Implications of Work Effort and Discretion for Employee Well-Being and Career-Related Outcomes

Researchers and Authors Argyro Avgoustaki of ESCP Europe Business School and Hans T. W. Frankort of the University of London recently published in article in the ILR Review entitled, “Implications of Work Effort and Discretion for Employee Well-Being and Career-Related Outcomes: An Integrative Assessment,” which is free to read for a limited time. Below they discuss the motivations and findings of this research.


What motivated you to pursue this research?

In an earlier study (Avgoustaki 2016), one of us examined factors predicting employee overtime. A natural follow-on question is how overtime relates to employee-level outcomes. Several reflections on this question motivated our current study. First, a broad and multidisciplinary literature shows that overtime predicts reduced well-being. The popular press often portrays this finding as signifying merely the kind of inconvenience that employees must endure to make headway in their careers. Yet, we were surprised to find no studies directly examining such folk wisdom, through systematic comparisons of the well-being and career-related implications of overtime. Second, while overtime is the type of work effort receiving most attention among practitioners and policy makers, employees often work at high speed or to tight deadlines and so they can also experience high levels of work intensity. We realized that little was known about the relative power of overtime versus work intensity in predicting employee outcomes. Thus, we set out to examine overtime and work intensity as predictors of both well-being and career-related outcomes in a representative sample of close to 52,000 European employees.

Were there any surprising findings?

First, we find that work effort broadly predicts unfavorable outcomes, both in terms of employee well-being and career-related implications. In other words, overtime and work intensity seem not to predict a balance of favorable and unfavorable outcomes, where career-related progress somehow makes up for decreased well-being.

Second, although both overtime and work intensity predict unfavorable outcomes, we find that work intensity is the stronger predictor in virtually all our analyses. Thus, one might ask whether the common concern of employers and policy makers with overtime and hours of work in some way misses the mark. Perhaps it is not the duration of work but its intensity that requires greater attention.

Third, we asked whether work effort predicts better outcomes in employees that have the discretion to decide how and when to perform their work. We find some such evidence, although we were surprised to observe that increased work effort remains associated with inferior outcomes even in employees with more discretion. Perhaps more surprisingly, work intensity in employees with discretion often remains a stronger predictor of unfavorable outcomes than overtime in employees without discretion.

How will this research have an impact?

We hope that our research will contribute towards a broader awareness of the possible adverse implications of excessive work effort, in general, and work intensity, in particular. Such awareness is important for employees, who must consider that the costs of excessive effort might outweigh its benefits. Greater awareness is important also for employers and policy makers interested in stimulating productive and sustainable effort. Beyond established initiatives to limit the duration of work, we believe strategies that limit the adverse implications of intensive work merit greater consideration.

Cited reference

Avgoustaki, Argyro. 2016. Work uncertainty and extensive work effort: The mediating role of human resource practices. Industrial and Labor Relations Review 69(3): 656-682.

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Mental Health and Work: Employee Engagement, Part 1 of 3

Results from the U.S. National Co-morbidity Survey, a nationally representative study of Americans ages 15 to 54, reported that 18% of those who were employed said they experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month.

During Mental Health Awareness Month (#MHM2014) it seems fitting to examine research on a problem affecting many employees that is often overlooked.  Mental health is a serious issue in the workplace,  but how do we deal with it as employees, coworkers, employers, HR personnel and anyone else touched by it? What needs to change to ensure healthier employees – and healthier workplaces?

This week, in a three-part series, we’ll explore recent research on mental health issues with their relevance and importance in the field of business and management. As the authors of our first featured article note,

“The nature of today’s labor market requires organizations to be productive and competitive to survive and grow, since they are constantly confronted with the pressure to be profitable as fast as possible. Thus, workers are expected to be psychologically connected to their work, proactive, and committed to high-quality performance standards, to collaborate with others, to be energetic and dedicated, and to be absorbed by their work. Simply put, ‘today’s organizations are in need of engaged employees.”

But are those struggling with mental health issues able to be engaged as this suggests? The research literature offers insight into individual, as well as corporate, issues related to mental health (including engagement and well-being), which is where we start today.

An article published in the Journal of Career Assessment by Patrizia Villotti, University of Trento, Italy; Cristian Balducci, University of Bologna, Italy; Sara Zaniboni, University of Trento, Italy; Marc Corbière, Université de Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada; and Franco Fraccaroli of University of Trento, Italy, “An Analysis of Work Engagement Among Workers With Mental Disorders Recently Integrated to Work,” looked at work outcomes, along with the  importance of social support from coworkers and supervisors, and occupational self-efficacy. “Among the general population and individuals suffering from other disabilities, people with mental disorders face severe difficulties in participating and integrating in the contemporary work world despite the evidence that they have the potential and desire to work. The purpose of this study is to determine the validity of the work engagement construct among mentally ill workers and to develop a nomological network delineating the relationship of work engagement with its antecedents, and its consequences in this specific population.” Click here to read the article.

