• Seminars

    The Work and Organization Studies group is a hub for the study of work, employment, and organizations, and is host to one of the longest-running seminar series at MIT. These weekly seminars attract researchers from across the Institute and around the world. Unless otherwise noted, OS seminars are held from 11:00-12:30 pm on Thursdays in E62-350 and IWER seminars take place from 12:30-2:20 pm on Tuesdays in E62-346.

  • OS Seminars
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    Date Event
    September 8, 2016 Community Lunch
    September 15, 2016 Christine Beckman - Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

    Rituals of Quantification: Creating a System of Control (with Melissa Mazmanian)

    In this paper we explore budgeting as a ritual ofquantification. Using qualitative data from a hotel management firm we observemanagers engaged in a process of creating a number that drives daily decisionsfor the subsequent year. We highlight the ritual characteristics of budgeting(intense engagement, moments of voice, bounded stages, annual reenactment, andquantified output). In describing how the complementary processes ofsocialization and commensuration undergird this ritual, we provide insight intoboth how it operates and the source of its power. In sum, we argue that theritual of quantification incorporates elements of behavioral, normative andoutput controls to create a robust system of organizational control. This workhas implications for theories of control and calculative practices inorganizations.

    September 29, 2016 Nelson Repenning- School of Management Distinguished Professor of System Dynamics and Organization Studies

    Synthesizing a Dynamic Theory of WorkDesign

    Catalyzed by the seminal contribution of Hackman and Oldham, work design was once apopular topic in work and organization studies and considered to be one of thefew theories that was both rigorously tested and practically relevant.  In the last two decades, interest in andstudies of work design have diminished, leaving existing theory increasinglyout of touch with contemporary practice. An inadequate understanding of work both leaves many organizationaltheories resting on a shaky foundation and restricts our ability to influencepractice.  In this talk, I will proposean updated approach to understanding the nature of effective and engagingwork.  I begin by revisiting the staticconception of work that underlies most existing theory and build an alternativeframework based on the notion that even the most routine work is not entirelypredictable and requires a continuing stream of local adjustments andaccommodations.  I then propose fourrelated mechanisms through which organizations can capitalize on thisunderlying dynamism to build both motivation and competitive advantage.  These mechanisms provide a path to unify avariety of seemingly disparate work design practices, including elements of thefamed Toyota Production System and agile software development practice.  Several examples from recent interventionprojects will show how these mechanisms can be used to generate more effective,engaging work.

    October 13, 2016 Sharon Koppman- University of California, Irvine

    Glass Halls through Glass Walls: Why Men Get Core Jobs in Feminized Occupations

    In light of a large literature on occupational sex segregation, advertising stands apart.  Within this feminized occupation, women show high interest, aptitude, and qualifications for creative work, yet relatively few are employed in creative jobs.  I explain this empirical puzzle through an overlooked source of sex segregation: beliefs that circulate within occupations.  By analyzing in-depth interviews (N=54) with advertising practitioners, I reveal how beliefs that circulate within advertising—specifically, the male ideal ofthe emotional and independent creative person—inform individual decisions to stay in creative jobs or leave.  Through the use of primary survey data (N=351), I demonstrate that identification with this internal ideal patterns sex segregation. Together, this study suggests that, much like the “glass elevator” lifts men in feminized occupations into management, these occupational beliefs provide “glass halls” through which men stride into the jobs defined as most desirable within the occupation itself.

    October 20, 2016 Valentina Assenova- Yale University

    Multiplexity as a Conduit and Sieve of Information in Embedded Markets

    This study uses a quasi-experiment in the introduction of information within themoney lending structures of 16,984 people in 43 villages in India to understand how multiplexity -- overlap in roles, exchanges, and affiliations -- with the social structures of the villages (e.g. kinship, home visits) affected microfinance enrollment over time. Findings show that multiplexity deterred enrollment among eligible participants (women from socially and economically disadvantaged groups), despite potential economic benefits associated with microfinance. Results are attributed to the effects of multiplexity on role conflict for informants. The article illuminates the consequences of multiplex information structures for individual behavior.

    October 27, 2016 Julia J. Lee- University of Michigan

    Relational Self-Affirmation: Changing the Stories that We Tell Ourselves 

    Working in teams often leads to productivity loss because theneed to feel accepted prevents individual members from making a unique contribution to the team in terms of the information or perspective they can offer. Drawing on self-affirmation theory, we propose that pre-team relational self-affirmation can prepare individuals to contribute to team creative performance more effectively. We theorize that relationally-affirming one’s self-views increases general feelings of being socially valued by others,leading to better information exchange and creative performance. In a first study, we found that teams in which members affirmed their bestselves prior to team formation (i.e., by soliciting and receiving narratives that highlight one’s positive impact on close others) outperformed teams that did not do so on a creative problem-solving task. In the second experiment, conducted using virtual teams, we show that pre-team relational self-affirmation leads to heightened feelings of social worth, which in turn explains the effect of the treatment on the team’s ability to exchange information.


