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Research Findings

Research Findings

How do admen sleep at night? Responding to moral stigma in a creative industry

July 11, 2018

Job satisfaction matters. Of course, everyone would like to be happy with their work. But beyond that, scholars have also shown that job satisfaction is crucial for workers’ mental wellbeing and physical health, on the one hand, and important for employee performance and retention, on the other hand.

When we think about job satisfaction, we usually think about things like wages, office culture, or opportunities for self-fulfillment. But job satisfaction has another side to it: does your job make you feel like a good person?

Workers who think their job is meaningful are more likely to have job satisfaction. In particular, workers who think their jobs help others are more likely to report being satisfied with their jobs. In other words, you’re more likely to stay with your job if you think you’re helping others.

In that case, we might expect people who thought they were not helping to leave their jobs, assuming they had the means to do so. After all, people tend to avoid stigmatizing situations when possible—and doing unhelpful or harmful work is usually morally stigmatizing.

Which begs the question: why do admen and adwomen stay in their industry, when it’s generally viewed so negatively?

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Research Findings

What explains the incidence of high-involvement work processes?

July 7, 2018

High-involvement models of working are associated with high levels of worker influence over the work process, such as high levels of control over how to undertake job tasks or involvement in designing work procedures. We have recently published a review of the literature to find out what is known about the conditions that foster the adoption of such high-involvement models. We draw on studies of worker participation in management since the 1950s to explore what explains the dispersion of high-involvement work processes in the private sector.

Concepts and context

The goal of ‘more and better jobs’, central to the European Union’s Lisbon Strategy (devised in 2000), reappeared in Europe 2020, raising the question of how European countries can transform existing jobs and generate more high-quality employment. High-involvement work processes offer one pathway through enhancing the influence that workers have over their work.

Several theoretical traditions recognise the scope for control as central to the quality of work, including the German action theory of work psychology and the demand-control model of work strain developed by Karasek and Theorell. The value of greater involvement in decision-making was also emphasized in the theory of sociotechnical systems, developed in the 1950s at the Tavistock Institute. These early studies had a defining influence on European institutions, particularly in Scandinavia and the Netherlands, where major programmes of work reform have been undertaken for almost half a century.

However, across Europe, the incidence of high-involvement working remains patchy. Eurofound’s analysis of the European Working Conditions Survey 2010 found more than one third of workers (38%) in Europe were in ‘low-involvement work organisations’ (low levels of task discretion and low levels of worker influence over work organization). Current trends provide no reassurance that the proportion experiencing high involvement will grow, nor that the major variations across Europe will be easily reduced (the Nordic group is well ahead of others).

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Research Findings

Donation or bribe? How police departments manage the ambiguities of gifts

July 3, 2018

For a police department, accepting donations from the public has clear advantages but also several downsides.

On the one hand, donations obviously bring in money. What organization wouldn’t like to have some extra money to spend, particularly if they feel cash-strapped? But economic benefit is not the only advantage of donations. For police departments, donations are also a way of getting closer to the community, a priority of policing in recent years. Gift-giving is more than a cash transfer. It can help the public feel part of the policing effort more than the impersonality of tax-payer money.

On the other hand, once a donation is accepted it can sow confusion among givers, receivers, and the public. Gift-giving is an activity plagued with ambiguity, ritual, and unsaid intentions.

When we give gifts, we often try to ensure the receiver knows we don’t want anything back. We want to be generous. But, the truth is that we do want something back. Although the return is not the motivation for the gift, we want the receiver to confirm that our social bond will be honored.

That confirmation comes in the form of a counter-gift or gesture that is not equal to the gift, but that keeps some kind of loose equivalence. In other words, gift-giving demands a dance of sorts to show that we are motivated by generosity and that no one is under any obligation to give or give back, while expecting reciprocity.

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Research Findings

Hyper-selectivity and the Asian second-generation advantage

June 20, 2018

Asian Americans have increasingly been in the national spotlight. Last month, “The Chinese Exclusion Act,” a documentary by Ric Burns and Li-Shin Yu, aired nationwide as part of PBS’s American Experiences series. The film focuses on the historical legacy of anti-Asian racism and a unique moment in American history when a law banned the entry into the U.S. of an entire ethnic group for the first time.

