Network Research Highlight: Corporate Social Responsibility and Organizational Justice

By: Keaton Fletcher

Our very own advisory council member, Dr. Deborah E. Rupp recently published two papers on related topics: corporate social responsibility and organizational justice.

In collaboration with Omer Farooq and Mariam Farooq, Rupp tackles the issue of corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is the notion that an organization has a moral obligation to provide benefits and positive outcomes to society. In other words, CSR is essentially like altruism for companies. The authors argue that CSR can be directed internally, with employees as the primary beneficiaries, or externally with the outside community being the primary beneficiaries. Farooq, Rupp, and Farooq found that, in general, companies that engage in CSR directed externally increase their prestige and companies that engage in CSR internally increase their respect from employees. Both prestige and respect increase the degree to which employees identify with their organization. In other words, if your company gives back to the community and to its employees, you are more likely to respect the leadership and believe that other people think highly of your company. So, when you think of yourself, your role as an employee of that company will be one of the main ways you identify yourself. If you are more of a collectivistic person (i.e., you value community, social harmony, and the in-group), external CSR may be more important to you. If you are someone who looks toward a variety of people in the community outside your organization for recognition and feedback, you will also value external CSR more than internal CSR. 

Rupp also led a research team’s review of the concept of organizational justice. In addition to reviewing different types of organizational justice (i.e., distributive, procedural, interactional justice ), Rupp and colleagues argued that our modern understanding of organizational justice may be missing the point. Most of our current work is limited to the popular conceptualization of organizational justice and perceived fairness, which misses out on large aspects of the original definition of these topics. We also are basing our measures and understanding of organizational justice on an understanding of work that has been around for at least a hundred years, which may not be the best representation of the construct in the modern workforce where gig work, globalization, and automation are common.

Is Work Killing People?

By: Keaton Fletcher

In a recent interview, Jeffrey Pfeffer author of Dying for a Paycheck, paints a dark picture of the modern workforce that boils down to four words: work is killing people. In his book and subsequent interview, Pfeffer echoes Robert Chapman’s argument that work is the source of stress, and stress causes chronic disease which plays a major role in the current healthcare crisis. Working from this proposed link, Pfeffer highlights a variety of related topics. First, he speaks briefly about social pollution and corporate sustainability with regard to human capital. Specifically, he references a parallel drawn by Nuria Chincilla between how companies are held to regulations regarding environmental pollution, and that in order to be sustainable in the long run, corporations will soon need to be held to similar regulations regarding how they treat their employees. Pfeffer argues that unlike the environment, humans are seen as agentic and able to remove themselves from harmful workplaces, thus we do not see similar regulations regarding social pollution. However, Pfeffer makes the point that it is difficult to change jobs, and this taxing task can be even more daunting if one is already exhausted from work. Pfeffer projects that for things to change, there will be a large class-action lawsuit, similar to those filed against tobacco companies, regarding the negative effects of work environments on health and well-being. He also suggests that issues such as presenteeism (showing up to work despite being ill) in and of themselves should give corporate leaders pause, given that they represent serious threats to organizational bottom lines. Click here for the full interview conducted by Dylan Walsh, published by Stanford Business Insights.

Should You Try to Balance Family and Work?

By: Keaton Fletcher

One thing most working adults struggle with is balancing the demands of work and family. Oftentimes we find ourselves needing to be in two places at once, or thinking about work when we should be focusing on what our partner is saying, or treating our employees like our children. All of these experience of conflict carry with them negative outcomes (e.g., increased risk of cardiovascular disease, decreased job and life satisfaction). But, modern industrial-organizational psychologists have moved past exploring how the interface between work and family can be harmful, instead focusing on its benefits, or how it can be managed.

In a recent interview with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel SpringerJeff Bezos (founder of Amazon and Blue Origin) covered the history of Amazon and Jeff Bezos’s career. Interestingly, his story both started and finished with the importance of family. Bezos credits his parents, grandfather, and wife for his success. He shared a story of how his wife supported his career transition from stable investment banker to tech startup, highlighting the importance of that support. At the end of their discussion, however, Bezos said “This work-life harmony thing is what I try to teach young employees and actually senior executives at Amazon too. But especially the people coming in. I get asked about work-life balance all the time. And my view is, that’s a debilitating phrase because it implies there’s a strict trade-off. And the reality is, if I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy. And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. It actually is a circle; it’s not a balance.” So what is the difference between balance and, as Bezos puts it, work-life harmony?