    November 3, 2016 Devon Proudfoot- Duke University

    A Gender Bias in the Attribution of Creativity: Archival and ExperimentalEvidence for the Perceived Association Between Masculinity and CreativeThinking

    We propose that the propensity to think creatively tends to be associated with independence and self-direction—qualities generally ascribed to men—so that men are often perceived to be more creative than women. In two experiments, we found that “outside the box” creativity is more strongly associated with stereotypically masculine characteristics (e.g., daring and self-reliance) than with stereotypically feminine characteristics (e.g., cooperativeness and supportiveness; Study 1) and that a man is ascribed more creativity than a woman when they produce identical output (Study 2). Analyzing archival data, we found that men’s ideas are evaluated as more ingenious than women’s ideas (Study 3) and that female executives are stereotyped as less innovative than their male counterparts when evaluated by their supervisors (Study 4). Finally, we observed that stereotypically masculine behavior enhances a man’s perceived creativity, whereas identical behavior does not enhance a woman’s perceived creativity (Study 5). This boost in men’s perceived creativity is mediated by attributions of agency, not competence, and predicts perceptions of reward deservingness.

    November 10, 2016 Francesca Gino- Harvard Business School

    Green, P., Gino, F., & Staats, B. (2016). Shopping for confirmation: How threatening feedback leads people to reshape their social network.

    To improve and advance in their careers, employees must be able to identify their own deficiencies. But humans are notoriously self-deceptive in their self-appraisal efforts, consistently ignoring their flaws in an attempt tomaintain a positive self-concept. Aware of this fact, organizations commonly gather various forms of developmental feedback from others in the belief that it will be more honest than self-assessments and motivate self-improvement. We propose that these feedback processes are, in fact, often ineffective because they represent threats to recipients’ positive self-concept. Analyzing four years of peer feedback and social network data from a company in the agribusiness industry, we find that employees, in the face of feedback that is more negative than their own self-assessment in a given domain, reshape their social network in ways designed to eliminate or attenuate the threat brought about by the feedback, and that this behavior is detrimental to their performance. In two follow-up laboratory studies, we replicate these findings conceptually, showing that disconfirming feedback has such effects on one’s relationships and performance because it is perceived as threatening to one’s self-concept. 


    November 17, 2016 Fabiana Silva- University of California, Berkeley

    The Strength of Whites’ Ties: How employers reward the referrals of black and whitejobseekers

    Sociologists commonly point to jobseekers' racially segregated networks and employers' discriminatory behavior to explain racial inequality in employment. Network scholars argue that, given segregated networks and black and white employees' unequal position in the labor market, employers' reliance on employee referrals reproduces black disadvantage. Scholars of discrimination focus instead on the consequences of employers' prejudice. Drawing on an original experiment with a sample of white individuals with hiring responsibilities, I seek to bridge these literatures by examining whether respondents' racial prejudice affects how they reward the employee referrals of black and white applicants, from black and white employees. I use a measure of implicit prejudice that is resistant to social desirability and that can capture biases among people who genuinely believe they are unbiased. Whether evaluated by low-prejudiced or high-prejudiced respondents, white applicants benefit greatly from same-race referrals. In contrast, black applicants do not benefit from same-race referrals, even when they are evaluated by low-prejudiced respondents. In fact, black applicants only benefit from having a referral when two conditions are met: the referring employee is white and they are evaluated by a relatively low-prejudiced respondent. These findings suggest that in addition to their disadvantage in access to employee referrals, black jobseekers suffer from a disadvantage in returns to these referrals.  

    December 1, 2016 Ryann Manning- Harvard Business School


    All Hands are Needed: Emotion and Resilient Organizing by West African Diaspora Communities in Response to the 2014-2015 Ebola Outbreak

    Disasters are destructive and emotionally fraught events. Existing literature shows that emotions play a critical role in resilience at the individual level, but we know less about how emotion relates to resilience at a collective level. In this paper, I focus on what I call “resilient organizing,” the process by which groups of people work together to activate, combine, and recombine resources in order to respond and adapt successfully to adverse events. I examine the case of the 2014-2015 Ebola outbreak, specifically the response to Ebola by the global diaspora communities of one of the worst affected countries: Sierra Leone. Using abductive analytic techniques, I combine retrospective interviews with real-time data from diaspora organizations, online public conversations, and my own participation in the response to Ebola. I find that shared emotional experiences helped connect members of the diaspora to the emerging crisis in Sierra Leone, and generated a sense of urgency and efficacy which convinced many to get involved in the response. I develop the concept of “emotional modulation” and show how activists sought to strategically shape their communities’ collective emotional landscape in order to generate a balance of emotions to facilitate resilient organizing. Based on these findings, I build a theoretical model in which emotional modulation and resilient organizing influence one another in a dynamic, recursive process, with the potential for positive or negative cycles of emotion and (in)action.

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  • IWER Seminars