How Perceived Control Motivates the Individualization of Work–Life Conflict

[We’re pleased to welcome authors Alison T. Wynn of Stanford University and Aliya Hamid Rao of Singapore Management University. They recently published an article in the ILR Review entitled “Failures of Flexibility: How Perceived Control Motivates the Individualization of Work–Life Conflict,” which is currently free to read for a limited time. Below, they recount the motivations for this research.]

While working as a management consultant for two years prior to graduate school, the first author, Alison Wynn, experienced firsthand the intensive work-life expectations that characterize the industry—and many other high-status industries. She became fascinated by the cultural underpinnings of the long hours, extensive travel, and emphasis on “face time.” Despite robust efforts on the part of companies to offer cutting-edge flexibility programs, she could see these programs fell short of their intended effects – providing employees with viable solutions to work-life conflict. This motivated us to pursue research exploring these challenges in more depth.

In an article that was recently published based on some of these data, we analyzed 50 in-depth interviews with management consultants at the top firms. We focused on exactly this issue: management consulting firms provide amongst the best flexibility policies intended to help their employees manage the extensive demands of their work. Yet, in line with our own initial impressions – and as previous research has documented – these policies were not enthusiastically embraced by employees. Why? Prior research has highlighted the role of “flexibility stigma,” which is the notion that using flexibility policies sends a signal to colleagues and superiors that you are not serious about your work. While compelling, we felt this was an incomplete explanation. In our manuscript, we argue that “perceived control” – or the sense control that employees feel they have over managing their work-life conflicts – is a powerful motivator in imbuing a sense of agency and encouraging private and individual solutions to work-life conflict.

In the article, we explain various aspects of perceived control: for example, how our participants saw managing their work-life commitments as a professional test, and how they viewed their ability to manage their work-life challenges as a testament to their suitability for this profession. But one important element that did not make it into the final manuscript was the problematic definition of success at these companies. The very understanding of what makes an employee successful contains built-in assumptions – such as the assumption that long hours translate to better results – when the reality often starkly contrasts with these assumptions. This definition of success was reinforced both culturally, in company norms, as well as structurally, in project assignments and evaluation procedures. By enshrining a definition of success wedded to ideal worker norms, companies create an environment that casts doubt upon flexibility programs promising work-life balance; employees wonder whether they can use available flexibility programs without compromising their own success.

Our study provides evidence that flexibility policies will continue to fall short until and unless they are accompanied by cultural shifts in what “success” entails and how much workplaces can demand from their employees.

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Most Cited Articles 2009-2010

One of the most cited articles in 2009 and 2010 in Management & Organization Studies is from Organizational Research Methods.

Herman Aguinis, Charles A. Pierce, Frank A. Bosco and Ivan S. Muslin published “First Decade of Organizational Research Methods: Trends in Design, Measurement, and Data-Analysis Topics” in the January 2009 issue.

The abstract:

The authors conducted a content analysis of the 193 articles published in the first 10 volumes (1998 to 2007) of Organizational Research Methods (ORM). The most popular quantitative topics are surveys, temporal issues, and electronic/Web research (research design); validity, reliability, and level of analysis of the dependent variable (measurement); and multiple regression/correlation, structural equation modeling, and multilevel research (data analysis). The most popular qualitative topics are interpretive, policy capturing, and action research (research design); surveys and reliability (measurement); and interpretive, policy capturing, and content analysis (data analysis). The authors found upward trends in the attention devoted to surveys and electronic/Web research, interpretive, and action research (research design); level of analysis of the dependent variable and validity (measurement); and multilevel research (data analysis). Implications for training doctoral students, retooling researchers, future research on methodology, the advancement of the organizational sciences, and the extent to which ORM is fulfilling its mission are discussed.

To learn more about Organizational Research Methods, please follow this link.

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ORM Call for Papers: Research Design

Organizational Research Methods (ORM) is calling for papers that address contemporary research design issues within the organizational sciences.

A few topics of interest include, but are not limited to, the following questions:

* How can social media be used in the design of organizational research?