An article published in the Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies by Brad Shuck, University of Louisville  and Thomas G. Reio, Jr., Florida International University, “Employee Engagement and Well-Being: A Moderation Model and Implications for Practice,” examined the degree to which psychological workplace climate was associated with personal accomplishment, depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and psychological well-being, and whether employee engagement moderated these relations. Click here to read the article.

An article published in Human Relations  by Else Ouweneel, Utrecht University;  Pascale M. LeBlanc, Eindhoven University of Technology; Wilmar B. Schaufeli and Corine I. van Wijhe, both at Utrecht University, “Good morning, good day: A diary study on positive emotions, hope, and work engagement,” studied potential positive within-person relationships, including positive emotions, work-related hope, and the three dimensions of work engagement on a daily level. Click here to read the article.

Tomorrow’s post: Mental Health and Work: Stress and Organizational Behavior, Part 2 of 3



Out of Whack: How Do You Measure Academic Career Success?

[Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to reproduce “Out of Whack: How Do You Measure Academic Career Success?” by Charles M. Vance from Journal of Management Inquiry.]


Click here to read “Out of Whack: How Do You Measure Academic Career Success?” for free from Journal of Management Inquiry. Don’t forget to sign up for e-alerts from Journal of Management Inquiry by clicking here!

About to Reach Your Mid-Career Point?

time-to-do-business-924991-mTransitioning through the mid-career point can be stressful and under the crush of ever multiplying responsibilities one’s professional identity can suffer. Fortunately, more “identity workspaces” are being provided to help. One such workspace was explored in a new article from the OnlineFirst section of Journal of Management Inquiry entitled “A Two-Year Stretch: The Functions of an Identity Workspace in Mid-Career Identity Work by Management Academics.”

The abstract:

This article examines the way in which identity workspaces function to facilitate and stimulateJMI_72ppiRGB_powerpoint transitions at mid-career. We explore our collective experience as a cohort of a mid-career management academics participating in a 2-year fellowship program, which acted as an identity workspace in which mid-career identity work took place. Using insights from our narratives, interviews, and experiences, we demonstrate how the fellowship provided rites of passage, experimentation, and social defenses, and we analyze our identity work, in relation to mid-career development, disciplinary orientation, and relationships with existing institutions. We conceptualize the identity workspace as a liminal zone in which to experiment with provisional selves, finding that identity workspaces function through alterity as well as identity, and at a communal as well as individual level. The article draws out the challenges for the academic community to facilitate mid-career identity work experienced in this identity workspace within existing institutions.

Are Universities Creating Millennial Narcissistic Employees?

James W. Westerman, Jacqueline Z. Bergman, Shawn M. Bergman and Joseph P. Daly, all of Appalachian State University, published “Are Universities Creating Millennial Narcissistic Employees? An Empirical Examination of Narcissism in Business Students and Its Implications,” in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Management Education. Professor Westerman and Dr. Daly kindly provided the following responses on the article.

Who is the target audience for this article?

This article was targeted toward business instructors and business school administrators at the undergraduate and graduate levels – particularly instructors of management.  We also believe that there are implications from this research for business school career services and career development professionals.

Were there findings that were surprising to you?

One of our biggest surprises was a non-finding, that narcissism was not associated with better classroom performance among students.  We had thought that, since business courses are a short-term instructional setting and narcissists have been shown to excel in short-term learning settings, that they would outperform their non-narcissistic counterparts in that context.  The fact that the hypothesis was not supported by the data was a heartening development – it suggested that business professors in our sample are not cutting any slack or catering to their narcissistic students.  I think the other big surprise was the enhanced salary and career opportunities anticipated by narcissists, which were unrelated to their academic performance.  It seems interesting that narcissists expect to prosper in the business world.  

How do you see this study influencing future practice?

We see this study as influencing future management educators, raising their awareness of narcissism and its effects in the classroom.  In the article, we suggest some interventions that educators can try.  A more extensive discussion of corrective actions that includes administrative interventions is presented in our 2010 article in Academy of Management Learning & Education.

How does this study fit into your body of work/line of research?

Our previous work on narcissism in the business classroom extrapolated from previous research in other disciplines that narcissism was likely to be an increasingly difficult problem in management education.  This study was the first to test that proposition with regard to preparing students for managerial positions.

 How did your paper change during the review process?

One issue that kept coming up among reviewers was, given that our young professors are increasingly coming from Generation Y, what effect would that have on one’s teaching style?  We did measure narcissism levels among the instructors of our sample, but there were not enough observations to draw any meaningful conclusions. 

 What, if anything, would you do differently if you could go back and do this study again?

We would like to replicate this study, only with a Chinese sample to compare to our existing American sample.  China is a land of contrasts.  One the one hand, we would expect narcissism to be lower among the Chinese because their culture is a collectivistic one, which would mitigate against the self-absorption that is a hallmark among narcissists.  However, on the other hand, Chinese students in Generation Y are overwhelmingly from one child families.  Many of their countrymen refer to them as “little emperors” because their parents dote on them so much.  Parental doting is thought to be a root cause of narcissism.

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