Last week, the New York Times highlighted the importance of the Asian American vote in the upcoming midterm election in Orange County where one-fifth of the population is of Asian descent. This Spring, an ongoing lawsuit against Harvard alleges that Harvard admissions files showed a clear pattern of discrimination against Asian applicants, with implications for the future of affirmative action policy.

How are Asian Americans advantaged or disadvantaged in the current national debate on race? In a recent post on this blog, Arthur Sakamoto argued that the obsession over “white privilege” has blinded scholars to the reality of Asian American success. Informed by the majority-minority paradigm of racial hierarchy, academic and public debates continue to treat Asians as a minority, despite their increasing presence in and acceptance by the American mainstream.

In a related post on the org theory blog, Raj Andrew Ghoshal and Yung-Yi Diana Pan challenged the claim of Asian American privilege by highlighting new research documenting mixed success among and persisting social exclusion towards Asians in workplaces and communities across the country.

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Research Findings

Does education create good jobs?

June 13, 2018

In January 2012, President Obama called for states to extend compulsory education in the U.S. to age 18.  More recently, the White House unveiled its America’s College Promise Proposal, which calls for free community college tuition for responsible students. 

Common arguments in support of more education suggest that education spurs innovation and expands skilled and higher paying jobs.  Counterarguments suggest education could reduce skilled jobs by promoting the development of new technology, production practices, and machines that can replace skilled labor.

We know that education has important occupational benefits for individuals, but do these benefits spill over into society as well?  At the turn of the century, I find that they do. Continue Reading…

Research Findings

Are Asian Americans disadvantaged by “white privilege”?

May 26, 2018

We often hear pleas for frank discussions about “race in America.” Yet rarely are Asian Americans ever seriously considered in this supposed dialogue. The important history and notable socioeconomic achievements of Japanese Americans, for example, are typically entirely ignored. If Japanese Americans are considered at all, then usually they are naïvely portrayed as the spineless victims who got interned during World War II but who are otherwise insignificant for understanding “race in America.” See for example, Race in America by Desmond and Emirbayer who even refer to the Japanese American internment as the historical origin of “The Prison Boom” even though those internees were never charged with any crime much less convicted of one.

Ignoring the socioeconomic circumstances of Asian Americans was once possibly justified on the grounds that they were such a small demographic group. In recent decades, however, the population of Asian Americans has been rapidly increasing. In percentage terms, they are now the fastest growing racial category. Asian Americans have become ubiquitous in many professional occupations, elite universities, media outlets, and notable artistic and cultural organizations. They have often been known to be superlative leaders in business, government, athletics, and the military.

Yet contemporary American sociology, like some of the general public at large, continues to be ill at ease in accepting Asian Americans as a mainstream group to consider in the national dialogue on racial relations. This reluctance may arise because Asian Americans are a non-white minority that appears to be at odds with popular liberal views about a “racial hierarchy” which is said to foster “white privilege.”

The typical liberal discourse on “race in America” is generally framed as purporting to promote the liberation of oppressed non-white minorities from the evils of racial discrimination. But this mantle is a bit awkward to promulgate in regard to a group like Japanese Americans who traditionally have had lower poverty rates than whites as well as higher levels of educational achievement, per-capita household income, and occupational attainment.

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Research Findings

The problem with behavioral incentives

May 21, 2018

Behavioral incentive programs have become a popular policy tool for combating poverty. The premise of these policies is simple: pay the poor to behave “optimally,” thereby improving their outcomes.

The catch, however, is that the behavior of the poor is a symptom, not a cause, of their poverty.

In 2008, the Egyptian government, responding to a gap in child school access, launched a program drawing from a model used in many countries around the world, a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). This program, like other CCTs, gave cash to low-income mothers, who are primary caregivers, in exchange for sending their children to school.

In a recently published study, I showed that while the mothers did send their children to school as a result of the program, the premise of the behavioral incentives was wrong.

