Work and Organization Studies

OS Seminar

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. The OS Seminar will take place on Thursdays from 12:00-1:30 pm ET during the Spring on the dates listed below.  Seminar details will be sent to the OS Seminar mailing group prior to the seminar.  To join our mailing group, please contact Virginia Geiger (  Please check the schedule below for upcoming presenters.

Upcoming Presenters

  • September 14, 2023

    James Mellody (MIT Sloan)

     A Different Kind of Tradeoff: Cultural Diversity in Ecologies of Attention 

    What determines the diversity of cultural material produced in a market? In many consumer product markets, periods of competition support cultural diversity, but alternating periods of concentration drive cultural homogeneity. A stable partition can emerge, separating a culturally homogenous market center from a culturally diverse periphery. Cultural diversity exists temporarily or is relegated to the market fringe. These conditions are reflected in the choice faced by organizations: grow in the market center by producing culturally generic material, or attract a smaller, more engaged consumer base by producing culturally distinct material in the periphery. I examine a different market context: ecologies of attention, in which consumers can readily engage with multiple organizations (e.g., online communities, voluntary organizations) simultaneously and easily transition from being consumers to also producers of content. I study Reddit as a case of an attention ecology, leveraging user participation data and the text of over 2 billion comments from over 14 thousand subreddits. I find that subreddits face a tradeoff contingent on their location in the resource space, enabling cultural diversity to survive in crowded, competitive locations, while cultural homogeneity emerges in sparse, uncompetitive areas. I draw on these findings to introduce a broader theory of market partitioning.



  • September 21, 2023

    Raquel Kessinger (MIT Sloan)

    Speaking Up and Speaking Out: How Employee Activists Raise Social, Political, and Moral Concerns at Work

    Despite leaders’ attempts to encourage employees to speak up inside their firms, employees may view internal voice mechanisms as insufficient to address their social, political, and moral work-related concerns. Thus, employee activists may instead co-opt the voice mechanisms that leaders set up to facilitate internal employee voice, such as townhall meetings and new communication technologies, to publicly challenge their firm either by mobilizing for collective action or engaging in noisy exits. Specifically, when they mobilize, employee activists may use these internal voice mechanisms to widely air grievances, quickly assess the level of internal support for their cause, and prepare for action. These tools may help reduce some of the barriers to engaging in contentious activism and enable employee activists to mobilize larger coalitions faster than previous mobilization tactics. However, organizational leaders may respond by revising firm values and introducing restrictive internal communication policies to limit employee activists’ use of these tools. Activists may, in turn, adapt by using these tools for early stages of organizing and later moving to more secure, external platforms. This study of how employee activists raise social, political, and moral issues at work adds an important nuance to the current literature’s understanding of both employee intra-organizational voice and employee extra-organizational voice and collective action.


  • September 28, 2023

    Alan Zhang (MIT Sloan)

    Authenticity Frictions: Harnessing Risk as a Catalyst for Authenticity in Fine Wine Production

    The market for cultural goods prizes authenticity, valuing those products that seem “true” or “genuine” to what they claim to be. But unstable supply-side conditions can alter production activities and put the achievement of authenticity at risk. Drawing on 16 months of ethnographic field work at an internationally renowned winery (Cal-Cru) in Northern California, I examine how actors contend with environmental instabilities in the production of authentic fine wine. Cal-Cru has been producing fine wines consistently for over half a century, and these products are widely regarded in the industry as authentic. Yet, Cal-Cru’s achievement of authentic productions entails a perennial struggle with volatile grape-growing and wine-making conditions. What is particularly distinctive about Cal-Cru’s production process is that multiple kinds of actors (i.e., humans, weather, plants, microbes) are given considerable latitude to participate in the wine-making process, making production conditions highly complex and unstable. Instead of following industry practice to mitigate or suppress these risks, I find that Cal-Cru actively promotes and sustains them, thus harnessing risk in the service of authenticity. By allowing multiple heterogenous actors to contest and destabilize the course of production—fostering what I call authenticity frictions—Cal-Cru cultivates risky conditions as a catalyst in the production of authentic products. Cal-Cru does this through a set of recurrent trajectory management practices which incorporate and repurpose ongoing instabilities in the production process. My research explains how Cal-Cru’s consistent achievement of authenticity is accomplished not despite supply-side instabilities, but because of them. 

Previous Presenters

  • February 9, 2023

    Professor Jasmine Hill, University of California, Los Angeles 

    Hustle Culture and the Spirit of Platform Capitalism 

    Sociologists note the rise of a new economic regime, giving rise to the gig economy and making all work conditions more precarious: “platform capitalism.” In this article, I contend that the rise of platform capitalism creates a new cultural set of beliefs, symbols, and rituals, catalyzed in predominately white middle-class online communities, which I term “hustle culture.” This paper proceeds with four core arguments. First, I argue that hustle culture emerges from platform capitalism as a means to make sense of the precarity brought on by thus this new economic order. Second, I demonstrate that distinct from other cultural forms like the American Dream, hustle culture, and its adherents (self-proclaimed “hustlers”) believe that entrepreneurialism, the right mindset, and the platforms themselves will lead to financial freedom. Still, (and third) hustle culture co-opts a historical notion of “the hustler” articulated by Black communities. Yet,(and finally) hustle culture still perpetuates colorblind racism and sexism by waxing over the consequences of structural inequality. In response to economic and technological change, I show that self-described “hustlers” believe that social mobility is the result of1) entrepreneurialism, 2) the appropriate mindset, and 3) the savvy use of platforms themselves. In this paper, I define and articulate hustle culture's goals, locate its origins precarity born from platform capitalism and the gig economy, and expose hustle culture’s connection to (and dismissal of) racial inequality using real examples of the cultural frame from a digital ethnography of the popular social media platform,“TalkBox.” This work offers the literature a deeper articulation of hustle culture to better account for how individuals make sense of, legitimate, and perpetuate rising inequalities in the era of platform capitalism and the gig economy. 