When looking at the positive side of the work-family interface, two distinct ideas arise: work-family balance and work-family facilitation. Work-family balance is a newer idea and has typically been defined as meeting the expectations in both work and family domains. Unlike the absence of work-family conflict, this perspective of work-family balance suggests that you are balanced to the degree that the primary stakeholders in both domains (e.g., your partner, children, coworkers, superiors) feel that you are meeting the expectations of that domain. You may still have conflict, but as long as you are meeting your expectations, which requires you to be actively engaged in both domains, then you are experiencing balance. What we see regarding balance, for example, is that when faced with multiple work-family conflicts, people will often switch role they choose to fulfill. So, if you have to leave work early to pick up a sick child from school, you may skip family dinner to complete a report on time. 

Work-family facilitation, on the other hand, looks at how your engagement in one role can help your engagement in the other. How does having a family help you be a better employee? How does having a work team help you be a better parent? Research suggests that, as Bezos points out, positive experiences in one domain tend to spill over into the other; so a good day at work often translates to a good evening with the family and vice versa. So, is Bezos right? Is it better to focus on facilitation rather than balance? Answer: both are important and intrinsically linked.

Science Fiction in Work: New Technologies in the Workplace

By: Keaton Fletcher

In a recent article, CNN highlighted seven ways in which technological advances are potentially changing the way we work. For example, humans are generally pretty terrible at cybersecurity. Many companies have started to use biometric authentication (e.g., iris scanning, fingerprint scanning, or facial recognition) to provide workers access to computer terminals. Hospitals have also started using this technology to protect medications and patient files. Some companies, such as Three Square Market, have started optional programs that allow employees to have a microchip embedded under their skin that acts as their ID badge. 

Beyond simple technological innovations for cybersecurity, many companies are turning toward artificial intelligence (AI) to help workers perform better. In healthcare, for example, AI programs have been shown to complete a task that normally takes radiologists 45 minutes (determining blood flow and the volume of cardiac muscles) in a matter of seconds. But AI is not just limited to simple data processing. AI-CDß an AI robot used by McCann Worldgroup Japan, is used as a creative director for television ads. 

AI has also made its way into the world of pop music, changing the careers of songwriters in addition to the soundscape on the radio. In a recent podcast episode, musicologist Nate Sloan of Fordham University, and songwriter Charlie Harding, interview songwriter Taryn Southern about her use of AI in songwriting. Together they discussed the multitude of AI programs available as tools to assist songwriters (e.g., AivaFlow MachinesAmper, and Nsynth) including the benefits and drawbacks. In a musical Turing Test, Nate and Taryn listened to six pairs of song clips: one written entirely by a human and the other written with the help of AI. The differences were hard to hear, with AI-based music often slightly more complex than human-only music. Both Taryn and Nate found themselves stumped more than once. The hosts acknowledged that in its current form, AI music is either a good tool in a songwriter’s belt or is a replacement for songwriters who are only writing stock music. 

Another major area of technological advance is robotics. In a podcast episodePamela Gay, Director of Technology and Citizen Science for the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and Fraser Cain, founder of The Universe Today and director of Cosmoquest, discussed the use of robots on the International Space Station. Specifically, they pointed out two semi-autonomous robots: Dextre and Robotonaut 2 (R2). Dextre is a large set of robotic arms that can either be controlled directly by astronauts or can run autonomously on pre-programmed tasks. It helps complete dangerous but relatively time-consuming and mundane repair activities on the outside of the space station. R2 is a humanoid robot that is being tested inside the ISS in its ability to take over routine, mundane tasks that require human-level dexterity. 

Certainly, technological advances are making leaps and bounds. As we navigate the coming changes in the workplace, it will be critical to understand how humans interact with technology, and how technology changes the experience of work itself.

Back to the Future: How Current Technological Changes Are Nothing New

By: Keaton Fletcher

In a recent podcast, Peter Grumble of Mckinsey Global Institute spoke with Susan Lund (a partner at McKinsey) and Richard Cooper, Maurits C. Boas Professor of International Economics at Harvard University, about the concerns regarding the changes advances in technology may bring about in the workforce. To answer this question, Lund and Cooper look backward toward other periods in history in which major technological advances greatly disrupted the workforce. Every time a new technology is developed, many existing jobs are destroyed, but more jobs, often many that were never needed or possible, are created. Lund and Cooper offer the creation and subsequent automation of development of the Ford Model T. As automobiles became more popular, the need for carriage makers and related services declined, but a host of new jobs both directly related to automobile production and maintenance (e.g., gas station attendants, car manufacturers, mechanics) and indirectly related (e.g., tourism) blossomed. Even as machine-based productivity of Model Ts increased the number of cars made from roughly eight cars per worker to about 21 cars per worker, Ford did not see a decreased workforce. In fact, as productivity increased, the price of the Model T decreased, which drove up demand for the Model T, ultimately leading to an increase in the workforce, despite the automation of much of the individual worker’s job. 