The mothers in the Cairo neighborhood I studied did value education, so much so that they struggled, through debt and odd jobs, to cobble together the monthly fees demanded by teachers. Teachers, underpaid due to decades of declining public-sector spending, pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, kicked students out of classrooms if they did not pay “study group” fees.

The cash from the CCT was a godsend for families, but the conditions were superfluous. The result was that the program subsidized the state’s failure to provide a basic service.

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Research Findings

The pointless distraction of unconscious bias training for workplace racism

May 15, 2018

The latest management fad to combat workplace racism is unconscious bias training. It has worthy intentions, but is seriously flawed. Knowing about racial bias does not automatically result in changes in behaviour by managers and employees. It is pointless and distracts managers from addressing the radical, organisational changes that are needed.

Unconscious bias training (UBT) has become popular. It has been led by psychologists, delivered by consultants and popularised by big-name organisations keen to demonstrate their social responsibility credentials. These proponents have been influential in positioning UBT as an effective management fix suitable to a wide range of organisations in different contexts.

UBT proponents promise that the training will make a difference. The argument tends to go like this: everyone has biases in the form of racial preferences. People are not aware of these – hence the “unconscious” label – but these biases influence our actions and decisions. Knowing about the preferences through special workplace training sessions allows people to change their behaviour by moderating their actions.

Let’s leave aside the tricky problem of how to measure unconscious bias – an issue that psychologists disagree on – and assume some sort of measure is possible. What impact does knowing about your racial bias have on your behaviour?

To a large extent this is going to depend on the type of racial bias. First there are those people who have learned to suppress expressions of racial prejudice because of the change in society’s values towards greater tolerance. In the workplace they might use more socially acceptable language while still taking actions that fail to help or to support the advancement of minorities. Finding out they are biased is not news to these ‘new racists’. They already know it and they are already choosing to behave as they do, so why would they change?

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Research Findings

Is flexible work the answer to the motherhood pay penalty?

May 10, 2018

For many families, integrating work and care remains a challenge. Is flexible work the answer? By affording workers greater freedom to organize their jobs in ways that suit their lives, flexible hours and the ability to work from home can help parents meet children’s needs while still getting their work done.

A puking child is never fun, but it doesn’t have to mean missing out on the day’s work. Daughter needs to be picked up from daycare at 5 sharp? No problem, start the workday earlier to compensate or finish it at home.

Since mothers still do most of the heavy lifting around caregiving, reducing work-life conflict could also help equalize their opportunities in the workplace. But is there a dark side to flexibility?

In our recent study, we investigate how flexible work arrangements – including flexible hours and working at home – impact wage gaps between otherwise similar mothers and childless women in Canada. Does flexibility enhance mothers’ capacity to accommodate work and family demands – or do mothers who access flexible arrangements pay a price in their wages?

The concern is that rearranging work to accommodate the demands of care can violate deeply held assumptions about what it means to be an ideal worker. Rather than help mothers at work, flexible work arrangements may stigmatize them as less committed to their jobs, strengthening negative stereotypes that contribute to motherhood pay penalties. Mothers may also be re-routed to less demanding work or encouraged to accept jobs that are otherwise less desirable (e.g. downshifting to a position with lower pay) to access flexibility.

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Research Findings

Does housework inequality ruin relationships?

May 5, 2018

Forget the red roses and teddy bears this Valentine’s Day – the best way for men to shore up their relationships is to run the vacuum over.

Recent research backs this up. A Swedish study found heterosexual couples were more likely to divorce if men discounted women’s housework contributions. Also, women who did more housework than their partners were overall less satisfied with their relationships, and more likely to consider breaking up.

For many couples, housework is often a site of negotiation. On average, women perform more housework than men in all countries, including Australia.

For decades, sociologists have been intrigued by the persistent gendered division of housework, because women’s greater time spent on housework is often at the expense of their time in employment and leisure. Women’s greater housework share, even when earning more money or working longer hours, is pointed to as an illustration of patriarchy and lingering homemaker/breadwinner gender roles rooted in the Victorian era.

Even in a socially progressive country like Sweden, women spend more time on housework, on average, than men. While many studies have documented these differences across groups and countries, fewer studies investigate the consequences of housework inequality.

So the question has to be asked: does housework inequality ruin relationships?

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