Work and Organization Studies

OS 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. OS seminars are held from 11:00-12:30 pm on designated Thursdays in E62-350.  Please check the schedule for dates.

Current Seminars

  • February 14, 2019

    Hazhir Rahmandad, MIT Sloan School of Management

    Temporal complexity and heterogeneity in learned strategies

    Abstract: From consumption to investments, hiring, and acquisitions, individuals and organizations regularly deal with dynamic tasks, where current outcomes depend both on current and past choices. In this presentation I use results from two experimental studies to argue that the temporal complexity of dynamic tasks significantly complicates learning and thus provides an explanatory framework to understand the adoption of inefficient and heterogeneous strategies. In the first study (joint work with Shayne Gary) we use subjects’ learned strategies in managing a simulated service firm to show that when multiple viable strategies exist, longer delays lead decision makers towards alternatives that have rapid returns even if they are far from the global optimum. This bias not only undermines long run performance but also reduces heterogeneity among simulated firms. In a second study (joint work with Jerker Denrell and Drazen Prelec) we zoom in on the mechanisms underlying these learning challenges using a simpler dynamic task; one that unlike tasks in prior research is tractable. Experimentally removing challenges to learning due to ambiguity, large state space, complex exploration, and memory and updating we find that none explains the observed learning failures. Instead inability to trade off short-term gains against investing in promising system states emerges as a persistent challenge. A market-based variation of the tasks shows that markets do not solve the learning challenge due to temporal complexity and may well exacerbate it. We discuss the implications for understanding individual learning, role of markets, and the behavioral view of strategy.

  • March 14, 2019

    Michael Morris, Columbia Business School

     Covert Competition in Collectivist Cultures

    Competition is universal, yet the forms of competition vary across cultures. We explore one dimension on which competition differs: covertness. We propose that the tight interpersonal relationships in collectivist cultures makes relationships hard to replace and hence more costly to lose, with the result that people are more likely to compete covertly. Results of comparative studies  found that people in collectivist settings have lower relational mobility and this aspect of collectivism explains the greater preference for covertness. The covertness effect persists when we account for the ethicality of competition tactics. The study suggests that below the surface of collectivist harmony, there are underlying interpersonal conflicts pursued covertly. This research has implications for research on harmony, conflict resolution, and interdependence.

  • April 11, 2019

    David Pedulla, Stanford University

    Race and Networks in the Job Search Process

    Racial disparities persist throughout the employment process, with African Americans experiencing significant barriers compared to whites. This article advances the understanding of racial labor market stratification by bringing new theoretical insights and original data to bear on the ways that social networks shape racial disparities in employment opportunities. We develop and articulate two processes by which networks may perpetuate racial inequality in the labor market: network access and network returns. In the first case, African Americans may receive fewer job leads through their social networks than whites, limiting their access to employment opportunities. In the second case, blacks and whites may utilize their social networks at similar rates, but their networks may differ in effectiveness. Our data, with detailed information about both job applications and job offers, provide the unique ability to adjudicate between these processes. We find evidence that blacks and whites utilize their networks at similar rates, but that network-based methods are less likely to lead to job offers for African Americans. We then theoretically develop and empirically test two mechanisms that may explain these differential returns: network placement and network mobilization. We conclude by discussing the implications of these findings for scholarship on racial stratification and social networks in the job search process.

  • April 18, 2019

    Melissa Valentine, Stanford University

    Algorithms and the Org Chart

    Prior research explains how algorithms reshape different jobs, but limited research has explored how increasing use of algorithms changes organizational structures.  To examine this question, I conducted a 9-month field study in the algorithms and merchandising departments of a high-tech retail company, as they developed algorithms that profoundly reconfigured their organizational structure. I found that their organizational structure symbolically communicated and defined specific categories for understanding and making decisions about customers, products, or services -- it was these categorical structures that were called into question and seen as irrelevant and constraining as new and more algorithms were developed.  This automation process was not simple work displacement, however. Instead, the merchandising department developed the new work of curating algorithmically-identified categories and recommendations, and explored new organizational structures for this emerging work.  My findings contrast with prior studies that theorize and focus on the division of labor encoded and communicated in organizational structure.  In this paper, I integrate categorization and organizational design theories to explain this process and its implications for organizations.   

