Award (2010) (professional)

From Journal of Business and Psychology

Education (3)

University of Akron: Ph.D., Industrial and Organizational Psychology 2006

Advisor: Robert G. Lord, Ph.D. Dissertation: Uncovering the motivational processes underlying justice: The implicit cognitive, affective, and conative effects of experiencing (un)fairness Committee: Robert G. Lord (Chair), Rosalie J. Hall, Paul E. Levy, Aaron M. Schmidt, and Roger C. Mayer

University of Akron: M.A., Industrial and Organizational Psychology 2003

Advisor: Robert G. Lord, Ph.D. Thesis: The influence of performance-goal discrepancy and progress rate feedback on motivation: The differential effects of how far and how fast

University of Calgary: B.A., Psychology 2001

Advisor: Theresa J. B. Kline, Ph.D. Major/Minor: Psychology / Philosophy Thesis: What users think about groupware: A case study

Affiliations (7)

  • Academy of Management Review : Guest Editorships
  • Academy of Management Journal : Editorial Board
  • Academy of Management Review : Editorial Board
  • Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences : Editorial Board
  • European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology : Editorial Board
  • Journal of Applied Psychology : Editorial Board
  • Journal of Business and Psychology : Editorial Board

News (6)

4 Things You're Doing That Are Stressing Your Employees Out (And How to Stop!)

US Chamber of Commerce  online


While fine-tuning your language and emotions may be a challenge, it’s relatively easy to remedy another huge stressor bosses put on employees: 24/7 emails, texts and other electronic communication. Russell Johnson, an associate professor of management in the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University, said that too many messages, especially outside business hours, create stress in three ways: receiving and responding to email is a cognitive disruption, increased use of electronic communication is also mentally demanding because it requires employees to spend more time and effort processing the messages they receive and increased use of electronic communication creates a sense that one is unfailingly tethered to the workplace.

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Profitt Report: Offering unsolicited help in the office could cause more harm than good

NBC 25 News  online


Getting ahead in the workplace takes effort: you want to be a go-getter and all-around asset to the office. However, research from Michigan State University shows you’ll want to be careful about how you go about it. Unsolicited advice is notoriously annoying, but it could really cause trouble in your office said MSU management professor Russell Johnson. “If someone is trying to offer you help and you’re not asking for it, that can backfire in that it could cause you to think, is there something wrong with me? Do they think I’m not doing this right?” he said.

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Profitt Report: Study finds e-mail can be an office distraction

NBC 25 News  online


E-mail was created to help us communicate more quickly but a new study shows it might be hurting how we operate in the workplace. Russell Johnson is a Michigan State University management professor, studying how e-mail influences our work days. He said, every time we check our e-mail, our brain needs a minute or two to recover and re-adjust to the task at hand. “Upwards of 90 minutes a day is wasted trying to re-engage after checking e-mail,” Johnson said.

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The dark side of helping coworkers

MSU Today  online


If you show up at work tired, you may want to focus strictly on your own tasks. New research suggests helping coworkers in the morning can lead to mental exhaustion and self-serving behavior in the afternoon that ultimately can create a toxic work environment.

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How incivility spreads in the workplace

MSU Today  online


Condescending comments, put-downs and sarcasm have become commonplace in the politically charged workplace, and a new study co-authored by a Michigan State University business scholar shows how this incivility may be spreading.

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Nighttime smartphone use zaps workers’ energy

MSU Today  online


Using a smartphone to cram in more work at night results in less work the next day, indicates new research co-authored by a Michigan State University business scholar.

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Journal Articles (9)

Boxed in by your inbox: Implications of daily e-mail demands for managers’ leadership behaviors.


Rosen, C. C., Simon, L. S., Gajendran, R. S., Johnson, R. E., Lee, H. W., & Lin, S.-H. (J.)

2019 Over the past 30 years, the nature of communication at work has changed. Leaders in particular rely increasingly on e-mail to communicate with their superiors and subordinates. However, researchers and practitioners alike suggest that people frequently report feeling overloaded by the e-mail demands they experience at work. In the current study, we develop a self-regulatory framework that articulates how leaders’ day-to-day e-mail demands relate to a perceived lack of goal progress, which has a negative impact on their subsequent enactment of routine (i.e., initiating structure) and exemplary (i.e., transformational) leadership behaviors.

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The benefits of receiving gratitude for helpers: A daily investigation of proactive and reactive helping at work.


Lee, Hun Whee Bradburn, Jacob Johnson, Russell E. Lin, Szu-Han (Joanna) Chang, Chu-Hsiang (Daisy)

2018 Although gratitude is a key phenomenon that bridges helping with its outcomes, how and why helping relates to receipt of gratitude and its relation with helper’s eudaimonic well-being have unfortunately been overlooked in organizational research. The purpose of this study is to unravel how helpers successfully connect to others and their work via receipt of gratitude. To do so, we distinguish different circumstances of helping—reactive helping (i.e., providing help when requested) versus proactive helping (i.e., providing help without being asked)—and examine their unique effect on the gratitude received by helpers, which, in turn, has downstream implications for helpers’ perceived prosocial impact and work engagement the following day.

