Work and Organization Studies
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 (email@example.com). Please check the schedule below for upcoming 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.
October 20, 2022
Derek Brown, UC - Berkeley
If you rise, I fall: How equality is prevented by the misperception that it harms advantaged group members
Although most Americans believe that the United States should take steps to improve equality, advantaged group members often declare that policies meant to do just that are harmful to them. In the present work, we investigate factors that lead to the perception that for equality to be achieved, disadvantaged group members must gain at the expense of those in the advantaged group. Across 5 studies, we find that advantaged group members misperceive non-zero-sum equality policies as harmful to the advantaged group, even when policies benefit them. We find that advantaged group members’ misperception of a policy’s effect on their group occurs when accounting for ideological beliefs regarding hierarchy, race, and politics. A survey of registered voters in the 2020 U.S. election reveals that such perceptions predict voting against actual equality-enhancing policies, controlling for voters’ political and antiegalitarian ideologies. Furthermore, participants assigned to an arbitrary advantaged group misperceive that equality-enhancing policies harm them, voting against such policies that benefit them and for policies that hurt them. Instead, we find evidence that advantaged group membership predicts misperceptions, such that White participants accurately perceive non-zero-sum policies as benefiting the advantaged group when they were represented as numerically disadvantaged group members. This misperception that equality is necessarily zero-sum may help explain the persistence of inequalities that take a toll on society overall.
November 3, 2022
Xuechunzi Bai, Princeton
Exploring Just Enough? Evidence from Human Hiring and Formal Models
Many societal and psychological processes lead to bias. In this talk, I propose a simple but powerful psychological mechanism: individually adaptive exploration that cascades into self-perpetuating bias. The key insight considers bias formation in sequential decisions, where exploring new options is costly. In this setting, even when groups have equal and high potential to succeed in diverse tasks, decision-makers nonetheless settle prematurely on a single group to perform each task, cease exploring others, and form impressions accordingly. Using stereotypes of warmth and competence in hiring decisions as an example, I formalize this process as a contextual multi-armed bandit problem, show testable predictions from computational simulations, and demonstrate that human participants act consistently with these predictions in behavioral experiments. This idea illustrates a psychological possibility for well-intentioned and attentive decision-makers to create biased organizations, hence, offers new directions for encouraging organizational diversity.
November 17, 2022
Julia DiBenigno, Yale School of Management
Moving Fast, Going Big, and Playing for Keeps: The Rapid Institutionalization of Bottom-Up Change Ideas after an Exogenous Shock
Prior research suggests that frontline change ideas are especially valuable for improving organizational functioning. Yet bottom-up change processes are generally characterized as failure-prone, slow, and incremental, or as requiring heroic and politically fraught collective mobilization efforts. This paper offers a novel theoretical model that specifies how frontline change ideas can be implemented quickly, simultaneously, without protracted political battles, and in ways that seed their long-term institutionalization. We analyze data from a two-year qualitative field study of the trajectory of 33 change ideas introduced by frontline staff—bedside nurses, physicians, frontline managers, and others—to address longstanding issues at a U.S. hospital responding to the exogenous shock of the Covid-19 pandemic. By comparing ideas that had become integrated into normal operations nearly two years later to those that failed to be implemented or to persist, we induce a set of practices associated with the rapid institutionalization of bottom-up change ideas. Our study suggests that traditional bottom-up change processes designed to surmount steep barriers to change at the top and bottom of an organization, such as using a slow, experimental, “small-wins” approach or a political coalition-building approach to bottom-up change, may be less appropriate in the direct aftermath of an exogenous shock when normal barriers to change may be suddenly lowered. Shocks can temporarily shift both field-level and organizational-level opportunity structures in ways that create a favorable but unpredictably brief window of opportunity for implementing change amid these lowered barriers. We find that to seize such a moment may require an alternative set of change tactics that emphasize speed, going big, and avoiding characterizing a change as temporary or experimental.
November 29, 2022
Nicole Abi-Esber, Harvard Business School
Inclusion in Action: How Leader Eye Gaze Fosters Safety and Speaking
Although psychological safety and employee voice are a hallmarks of effective team functioning, we know very little about “the specific behaviors leaders employ to lead employees to assess an interaction as safe to speak” (Morrison, 2011). Prior work shows that certain leadership styles are associated with employee judgments of psychological safety (and subsequent decisions to speak up), but these styles are multidimensional, obscuring precise causality, and this work relies on gestalt employee evaluations of leaders (as opposed to directly observing leaders) and is thus subject to confounds and conceptual overlap. To address this, in my work I focus on, and experimentally manipulate, leader behavior.
In the project I will present, my co-authors (Alison Wood Brooks and Ethan Burris) and I investigate how a specific leader nonverbal behavior—eye gaze—affects employees’ feelings of inclusion. Leader eye gaze conveys attention and respect, and thus affects group members’ feelings (of psychological safety and ostracism) and subsequent participation and voice behaviors. In two lab studies of face-to-face group interactions (N=482) and one study of a computer-simulated group conversation (N=547), receiving more eye gaze from the leader predicted more participation and voice (correlationally and causally), and this relationship was mediated by increased feelings of psychological safety and decreased feelings of ostracism, or exclusion. These relationships were moderated by individual characteristics of group members, such that the effects of leader eye gaze were stronger for racial minorities and introverts—people who may feel less included in groups. We demonstrate that when employees feel seen, they feel safer, included, and are more likely to speak.
December 1, 2022
Justin M. Berg, Stanford Graduate School of Business
Learning to Sustain Success in Creative Industries: The Enduring Impact of Initial Novelty
Creators who generate hit products enjoy outsize success in creative industries. But too often, creators fail to learn from their initial hits, as their subsequent products lack the audience appeal of their initial hits. In this paper, I develop theory on when and how creators learn to sustain success in creative industries, focusing on how creators’ learning is shaped by the novelty (vs. typicality) of their initial hits. I propose that creators who develop relatively novel initial hits are more likely to learn sustainable capabilities that enhance the audience appeal of their subsequent creations, helping them generate additional hits after their initial one. I tested the proposed theory using two studies: an archival study of 1,601 authors in the U.S. book publishing industry, as well as a complementary experiment to address causality. Results from the archival study showed that book authors with relatively novel initial hits had better subsequent hit rates—a likely indicator of learning—than authors with relatively typical initial hits. In the experiment, participants developed two ideas for television shows, and the novelty and purported success of their first ideas were both manipulated. Participants’ performance improved from their first to second ideas only when their first ideas were novel and (ostensibly) hits with the audience, providing causal evidence that creators learn more effectively from novel than typical initial hits. Whereas prior research suggests that individuals learn best from multiple episodes of success, failure, or both over time, this research suggests that creators who achieve novel initial hits can and do learn from one episode of extreme success.