  • May 2, 2109

    Edward Walker, UCLA

    The Situation Room: Stigma Management and the Political Impact 

    Industries undertaking controversial practices face stigmatizing challenges from stakeholders, often in two forms: focused stigmatization highlighting specific problems, and diffuse stigmatization raising general questions of legitimacy. We maintain that diffuse stigmatization encourages prosocial impression-management that ignores challengers’ claims. Focused stigmatization, by contrast, forces direct responses and counterattacks. Each type of response, in turn, has distinct political consequences. We examine contention surrounding hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas, employing Structural Topic Models (STMs) of industry discourse. We examine statements issued between 2009-2015 by two predominant industry associations in the U.S. Marcellus Shale region. We investigate two key influences on the volume, valence, and topics of industry communications: (1) the diffuse stigmatization of protest claims, and (2) the focused stigmatization of the influential documentary Gasland. Although both sources of stigmatization increased the volume of communications, we find that protests encouraged positive responses that ignored criticisms and highlighted the industry’s economic benefits; these economic claims, in turn, slowed the pace of passage of local anti-fracking bans. The Gasland documentary, on the other hand, encouraged negative communications directly rebutting criticisms. We highlight implications of this work for theory and research on social movements and stakeholders, public relations, and organizational theory on stigma and reputation.

  • May 16, 2019

    Christopher Bail, Duke

    Abstract forthcoming

Past Seminars

  • September 20, 2018

    Erik Duhaime, MIT Sloan School of Management

    Human-Computer Groups Outperform Artificial Intelligence at Diagnosing Skin Cancer

    Previous research has shown that artificial intelligence (AI) can diagnose skin cancer as accurately as professional dermatologists.  Here we examine what happens when AI is combined with—rather than compared to—human intelligence.  Using a dataset of the diagnoses of 1 state-of-the-art AI system and 21 board-certified dermatologists on 371 biopsy-proven cases of skin lesions, we find that averaging the opinion of an individual dermatologist with AI often does not lead to higher accuracy than AI alone.  However, combining AI with the average opinion from groups of dermatologists leads to higher performance than individuals alone, AI alone, and groups alone.  These findings suggest that in many cases artificial intelligence will not simply replace jobs, but rather, will transform how work is organized.

  • October 4, 2018

    Tali Sharot, University College London, Affective Brain Lab

    Using Affect to Predict Choice

    A common assumption in behavioural economics and psychology is that feelings guide choice. Very little is known, however, about the rules by which feelings are transformed into decisions. Here, I draw on basic principles from economics (e.g., the law of diminishing returns) and neuroscience (e.g., neural adaptation) to understand how affect (i.e., a physiological reaction that is experienced as a feeling) is translated to choice. I will present three recent studies in which we measure and quantify affect in order to predict decisions to (i) lie in self-interest (ii) punish a selfish agent and {iii) work when the distribution of rewards are unequal. In the first study we show that the negative affective response to ones' own selfish behavior is reduced with repetition, predicting an escalation in such behavior over time. In the second study we show that the affective response of a person observing a selfish agent can be modeled using principles adapted from prospect theory. This model is then used to predict whether and by how much the observer will punish the agent. In a third study we show that aversive reactions to unequal distribution of rewards reduce peoples' productivity, even when inequality is advantageous. The work illustrates that understanding the dynamics of affect provides novel insight into decision­ making.

  • October 16, 2018

    Stefan Dimitriadis, Harvard Business School

    Cooperative frames and the formation of businessrelationships: A field experiment withentrepreneurs in Togo

    How can entrepreneurs form more business relationships? ln developing markets, this can be challenging because there are no formal institutions to secure interactions. In this study, I explore an overlooked factor that plays a pivotal role in the formation of business relationships in developing markets: the perception of prospective interactions. I argue that in contexts where first interactions among entrepreneurs are high risk, framing them cooperatively leads to the formation of more relationships and to relationships that exhibit more skill complementarity. To test this theory, I conducted a randomized field experiment in Togo with 301 entrepreneurs who participated in a business training program. A random subset were exposed to cooperative frames, which are scripts that draw attention to and motivate interactions guided by the mutual exchange of help. I found that exposure to cooperative frames led to a 50 percent increase in the number of relationships formed among entrepreneurs, and that these relationships were characterized by more complementarity of entrepreneurs' skills. Furthermore, I found that the businesses of entrepreneurs who were exposed to cooperative frames were significantly more profitable six months after the training program, holding everything else constant. This study shows that the formation of new business relationships in developing markets also depends on the initial framing of interactions, a factor that has so far not been taken into account.

  • October 18, 2018

    Jared Curhan, MIT Sloan School of Management

    Silence is Golden: Silence, Deliberative Mindset, and Value Creation in Negotiation

    A central focus of research on negotiation has been to help negotiators shift from default win-lose assumptions to a more efficient, integrative approach. This presentation explores a novel method to facilitate that shift-namely, the use of brief silent pauses during negotiation. Study 1 reveals a positive association between naturally occurring silence and value creation. Study 2 shows that instructing one or both parties to use brief, silent pauses leads to more integrative agreements. Study 3 establishes a mechanism for this effect, whereby negotiators who use silence adopt a more deliberative mindset, which in turn leads to value creation. Study 3 also demonstrates a boundary condition involving status differences. These findings have important implications for negotiation theory and practice.

