At Work

Kevin Lewis

June 09, 2020

Task Selection and Workload: A Focus on Completing Easy Tasks Hurts Performance
Diwas KC et al.
Management Science, forthcoming


How individuals manage, organize, and complete their tasks is central to operations management. Recent research in operations focuses on how under conditions of increasing workload individuals can decrease their service time, up to a point, to complete work more quickly. As the number of tasks increases, however, workers may also manage their workload by a different process - task selection. Drawing on research on workload, individual discretion, and behavioral decision making, we theorize and then test that under conditions of increased workload, individuals may choose to complete easier tasks to manage their load. We label this behavior task completion preference (TCP). Using six years of data from a hospital emergency department, we find that physicians engage in TCP, with implications for their performance. Specifically, TCP helps physicians manage variance in service times; however, although it initially appears to improve shift-level throughput volume, after adjusting for the complexity of the work completed, TCP is related to worse throughput. Moreover, we find that engaging in easier tasks compared with hard ones is related to lower learning in service times. We then turn to the laboratory to replicate conceptually the short-term task selection effect under increased workload and show that it occurs because of both fatigue and the sense of progress individuals get from task completion. These findings provide another mechanism for the workload-speedup effect from the literature. We also discuss implications for both the research and the practice of operations in building systems to help people succeed.

Hidden failures
Lauren Eskreis-Winkler & Ayelet Fishbach
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, March 2020, Pages 57-67


Failure often contains useful information, yet across five studies involving 11 separate samples (N = 1238), people were reluctant to share this information with others. First, using a novel experimental paradigm, we found that participants consistently undershared failure - relative to success and a no-feedback experience - even though failure contained objectively more information than these comparison experiences. Second, this reluctance to share failure generalized to professional experiences. Teachers in the field were less likely to share information gleaned from failure than information gleaned from success, and employees were less likely to share lessons gleaned from failed versus successful attempts to concentrate at work. Why are people reluctant to share failure? Across experimental and professional failures, people did not realize that failure contained useful information. The current investigation illuminates an erroneous belief and the asymmetrical world of information it produces: one where failures are common in private, but hidden in public.

When Asking “What” and “How” Helps You Win: Mimicry of Interrogative Terms Facilitates Successful Online Negotiations
Kate Muir et al.
Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, forthcoming


Strategic word mimicry during negotiations facilitates better outcomes. We explore mimicry of specific word categories and perceptions of rapport, trust, and liking as underlying mechanisms. Dyads took part in an online negotiation exercise in which word mimicry was manipulated: Participants were instructed to mimic each other’s words (both‐mimic), one participant mimicked the other (half‐mimic), or neither participant mimicked (neither‐mimic). When given a simple instruction to mimic their partner, participants mimicked both the style (personal pronouns, adverbs, linguistic style, interrogative terms) and the content (affiliation terms, power terms, and assents) of their partner’s messages. Mimicry was associated with greater joint and individual points gain and perceptions of rapport from the mimicked partner. Further, mimicry of interrogative terms (e.g., how, why) mediated positive effects of mimicry upon negotiation outcomes, suggesting the coordination of question asking between negotiators is an important strategy to create beneficial interactions and add value in negotiations.

Emotion regulation contagion: Stress reappraisal promotes challenge responses in teammates
Christopher Oveis et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, forthcoming


The current research examined the interpersonal dynamics of emotion regulation in a stressful collaborative context. Little is known about how regulating one’s own stress responses impacts teammates. In this article, we propose that individual efforts to regulate emotions can impact teammates for the better. We tested hypotheses arising from this claim using a dyadic experiment (N = 266) that assessed in vivo physiological stress responses during collaborative work (a face-to-face product design task) and then individual work (a product pitch to evaluators). Throughout the experiment, the manipulated teammate was randomly assigned to reappraise their stress arousal, suppress their emotional displays, or receive no instructions. The nonmanipulated teammate received no instructions in all experimental conditions. Stress reappraisal benefited both teammates, eliciting challenge-like physiological responses (higher cardiac output, lower total peripheral resistance) relative to the suppression and control conditions. These effects were observed during both collaborative and individual work. A mediation model suggested that face-to-face interpersonal effects of stress reappraisal fed forward to promote nonmanipulated teammates’ improved stress responses during individual performance. Moreover, manipulated teammates’ displays of positive and negative affect emerged as potential mechanisms for improvements in nonmanipulated teammates’ stress responses in moderation analyses. Thus, participants benefited by interacting with a person who reappraised their stress as functional. This work has theoretical implications for the interpersonal dynamics of emotion regulation, and relevance for applied settings is also discussed.

Team Players: How Social Skills Improve Group Performance
Ben Weidmann & David Deming
NBER Working Paper, May 2020


Most jobs require teamwork. Are some people good team players? In this paper we design and test a new method for identifying individual contributions to group performance. We randomly assign people to multiple teams and predict team performance based on previously assessed individual skills. Some people consistently cause their group to exceed its predicted performance. We call these individuals “team players”. Team players score significantly higher on a well-established measure of social intelligence, but do not differ across a variety of other dimensions, including IQ, personality, education and gender. Social skills - defined as a single latent factor that combines social intelligence scores with the team player effect - improve group performance about as much as IQ. We find suggestive evidence that team players increase effort among teammates.