Looking at the advent of the personal computer, Lund and Cooper estimated that about 3.5 million jobs were lost because of the introduction of this technology into the workplace. However, about 19.3 million jobs were estimated to be made possible or necessary because of this new technology. The difficulty with viewing the current situation in this perspective, they argue, is that the loss of jobs feels tangible and is clear, with both statistical figures and emotional personal anecdotes to make this loss salient. The potential increase in jobs, however, is much more difficult to comprehend because many of these jobs do not exist in any form yet. 

What also makes this change particularly daunting is the need for new skills. Although technology can help reduce the barrier to entry for many jobs (e.g., barcode systems reducing the need for mental math to be an effective store clerk), it can also increase the need for unique and varied skills, many of which are related to technology. Lund and Cooper point toward estimates that roughly 375 million workers globally may need to entirely switch occupations, with even more needing to update their skill sets. This makes the rapid and effective training and re-training of middle-aged adults particularly necessary moving forward. Lund and Cooper point toward the U.S. Armed Forces as an example of successfully re-training individuals who, after a career in the Armed Forces, need to learn new skills to take on a new civilian occupation. 

In a separate podcast, Matthew Taylor (Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce) and James Manyika (chairman of the McKinsey Global Institute) discussed how to ensure people find meaning and are able to do “good work” in the modern economy. As Land and Cooper pointed out, the workweek has shortened from about 60 hours per week 125 years ago to roughly 37.5 hours per week today, along with paid vacations and holidays. Taylor points toward increases in autonomy and flexibility as methods of improving life quality, even as wages remain stagnant. Taylor suggests offloading non-rewarding work, the drudgery, onto machines and robots, freeing up humans to pursue meaningful work that gives them a sense of mastery and autonomy. 

Although many workers may be worried about losing their jobs or needing to be retrained and many others may be excited by the prospects of more meaningful work by way of the proper use of technology, Land and Cooper both warn that change will likely not happen overnight. Although technology is developing rapidly and change is coming, there is, thus far, no evidence that organizations are adopting new technology any faster than they did before.

Welcome to the new GT Work Science Center!

Our decision to launch this Center came after years of discussion with colleagues about limitations of the performance-centric orientation and the relatively insular perspectives often used by scientists who study work and organizational behavior.  Scientific and methodological advances across psychology and other disciplines underscore the importance of understanding work in terms of multilevel dynamic processes.  These processes capture the complex, emergent relationships between an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, work role, and the social workplace.  At the same time, external forces affecting organizations and the work experience have revived important practical questions about how purpose and meaning, social relationships, longer working lives, and technologies affect work attitudes, engagement, performance, health, and psychological well-being. 

psychology of work has valuable implications for many stakeholders.  Work is a fundamental aspect of human life.  For most people, identities and aspirations related to work begin early in life and are continuously shaped by community, family, schooling, and economic realities.  Getting a (decent) job, learning new skills, advancing one’s career, changing one’s work-role, job loss, and unemployment represent powerful work episodes with immediate and lagged consequences to psychological well-being, physical health, and public policy.  What happens during work — our interactions with supervisors, colleagues, and clients — affect our emotions and contribute to the satisfaction of life goals and core human motives to be competent and to belong.  A person-centric psychology of work encompasses a large scientific territory that connects to other areas of psychology and other fields.  Further, an integrative psychology of work has many implications for real-world concerns, ranging from how organizations manage an older workforce, to the role of corporate social responsibility programs. In short, we think it is an excellent time to advance an integrative scientific psychology of work, based on a person-centric perspective.    

Two Calls to Action:

1.  To provide a shared foundation for this venture, we ask your help in identifying a set of Grand Challenges that work-science scholars need to address.  Grand Challenges represent the critical scientific and people-context problems that, if addressed, can advance our understanding of working in the 21st century.  Please click here to send your Grand Challenge suggestions, and we will collate these suggestions for discussion on the website.

2. Over the next year we expect to publish several papers on key topics in our Thinking Forward Series. If you would like to discuss contributing such a paper, please contact Ruth Kanfer at

We hope that the Work Science Center goals and mission resonates with you, and welcome your input as we move forward.

The Work Science Center Team