  • March 2, 2023

    Professor Jeffrey Polzer, Harvard Business School  

    When Meetings Multiply: The Downsides of Collaboration in Organizations 

    Collaboration is a key ingredient to organizational performance, yet employees in many companies struggle to achieve the right balance of collaborative activities. A common problem occurs when employees collaborate in frequent and time-consuming ways that interfere with productivity. To study this problem, we develop hypotheses about how meetings and email – two common conduits of collaboration – increase organizational performance up to a point, beyond which they have diminishing and then negative returns. We test these hypotheses with a novel dataset containing firm-level meta-data on meetings and email in 216,094 de-identified organizations. We find that meeting and email behavior each exhibit an inverted U-shaped relationship with firm revenue, providing the first evidence of this phenomenon across a large sample of organizations. The harmful effect of too many meeting hours on performance is worse in firms that also have high levels of email activity and in firms where the overall level of meeting activity is distributed equally across employees. Meeting and email activity combine to influence multi-tasking, the phenomenon of sending emails during meetings, which, when overdone, is negatively associated with revenue. We discuss the theoretical and managerial implications of these results for the relationship between collaboration and performance.  


  • March 9, 2023

    Professor Ashleigh Rosette, Duke- Fuqua School of Business 

    Prototypes, Privilege & Perspectives: How Racial Hierarchy in Organizations is Developed, Sustained, and Dismantled 

  • April 6, 2023

    Professor Lindy Greer, Michigan University - Michigan Ross School of Business  

    Hierarchical Flexing: How High-Performing Teams Dynamically Adapt Their Perceived Hierarchy to Meet Situational Demands 

    In this talk, I introduce the phenomenon of 'hierarchical flexing', or the degree to which teams can adapt their interactions to work in a relatively more hierarchical or more egalitarian manner, based on task demands (i.e., operating hierarchically to execute orders or operating in a flat manner to brainstorm). I first discuss a qualitative study of start-up teams, in which we develop theory about how teams intentionally manage competing demands for hierarchy and equality. Based on a grounded theory analysis of 60 interviews and over 100 hours of observations, we find that some start-up teams are able to flex their internal hierarchy, fluctuating between moments of high versus low perceived hierarchical distance to match situational demands. This process of hierarchical flexing gives rise to three novel paradoxes: (1) Teams often are characterized by both hierarchy and equality. (2) Members’ perceived hierarchical distance within the team does not always align with the distance implied by the team’s formal hierarchy. (3) Periodically flattening the team’s perception of its internal hierarchy can reify a functional formal hierarchy. To make sense of these theoretical paradoxes, we develop theory around the micro-processes by which teams emphasize or minimize the perception of the hierarchical distance within the team to meet team needs, altering our theoretical understanding of how hierarchies function in teams. I then present the results of a set of multi-method set of studies with both laboratory and field data which show that teams which regularly flex the perceived hierarchical distance in their team have higher quality team interactions and better team performance outcomes.  

  • April 27, 2023

    Professor Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Michigan University - Michigan Ross School of Business  

    How Entrepreneur Emotional Ambivalence Shapes Evaluator Endorsement of Early-Stage Ventures 

    Research has suggested that positive emotion is key to entrepreneurial pitches. However, the utility of positive emotion has recently been called into question. We examine whether entrepreneur displayed emotional ambivalence – a psychological state of conflict associated with holding both positive and negative feelings at the same time – can increase endorsement of early-stage ventures, compared to positive emotion. In Study 1, we extracted two brief video clips from an actual pitch competition, one that displayed emotional ambivalence and one that displayed positive emotion. We find stronger endorsement of an early-stage venture presented by an entrepreneur who displayed emotional ambivalence. Moreover, this effect was mediated by increased inferences of entrepreneur cognitive flexibility. Study 2 replicated this finding using clips with only nonverbal emotional displays. Study 3, replicated and further extended these findings using video clips of nascent entrepreneurs trained by a coach to display emotional ambivalence or positive emotion in a pitch. Results show increased initial financial endorsement and investments of feedback by casual investors in entrepreneurs who display emotional ambivalence. Study 4 speaks to the ecological validity of these results utilizing a sample of venture capitalists and angel investors. Emotionally ambivalent entrepreneurs received more extensive and more insightful feedback from venture capitalists and angel investors compared to entrepreneurs who displayed positive emotion. Together, these findings reveal that displayed emotional ambivalence increases perceptions of cognitive flexibility, with beneficial consequences for evaluative endorsement, initial financial endorsement and investments of feedback in early-stage ventures.