The Hidden Cost of Worker Turnover: Attributing Product Reliability to the Turnover of Factory Workers
Ken Moon et al.
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, April 2020


Product reliability is a long-standing concern among product manufacturers, and researchers have identified a number of factors that significantly affect product reliability. In this paper, we examine a previously under-recognized yet impactful determinant of product reliability: a high rate of turnover on the manufacturing line when the product was assembled. Even when assembly lines are designed to minimize product defect rates through simplified tasks and stringent quality control tests, quality variations may exist in the manufactured units that are only revealed after they have been used repeatedly. If this is the case, then the disruptiveness of high turnover may directly lead to product reliability issues. To evaluate this possibility, we link four post-production years of field failures for tens of millions of consumer mobile devices back to their production lines. After controlling for known factors affecting reliability (workloads, learning, and component quality), we find that the likelihood of field failure increases by 7-8% when a device is produced in the monthly high-turnover weeks following paydays; and that even in other weeks, product reliability responds significantly (2-3%) to the individual assembly lines' weekly turnover rates. Together, we demonstrate that staffing and retaining a stable factory workforce critically underlies product reliability, and we show the value of connected field data in informing manufacturing operations. Ultimately, products are more reliable when workers are more reliable.

Distancing ourselves from geographic dispersion: An examination of perceived virtuality in teams
Matt Brown, Matthew Prewett & Michael Grossenbacher
Group Dynamics, forthcoming


Our goal in the present study is to challenge prior assumptions about virtual teamwork by examining the emergence of perceived team virtuality and observing how it relates to teamwork processes and behaviors within project teams across 2 studies. Individual- and team-level data were collected from one sample of 94 collocated project teams (Study 1) and a second sample of 68 teams (30 collocated and 38 dispersed teams; Study 2). Members completed our perceived team virtuality scales along with measures of teamwork processes and emergent states. Additional peer-rated behavioral measures and objective dispersion measures were obtained in Study 2. Perceived virtuality was positively related to effective teamwork processes in teams, regardless of dispersion. These effects also largely overshadowed the negative effects of geographic dispersion in Study 2 (ΔR2 > .25). We also observed modest within-team agreement (rwg > .80) for each virtuality dimension in both studies, suggesting that common experiences lead to emergent, shared perceptions of virtuality within teams. We recommend that perceptual measures of virtuality can be a useful for understanding how individuals and teams utilize technology in order to perform effectively. Moreover, perceived virtuality measure is more flexible to changing trends and adoption of new tools than objective methods and can be used in a variety of lab or field settings.

The Effect of Patent Protection on Inventor Mobility
Eduardo Melero, Neus Palomeras & David Wehrheim
Management Science, forthcoming


This article investigates the effect of patent protection on the mobility of early-career employee-inventors. Using data on patent applications filed at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between 2001 and 2012 and examiner leniency as a source of exogenous variation in patent protection, we find that one additional patent granted decreases the likelihood of changing employers, on average, by 23%. This decrease is stronger when the employee has fewer coinventors, works outside the core of the firm, and produces more basic-research innovations. These findings are consistent with the idea that patents turn innovation-related skills into patent-holder-specific human capital.

Incremental vs. Breakthrough Innovation: The Role of Technology Spillovers
Seong Byun, Jong-Min Oh & Han Xia
Management Science, forthcoming


We show that technology spillovers shift the composition of corporate research and development by promoting innovation based on the exploitation of existing knowledge while disincentivizing innovation that explores new areas and breaks new ground. Accordingly, firms facing large technology spillovers attain fewer superstar inventors among their human capital, who are important drivers of breakthrough technology advancement. These findings complement the existing studies documenting the positive effect of technology spillovers in increasing firms’ overall innovation outputs; they highlight potential downsides of technology spillovers in reducing firm investment in technology breakthrough and valuable human capital.

Referents or role models? The self-efficacy and job performance effects of perceiving higher performing peers
Patrick Downes et al.
Journal of Applied Psychology, forthcoming


What are the effects of perceiving peers’ higher performance? Social-cognitive theory emphasizes the positive influence that perceiving higher performers can have on observer task and job performance (because observational learning from role models enhances self-efficacy). Social comparison theory emphasizes the negative self-evaluations that accompany perceiving higher performers, which should under many circumstances reduce self-efficacy and subsequent task and job performance. To more fully understand the effects of perceiving higher performance, we argue the effects of perceived higher performers on observer task and job performance depend on individuals’ disposition in how they cognitively process coworkers’ performance. Drawing on goal orientation theory, we suggest individuals with higher levels of performance prove goal orientation (PPGO) primarily interpret perceived higher performers as comparative referents rather than as instructive role models, inhibiting social learning and reducing self-efficacy. Results from a 2 studies (a field study of 110 corporate employees as well as an experimental study with 107 undergraduate students) support these ideas: Individuals with higher levels of PPGO have decreased self-efficacy and performance when observing higher performing coworkers, and individuals with lower levels of PPGO have increased self-efficacy and performance when observing higher performing coworkers.

The fractal structure of communities of practice: Implications for business organization
Emily Webber & Robin Dunbar
PLoS ONE, April 2020


Communities of practice (COP) are informal (sometimes formal) groupings of professionals with shared interests that form to facilitate the exchange of expertise and shared learning or to function as professional support networks. We analyse a dataset on the size of COPs and show that their distribution has a fractal structure similar to that found in hunter-gatherer social organisation and the structure of human personal social networks. Small communities up to about 40 in size can be managed democratically, but all larger communities require a leadership team structure. We show that frequency of interaction declines as size increases, as is the case in personal social networks. This suggests that professional work-oriented organisations may be subject to the same kinds of constraint imposed on human social organisation by the social brain. We discuss the implications for business management structure.

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