Network Research Highlight: The Benefits of Decent Work

By: Keaton Fletcher

Although most people groan and take a bit longer getting ready for work Monday mornings, lamenting the short weekend, David BlusteinJonas Masdonati, and Jérôme Rossier, suggest maybe we should count our blessings instead since work is a key component of the human condition. In a recent report, Blustein and colleagues highlight the psychological factors that work plays in the human experience. By calling upon vocational and industrial-organizational psychological foundations, the research team identifies ways in which work can actually better people’s lives.

Blustein and colleagues elaborate on the notion of decent work, the idea that jobs that better individual, family, and community health and well-being are inherently decent. Research has consistently pointed toward the lack of a job as a cause of mental health symptoms and increased domestic violence. Obtaining work, particularly decent work, can help minimize these negative outcomes. In the modern economy, however, Blustein and colleagues suggest that precarious work (i.e., work with no clear long-term trajectory, inadequate benefits, or minimal opportunities for skill development) is becoming more common, and may not carry with it the same benefits of decent work. In fact, evidence suggests that precarious work, too, may be associated with mental and physical health problems.

One of the main psychological phenomena Blustein and colleagues focus on in their report is that of identity and self-concept. In the United States, at least, it is common when meeting someone to be asked “What do you do for a living?” or “What are you?” These questions highlight just how closely tied our work is to our understanding of ourselves, and our own identities. People who are involuntarily excluded from the workforce face a challenge of establishing this identity, and may struggle to maintain a positive global self-concept (overall beliefs about oneself). Those who voluntarily step back from remunerated work find themselves having to explain and justify their choice and new identity to others, and, possibly, to themselves.

It may not only be people outside of the paid workforce that lack the benefits to self-concept and self-esteem that work provides. Individuals in precarious or indecent work may also not reap these benefits. Those who change jobs or occupations frequently (an increasingly common phenomenon), or those who work in occupations that are not socially valued or desirable may not be able to easily identify with their work, or incorporate their work identity into their self-concept. It can be challenging, then, to reap the psychosocial benefits of work. To see improved individual well-being society must find ways to aid in the creation and solidification of identity and self-concept for those in non-traditional, precarious, or indecent work, or perhaps make decent work more accessible.

If you are interested in decent work or related initiatives, follow the links below:
UNESCO Chair of Lifelong Guidance and Counseling
International Labour Organization’s Decent Work Agenda
United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 8)

Humans: Predictably Irrational

By: Keaton Fletcher

Humans are predictably irrational, and organizations can capitalize upon this fact to enhance the working experience as well as their own profits. In a recent podcast, Tim Dickson, on behalf of McKinsey & Company, hosted Julia Sperling, Anna Güntner, and Magdalena Smith to talk about a variety of ways organizations can influence the predictably irrational behavior of their employees.

First we must acknowledge that humans are neither rational, nor entirely unpredictable. Part of this fact stems from the process by which the human brain narrows the roughly 11 million unique pieces of input it receives at any given point down to about 50, of which only 7 to 10 are retained in conscious short term memory. This filtration process means a lot of information is either left entirely un-perceived, or is processed at a level below the conscious mind. Organizations can provide information that makes it past the initial mass filtration, but does not find its way into short term memory, and therefore has a subtle influence on behavior, a tactic called nudging. Nudging holds great promise in promoting or inhibiting behaviors (e.g., wearing safety gear) by creating an environment which pushes workers toward this behavior without them feeling as if their choices are being restricted or even influenced. It is, to a degree, the same way theme parks have a subtle way of pushing people in a specific path around the park to minimize congestion without parkgoers noticing they are being manipulated.

Beyond nudging, organizational leadership and employees alike need to be aware of some of the irrational behaviors and beliefs that are common in the workplace so as to actively avoid them. The podcast briefly describes phenomena such as ingroup bias in which we prefer to interact with, and be surrounded by, individuals from our own group (whatever that might be). As such when making hiring or promotion choices, managers may find that left to their own devices they fail to bring in new ideas or perspectives, instead favoring candidates who are very similar to themselves. When interacting with others we tend to look towards our peers and superiors for information; often, we find our opinions align with what the majority or the high-status individuals suggest. This agreement is not because we initially agreed, but because when we are in ambiguous situations we treat other people’s opinions as helpful information that our brains nonconsciously incorporate into our own beliefs. The guests of the podcast suggest that to combat this, in group meetings, individuals should write their opinions down first or that those of high-status should not be allowed to chime in until others have had a chance to do so.

In one of the greatest predictable irrational choices of the workplace, we consistently find that money is not a great motivator. As long as you are earning a competitive wage, additional money will not necessarily translate into improved performance. Instead, to influence your motivation, organizational leadership should provide you with opportunities to feel accomplished or in control, or give you opportunities to interact with others.

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.