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Seeing the Big Picture: A Within-Person Examination of Leader Construal Level and Vision Communication

Journal of Management

Merlijn Venus, Russell E Johnson, Shuxia Zhang, Xiao-Hua Wang, Klodiana Lanaj

2018 Despite the importance of leader vision communication to effective leadership, little is known about what prompts leaders to communicate a vision in the first place. Drawing from construal level theory, we examined the within-person relationship of leader construal level in the morning with vision communication during that workday. Leadership self-identity, or the extent to which “being a leader” is central to one’s self-concept, was specified as a cross-level moderator of the daily construal level–vision communication relationship. We tested our predictions using an experience sampling design across 15 consecutive workdays. In total, we obtained a total of 394 matched morning and afternoon surveys from 44 mid- to high-level managers. Results revealed that a high-level construal level in the morning was positively associated with vision communication during the day but only when leadership self-identity is high (vs. low). We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings, in particular with regard to the emerging field of visionary leadership as well as the emerging literature that uses construal level theory to explain leadership phenomena.

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Don't Get It Misconstrued: Construal Level Shifts And Flexibility In The Upper Echelons

Academy of Management

Adam Steinbach, Daniel L Gamache and Russell E. Johnson

2018 Whereas much of upper echelons research focuses on the background characteristics and traits of executives to explain their strategic choices, much less is understood about the information filtering process by which those characteristics manifest in strategic decisions. We develop theory to explain how executives process information by integrating construal level theory with upper echelons theory. Construal level theory describes how the same event can be interpreted in different ways, thus influencing the type of information people pay attention to, how they process that information, and the resulting decisions and actions.

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The Short-lived Benefits of Abusive Supervisory Behavior for Actors: An Investigation of Recovery and Work Engagement

Academy of Management

Xin Qin, Mingpeng Huang, Russell E. Johnson, Qiongjing Hu and Dong Ju

2018 Although empirical evidence has accumulated showing that abusive supervision has devastating effects on subordinates’ work attitudes and outcomes, knowledge about how such behavior impacts supervisors who exhibit it is limited. Drawing upon conservation of resources theory, we develop and test a model that specifies how and when engaging in abusive supervisory behavior has immediate benefits for supervisors. Via two experiments and a multi-wave diary study across 10 consecutive workdays, we found that engaging in abusive supervisory behavior was associated with improved recovery level.

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Cleansing my abuse: A reparative response model of perpetrating abusive supervisor behavior.


Liao, Z., Yam, K. C., Johnson, R. E., Liu, W., & Song, Z.

2018 Research on abusive supervision has predominantly focused on the consequences for victims while overlooking how leaders respond to their own abusive behavior. Drawing from the literature on moral cleansing, we posit that supervisors who engage in abusive behavior may paradoxically engage in more constructive leadership behaviors subsequently as a result of feeling guilty and perceiving loss of moral credits.

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Opposing Affective and Cognitive Effects of Prevention Focus on Counterproductive Work Behavior

Journal of Business and Psychology

Szu-Han Joanna Lin, Russell E Johnson

2017 Regulatory focus is a crucial self-regulation variable that influences employee workplace behavior. However, research findings to date have been equivocal with respect to the relation of prevention focus with counterproductive work behavior (CWB). On the one hand, prevention focus sensitizes people to experience high activation negative emotions. Such emotions prompt aggressive behavior, suggesting a positive relation of prevention focus with CWB through this affective route. On the other hand, prevention focus also sensitizes people to fulfill obligations and abide by rules. Such obligations align employee behavior with organizational norms, suggesting a negative relation of prevention focus with CWB through this cognitive route. To better understand the nature of this prevention focus–CWB relationship, we examined these underlying affective and cognitive mechanisms simultaneously in two multi-wave studies.

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Helping others or helping oneself? An episodic examination of the behavioral consequences of helping at work

Personnel Psychology

Allison S Gabriel, Joel Koopman, Christopher C Rosen, Russell E Johnson

2017 Scholars have paid an increasing amount of attention to organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), with a particular emphasis on helping others at work. In addition, recent empirical work has focused on how OCB is an intraindividual phenomenon, such that employees vary daily in the extent to which they help others. However, one limitation of this research has been an overemphasis on well‐being consequences associated with daily helping (e.g., changes in affect and mental depletion) and far less attention on behavioral outcomes. In this study, we develop a self‐regulatory framework that articulates how helping others at work is a depleting experience that can lead to a reduction in subsequent acts of helping others, and an increase in behaviors aimed at helping oneself (i.e., engaging in political acts). We further theorize how two individual differences—prevention focus and political skill—serve as cross‐level moderators of these relations. In an experience sampling study of 91 full‐time employees across 10 consecutive workdays, our results illustrate that helping is a depleting act that makes individuals more likely to engage in self‐serving acts and less likely to help others. Moreover, the relation of helping acts with depletion is strengthened for employees who have higher levels of prevention focus.

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Regulatory focus trickle-down: How leader regulatory focus and behavior shape follower regulatory focus.


Johnson, Russell E. King, Danielle D. Lin, Szu-Han (Joanna) Scott, Brent A. Walker, Erin M. Jackson Wang, Mo

2017 Regulatory focus is critical at work and is shaped by cues in the environment. We examine how supervisor regulatory foci can activate analogous foci in subordinates. We test this idea across five studies. In Study 1 we find that supervisor regulatory focus predicted change in new hires’ regulatory focus in the first three months after organizational entry. In Studies 2 and 3 we find that leaders’ regulatory foci had unique effects on leadership behaviors, and that these behaviors primed subordinates’ regulatory foci. Specifically, transformational behavior is linked to promotion focus, management by exception behavior to prevention focus, and contingent reward behavior to both foci.

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