  • October 24, 2018

    Nick Occhiuto, Yale University

    Market Actions and Non-Market Consequences: How Transportation Network Companies Influenced Regulation in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco

    A long line of research has examined how firms attempt to shape regulation and government policy in ways favorable to the firm. Existing research on non-market strategy has largely focused on how firm actions in the non-market environment influence both economic regulation and public policy. Recent research suggests, however, that firms actions in the market environment may also gain regulatory and policy influence. Nevertheless, because most of this work has largely focused on the market actions of existing firms, it remains unclear whether and how the market actions of startups may also help them gain regulatory and policy influence. This paper adds to our understanding of non-market strategy by showing that startups may use market actions to build constituencies, which can function as important assets in influencing their non-market environments. Drawing on 128 interviews, ethnographic observations, and content analysis of primary source documents collected across New York City, Chicago, and San Francisco, this paper will show how Transportation Network Companies used market actions (i.e., contracting with drivers, registering passengers, and securing venture capital investment) to make displays of worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment of their emerging market to both regulators and policy makers. As a result, these market actions influenced regulators and policy makers to produce regulations that were favorable to the firms. This article also highlights city-level variation of regulation in the context of global market emergence. It will show how this same market actions initiated two different types of non-market outcomes: formal and interpretive change.

  • October 25, 2018

    Mark Hoffman, Columbia University

    The Materiality of Ideology: Cultural Consumption and Political Thought after the American Revolution

    Political identity in America dates to the turn of the 19th century, when divisions over finance and the ideal structure of governance led to bitter battles between the first political parties. I use the reading patterns of America's earliest political and economic elites, including a significant portion of the founding fathers, who checked out books from the New York Society Library, to reveal the shifting meaning of political identity in the years between the ratification of the Constitution and the War of 1812. The reading data come from two charging ledgers spanning two periods -1789 to 1792 and 1799 to 1806 - during which a new country was built, relations with foreign nations defined, and contestation over the character of a new democracy was intense. Using novel combinations of text and network analysis, I explore the political nature of reading and the extent to which social, economic, and political positions overlapped with what people read. I identify the key intellectual and social dimensions on which New York, and by extension, American, elite society was politically stratified in its early years. In the process, I show that, by studying the material relations which bring people into association with ideas, we can track the co-evolution of people with ideas and come to understand how identities emerge from their joint alignment. The analytic framework provided here has wide applicability to a range of consumption data produced daily by Amazon, Netflix, and Goodreads, services which link people to objects, all of which contain categorical and political meanings of their own.

  • November 1, 2018

    Allie Feldberg, Harvard Business School

    Butchers, Bakers, and Barcharts: How digitized information affects gender differences in performance

    This study asks: does increased access to digitized information affect the performance of men and women workers differently? I find that the availability of information in digital platforms disproportionately improves women's performance in a male-dominated organization. I theorize that digitized information helps women by serving as a relationship substitute, an alternative channel to traditional relationship networks through which peripheral group members can gain access to performance-enhancing information. Using interviews, observations, and archival data, I take advantage of an intervention occurring within a 100-store grocery chain-when it introduced a weekly online report providing managers with a high-level summary of their departments' performance along key metrics. Comparing sales across 152 departments twelve weeks prior to and following the report's implementation shows that women managers benefit disproportionately from the report's introduction but having longer duration of contact with peers and supervisors attenuate its benefits. Findings offer new directions for research on gender inequality and knowledge transfer by suggesting that digital channels of knowledge distribution can offset disparities arising from relationship networks in organizations.

  • November 8, 2018

    Amit Goldenberg, Stanford University

    Emotional Dynamics in Groups

    People respond emotionally to events that are related to their groups, even when these events do not have any direct effect on their lives. These emotions are often shared through social interactions, and may play a key role in fueling and perpetuating social movements and intergroup conflicts. Using a multi-method approach, my research focuses on identifying emotional dynamics that lead to increased emotional intensity in groups. In 5 studies, I show that context-specific motives can shape the way group members are influenced by other group members' emotions. I then suggest that identifying and quantifying these motivations may help us understand and predict cases of increased emotionality in groups. In Studies 1-3, I examine the influence of these motivations on emotional dynamics in a series of lab tasks. In Studies 4 and 5, I identify similar emotional dynamics on social media. Taken together, these studies offer novel insights into the emotional dynamics that may lead to increased emotional intensity in groups.