* How can different qualitative approaches be used in combination during the discovery process and hypothesis development process?

* How can qualitative methods be mixed with traditional meta-analysis methods in order to deal with small k domains?

* How can neuroimaging techniques be used to study organizational phenomena?

Two types of papers will be published: (a) feature articles and (b) research notes. Feature articles are full-length manuscripts typical of ORM contributions. Research notes are narrower in scope than are feature articles. Research notes should make an important contribution, regardless of length, but the contribution is more focused in scope, perhaps addressing a more specific issue or topic as opposed to broader issues. Research notes should be approximately 17 pages in length (excluding tables and references). For all submissions, a paper’s length relative to its contribution will be an important metric for assessment. Use 1-inch margins and 12-point Times New Roman font, and all papers must be double-spaced (not 1.5-spaced, etc.).

Click here for more infomation regarding ORM‘s call for papers.

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Retelling Tales of the Field

“Retelling Tales of the Field: In Search of Organizational ethnography 20 Years On” currently appears as one of the most frequently cited articles in Organizational Research Methods, based on citations to online articles from HighWire-hosted articles. Written by Ann L. Cunliffe, the University of New Mexico, the article was published in April 2010. Professor Cunliffe graciously provided a personal reflection upon the article.

I was really happy to hear from SAGE that this article is one of the most frequently read articles in Organizational Research Methods in 2010 – for a number of reasons. 

Of course, it’s always nice to know that someone is reading your work!  But more than this … that management researchers are interested in the possibilities that ethnography holds for their work.  While ethnography has a sustained presence in disciplines such as sociology and anthropology, it has a less stellar history in organization and management studies, and thoughtful organizational ethnographies are few and far between.  So does this mean there is a revival of interest in organizational ethnographies?  I hope so! 

Good organizational ethnographies are rich descriptions of organizational life that resonate and offer insights to both organizational members and academics.  However, this is not easy to achieve – it’s difficult to find a balance between offering too much description with too little theory or reducing the rich complexities and subtleties of organizational life to abstract theorizations distant from practice.  Good ethnographers are detectives, noticing taken-for-granted practices and ways of thinking, speaking and acting.  They have a terrier-like instinct in terms of following up possibilities and drawing out the lodes of theoretical gold.  And even more important, they understand the importance of textwork, of crafting rich, resonant and insightful narratives, a point emphasized by John Van Maanen (2010) in the same ORM journal issue.

One of the main reasons for writing the paper was as the introduction for a special issue that emerged from the Qualitative Research Methods in Management conference 2008 held in New Mexico in honor of the 20th Anniversary of John Van Maanen’s classic 1988 book Tales of the Field.  This is a biennial conference that I organize to encourage researchers engaged and interested in a multiplicity of qualitative research methods to share their work and engage in critical discussion[1]. It’s important to explore innovative ways of studying and developing knowledge about organizations.

What makes this 2010 Organizational Research Methods special issue so distinct, is that it includes papers from four scholars (John Van Maanen, Bud Goodall, John Shotter and Mike Agar) from four different disciplines (organization studies, communications, psychology and anthropology) who have four different ways of doing ethnography.  So my aim in the paper was to give a brief a history, identify some classic studies, offer resources for potential ethnographers, and provide a taste of the many ways of carrying out ethnographic research as a way of situating the papers that followed…. and in the hope that a new generation of organizational ethnographers will emerge.

All too often nowadays, we find ourselves in the publish or perish promotion trap of trying to get work out quickly – of dipping our toe into the stream of organizational life so that we can get the next paper out.  Ethnographic research takes time but can be very rewarding.  Just look at some of the studies cited in the paper! They are not only good stories, they also have something important to say about organizations.

Finally, I wrote the paper for all those Ph.D. students whose careers are going to be built around their research. Part of learning the research craft is being exposed to a wide range of research methodologies and exploring different methods and ways of theorizing and writing about organizations. Finding a topic and a methodology that is going to sustain interest and provide the basis for a deeply committed and impactful research agenda is important.  Ethnography offers one such approach.


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