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Making Work Better

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How can work be improved for both employees and organizations? This question is central to the work of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER), which began as the Industrial Relations Section of the MIT Department of Economics and Social Science in 1937.

“People are sometimes surprised to find out what a long history IWER has,” explains Emilio J. Castilla (NTU Professor of Management; Professor, Work and Organization Studies; Co-Director, IWER). “Although our group has been in existence for more than 80 years, IWER’s work is particularly timely and important now, as societies grapple with the impacts of inequality and a fast-changing world of work.”

Throughout 2022, IWER researchers explored important facets of work and employment, including:

  • In two recently published articles, Castilla shed light on the influence of social network connections—for example, “legacy preferences” for relatives of alumni—on the outcome of college and university admission decisions and the schools’ diversity and meritocratic goals.
  • Erin L. Kelly (Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies; Co-Director, IWER) is leading a study in warehouses using participatory approaches and joint problem-solving to improve job quality as well as workers’ health and well-being. The research team plans to consider implications for productivity and turnover as well.
  • With colleagues and with support from IWER, Thomas Kochan (George Maverick Bunker Professor of Management Emeritus) has launched a multi-university network that examines worker efforts to gain greater voice at work. So far, the network has published a report providing an overview of the current landscape of U.S. worker activism, developed a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Labor, conducted new research, and convened a dialogue among business leaders, worker advocates, scholars, and others.
  • As part of his ongoing research on economic inequality, Nathan Wilmers (Sarofim Family Career Development Associate Professor; Associate Professor, Work and Organization Studies) discovered that after rising for more than 30 years, earnings inequality in the U.S. plateaued in the last decade.
  • Anna Stansbury (Class of 1948 Career Development Assistant Professor; Assistant Professor, Work and Organization Studies) studies the macroeconomic effects of the recent decline in U.S. worker power and has investigated firms’ incentives to comply with labor and employment law. She also won a 2022 Outstanding Teacher Award at the 2022 MIT Sloan Excellence in Teaching Awards.

“One of the things that makes IWER unique among top U.S. business schools is our long-standing focus not only on executives, managers, and organizations, but also on the experience of ordinary workers,” says Kelly. “In today’s polarized and unequal world, IWER’s multistakeholder approach—for example, conducting research that identifies changes to management practices that can benefit both workers and organizations—offers an important path forward.”

About IWER

About the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (IWER) a multidisciplinary research and teaching unit that is located within the MIT Sloan School of Management.

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For more info Andrew Husband Senior Writer & Editor, OER (617) 715-5933