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WP3: Work

WP3 identifies solutions for work typically found in the organizational domain, but also considers ways in which families and communities can contribute to such solutions.

This cluster contains three interrelated projects – one will be co-financed by Utrecht University. Together these work towards intervention studies in organizations. The key focus is on how different types of network relations and their benefits may support or hinder well-being and career advancement of minority groups in the workplace. The insights gathered in this cluster of projects will inform organizations of the pros and cons of different types of formal vs informal networks for specific groups of workers. This will illuminate what they can do to help sustain employee commitment, career success, and cooperative contributions to the organization, regardless of changing employee needs and characteristics due to increasing employee diversity. This can be viewed upon as a roadmap to resilient societies, where all employees, irrespective of their background or nature can flourish. To this end, the three interrelated projects will collaborate in examining and evaluating the effectiveness of Employee Resource Groups in promoting employee well-being and cooperation in organizations, and develop guidelines for their optimization.

Sustainability Threat. Organizations thrive if their members are willing “to walk the extra mile”, like working unpaid overtime, or helping a colleague to finalize a difficult task even if this is not their formal responsibilities. Consequently, organizations attempt to shape their structures such that they effectively elicit this kind of intelligent effort and (extra-role) organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). With mounting external pressures towards flexibility and short-term employment contracts, employees no longer have traditional long-term expectations that formed the basis of sustainable cooperation in many organizations. Several waves of corporate restructuring and the invention of “new organizational forms” aim to secure cooperation in different ways.

State of the Art. Despite popular managerial wisdom, the available record about the effectiveness in achieving this objective is inconsistent at best. For example, flattened hierarchies did not yield the benefits they were supposed to produce, and they are often characterized by more rather than less control. In contrast, though often portrayed as ineffective, organizations run by democratic governance have proved their effectiveness.

Main Proposition. SCOOP posits that any organizational form can breed sustainable cooperation, as long as it fosters joint production motivation: a motivational state in which individuals “see themselves as part of a joint endeavor”. This can be achieved by any practice that strengthens the salience of common goals and identities. This, we argue, explains why there is no one-to-one relation between organizational forms and cooperation.

Main Outcome. This research develops guidelines to solve intra- and inter-organizational cooperation problems. It specifies how organizations (through combinations of specific forms of reward distribution, task allocation, information) are best equipped to safeguard investment of effort in cooperation at work.

Sustainability Threat. Employee mobility, outsourcing and long-distance cooperation in virtual teams have loosened the ties among employees and their place of work. As a result, commitment to one’s family or community more easily reduces cooperation at work, for instance when this requires relocation or irregular work hours. The pull of different allegiances and identities can elicit spillover effects that undermine work commitment.

State of the Art. The double-edged nature of employee heterogeneity as a potential source of innovation on the one hand and a source of conflict and loss of commitment on the other is well documented. When people differ from each other in multiple ways, for instance because differences in career prospects or professions converge with ethno-religious background, gender, and age, faultlines emerge that undermine cooperation.

Main Proposition. Our SCOOP analysis provides for the possibility that the different networks and identities people have outside work not necessarily detract from their work commitments (and adjusting goals to countenance compatibility plays a role here too). In fact, family and community allegiances offer alternative ways to unite and bind individuals, also at work. Cooperation at work can be safeguarded by catering to diverging needs of different groups of employees and offering opportunities to work towards joint goals and build common identities, even if these are unrelated to work.

Main Outcome. This research will establish the conditions under which formal organizational arrangements and social support networks strengthen – instead of undermine - the development of long term sustainable cooperation among heterogeneous groups of workers.

Sustainability Threat Changing institutional arrangements for work shift the balances among the complex web of organizational stakeholders, and can, thereby, affect cooperation. Companies are no longer seen as working communities but as possessions of shareholders, who deal with them as their own interests dictate. The primary concern of shareholders is not to create employment, but to maximize return on equity. However, a focus on short-term gains (e.g. asset stripping) can jeopardize the sustainability of organizations over time, and harm the interests of other stakeholders, such as unions, employees, self-employed contractors, consumers or clients, and communities.

State of the Art. Organizations and society must deal with the inherent tension between the production of value for shareholders and other stakeholders. Many workers are employed in companies listed on the stock exchange and led by professional managers who are themselves employees rather than owners. Although CEO’s are supposed to balance the interest of all stakeholders, organizational structures, managerial practices and incentive systems all tempt them to prioritize shareholder interests over the interest of other stakeholders.

Main Proposition. To continue their businesses, companies need a ‘license to operate’ from other stakeholders. When customers no longer buy their products or services, employees go on strike or leave the company, or local communities protest against environmental damage or loss of employment, shareholders are harmed as well. We argue that such negative cycles can be prevented when companies reconcile the interests of different stakeholders and respect their interests (“weak solidarity”). We consider which aspects of different business types – such as family businesses or self-employment – are most effective in achieving such reconciliation.

Main Outcome. This research will identify characteristics and practices that foster long-term community credibility, customer support, and employee investment in organizations because they balance and reconcile the interests of different stakeholders.