  • November 20, 2018

    Winnie Jiang, Yale University

    Navigating Meaningful But Demanding Work: The Changing Practice and Meaning of Work in Refugee Resettlement

    Individuals engaging in deeply meaningful work often face immense work demands that pose serious challenges to their work and life. In this paper, I use data from a longitudinal mixed-method field study of a refugee resettlement organization to examine the ways in which its employees navigate surging work demands. All employees viewed their work as deeply meaningful. Yet as work demands increased, employees shifted from a quality-based sensemaking model, characterized by responsibility internalization, service customization, and an aim to provide high-quality services and ensure a successful transition for each refugee, to a quantity-based sensemaking model, characterized instead by responsibility externalization, service standardization, and a focus on resettling as many refugees as possible. Furthermore, refugees arriving during the surge showed worse outcomes in employment and well­being, suggesting that shifting to a quantity-based sensemaking model rendered employees less effective in facilitating refugees' transition to the U.S. This research contributes to our understanding of how individuals manage the tensions brought by meaningful yet demanding work and suggests important implications for the meaning of work, organizational resourcing, and management.

  • November 29, 2018

    Pat Reilly, University of California, Irvine

    No Laughter among Thieves: Authenticity and the Enforcement of Community Norms in Stand-Up Comedy

    Why might observers label one social actor's questionable act a norm violation even as they seem to excuse similar behavior by others? To answer this question, I use participant-observer data on Los Angeles stand-up comics to explore the phenomenon of joke theft. Informal, community-based systems govern the property rights pertaining to jokes. Most instances of possible joke theft are ambiguous owing to the potential for simultaneous and coincidental discovery. I find that accusations are not strongly coupled to jokes' similarity, and enforcement depends mainly on the extent to which insiders view the comic in question as being authentic to the community. Comics who are oriented toward external rewards, have a track record of anti-social behavior, and exhibit lackluster on-stage craft are vulnerable to joke theft accusations even in borderline cases because those inauthentic characteristics are typical of transgressors. Vulnerability is greatest for comics who enjoy commercial success despite low peer esteem. Authenticity protects comics because it reflects community­based status, which yields halo effects while encouraging relationships predicated on respect. In exploring accusations of joke theft and their outcomes, this study illustrates how norms function more as framing devices than as hard-and-fast rules, and how authenticity shapes their enforcement.

  • December 4, 2018

    Hatim Rahman, Stanford University

    From Iron Cages to Invisible Cages: Algorithmic Evaluations in Online Labor Markets

    Existing organizational theory suggests that algorithms and artificial intelligence systems are "tightening" the iron cage; these systems represent the next frontier of rationalization, controlling the way people work at scale. This paper, however, reveals how organizations' use of algorithms is creating modern day invisible cages, in which platforms deliberately hide the norms and expectations for how people should behave. Specifically, I examined how a platform organization transitioned from a rating algorithm using transparent evaluation criteria to a new opaque algorithm evaluating and stratifying workers. Drawing on interviews, archival data, and participant observation as a registered user on the platform, I show that the platform strategically used its algorithm to manufacture uncertainty amongst workers, leading to "superstitious reactivity": a form of reactivity to algorithmic evaluations that instigates divergent practices rather than convergence. I found that even highly-rated workers, who were the intended beneficiaries of the algorithmic reform, responded to the opaque algorithmic evaluation by changing how they used the platform in ways the platform could not control. Theoretically, this paper reveals how organizations can use algorithms to implement apparently rational systems, increasingly driven by obscurity and uncertainty rather than transparency and accountability. I discuss the implications my findings have for the literature on employment relationships, labor markets, and evaluations in the emerging economy.

  • December 6, 2018

    Basima Tewfik, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

    The Unexpected Benefits of Feeling Overestimated by Others: The Relationship Between Imposter Thoughts and Performance

    Recent years has seen a surge in interest in a phenomenon popularly known as the impostor syndrome. The majority of existing theory and empirical work has focused on the drawbacks of the syndrome. Yet, there are hints that the phenomenon may have benefits. These benefits, however, may be obscured due to current conceptualizations of the phenomenon as an individual difference that makes it virtually indistinguishable from neuroticism, low self-efficacy, and maladaptive perfectionism. In this paper, I seek to rebalance the conversation around the phenomenon by introducing the construct of workplace impostor thoughts, which is defined as the temporary belief that others may overestimate one's talent or abilities at work. Drawing on theories of resource allocation and identity, I hypothesize that whereas having impostor thoughts is negatively related to task performance, it is, in contrast, positively related to interpersonal performance. After developing and validating a self-report measure of impostor thoughts using seven lab and field samples, I test my hypotheses across two studies: a field study of physicians-in-training and a field study of employees at an investment solutions firm. In contrast to what I hypothesize, I find mixed results regarding the relationship between impostor thoughts and task performance. However, in line with what I hypothesize, I find that having impostor thoughts is positively associated with interpersonal performance, and that this relationship is stronger for males than for females. I further find evidence that impostor thoughts stem from facing unfamiliar role responsibilities. Taken together, my results suggest that entertaining impostor thoughts at work may not necessarily lead to poorer task performance. Instead, such thoughts may sometimes encourage employees to prove themselves interpersonally.