Research Roundup: January 2023
The Underappreciated Power of Boredom
Social media has long been blamed for its negative impact on people’s attention and mental wellness. But there is another downside when people use social media platforms to alleviate their boredom. They might be sacrificing another important facet of the human condition: creativity.
That’s according to four researchers in the U.K., who include Timothy Hill and Pierre McDonagh of the University of Bath School of Management; and Stephen Murphy and Amanda Flaherty of Trinity Business School at Trinity College, Dublin. In a new paper, Hill, McDonagh, Murphy, and Flaherty look at how people experienced boredom during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic—particularly two levels of boredom first identified by German philosopher Martin Heidegger.
The first level is “superficial” boredom, which can be defined as a feeling of restless unease. People experience superficial boredom when they are in a transient situation such as waiting in line at a store or waiting for a train to arrive.
The second level is “profound” boredom, which emerges from long periods spent in solitude. It is at this level that people begin questioning their lives and circumstances. Profound boredom can inspire people to discover new passions, explore new hobbies, exhibit greater creativity, or even set out on new paths for their lives and careers.
The team surveyed 15 participants of different ages, occupations, and educational backgrounds, all of whom had been either laid off or asked to work from home during COVID-19 lockdowns. The researchers found that those surveyed spent much of their free time scrolling social media. This distraction helped them avoid superficial boredom, but did not allow them to experience profound boredom that would inspire greater creative output, says Hill.
Social media “sucks up time and energy,” he adds, preventing people from pursuing more meaningful activities. The team hopes that this small study will inspire more research into the importance of boredom in human development. Says Hill, “Those who engage in ‘digital detoxes’ may well be on the right path.”
Salary Transparency Promotes Equal Pay
Some people assume that greater salary transparency can reduce the gender pay gap because it encourages all workers to negotiate for higher compensation. According to a recent research study published in Strategic Management Journal, salary transparency does reduce the pay gap—just not for the reason many thought.
Co-authors Elizabeth Lyon, associate professor of management at the University of California–San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy, and Laurina Zhang, assistant professor of strategy and innovation at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, were interested in the result of a policy implemented in Ontario in 1996. The new policy made it mandatory for organizations to disclose salary information for all employees making more than 100,000 CAN (approximately 75,690 USD).
Using a dataset available through Statistics Canada, Lyon and Zhang compared compensation of 32,000 employees at Canadian universities across 1,400 academic departments over a 24-year period following the policy’s enactment. The pair found that, during those years, pay for women at Ontario universities increased by about 4 percent, while pay for women at universities outside the province, where salary data remained private, experienced no significant increases.
However, many institutions made up for the discrepancy not only by increasing women’s salaries, but also by slowing the growth of men’s salaries. “We expected that salary transparency would reduce inequality because females were going to see what their male counterparts were making and try to negotiate for more equal pay,” says Lyons, “but the data did not reveal changes at the individual level.”
That said, the co-authors argue that such transparency is necessary to bring attention to gender inequalities and motivate organizations to change their compensation structures. “When there is a standardization process that makes searching for compensation information very easy,” says Lyon, “then organizations as a whole have an incentive to improve equality to reduce the threat of public scrutiny.”
Young Workers Still Prize High Salaries
What does the ideal employer offer its workers? A survey of 626 business school students across 72 countries reveals the attributes that today’s young job candidates most look for in prospective employers. Conducted by Jan Malte Jeddeloh, a Master of Management graduate at ESMT Berlin, the survey focused on individuals studying at one of the 31 member schools of the Global Network of Advanced Management (GNAM).
With an average age of 29, respondents indicated five factors that were most important in their job searches. These included salary (must be equal to or greater than the industry average) and type of contract (position must be permanent). These students also prioritized the work arrangement (must allow remote work) and company reputation (organizations must have especially strong reputations in the areas of sustainability and social responsibility). Finally, they sought positions with high status within companies.
The survey revealed that men and women expressed different preferences when choosing employers. Men prioritized traditional attributes such as salary, type of contract, and status; while women sought out remote work opportunities, greater work-life balance, and greater purpose. All participants placed less emphasis on factors such as company size, bonuses, diversity and inclusion, and hours.
The survey’s results suggest that companies will need to tailor their cultures and compensation packages to attract and retain the best talent. “A company needs to be aware of its own offerings and its target profile when recruiting new talent,” the report’s authors note. “Comparison of jobs is easy in today’s world; thus, a lack of transparency will lead to a lack of trust.”
Do Co-Working Spaces Stifle Innovation?
Businesses and business schools alike have begun to favor shared workspaces in the belief that these spaces encourage people to collaborate more. But a qualitative study involving users of a London-based co-working space casts doubt on that assumption.
The study was conducted by Ghassan Yacoub, associate professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at IÉSEG School of Management in Paris, and Stefan Haefliger, professor of strategic management and innovation at Bayes Business School in London. Between 2015 and 2016, the pair collected information—using details from 15 interviews, archival material, and user and nonuser observations—involving seven startups at Level 39, a co-working space in London’s Canary Wharf financial district.
Yacoub and Haefliger found that networking and social interactions initially increased among those using the space—especially in communal kitchen, lounge, and breakout areas. But those collaborations failed to develop into substantial outcomes over time. In fact, many firms eventually left Level 39, noting that its host sought to increase and scale occupancy at the expense of in-depth collaboration and tailored relationships.
“It is the responsibility of the host of the space and those that use it to make it a setting that can see booming partnerships and a hotbed of next-generation ideas,” says Haefliger. “Post-pandemic, we can expect more uncertainty in how space is re-appropriated by individuals and entrepreneurial teams forming collaboration. Workspace managers may need to leave room for experimentation and allow flexibility.”
Political Beliefs Affect Purchase Preferences
Consumers prefer to purchase from companies that reflect their personal views—but even more so when their political beliefs are threatened, according to Verena Schoenmueller, assistant professor of marketing at ESADE Business School in Spain; Oded Netzer, Arthur J. Samberg Professor of Business at Columbia Business School in the U.S.; and Florian Stahl, chair of quantitative marketing and consumer analytics at the University of Mannheim Business School in Germany.
The researchers wanted to determine whether and how users changed their purchasing behavior based on the threat that the election of Donald Trump in the United States posed to their political beliefs—a phenomenon known as “compensatory consumption.” To that end, the research team analyzed brand-related data from YouGov’s BrandIndex, as well as Nielsen Retail Scanner Data, which tracks weekly sales for more than 27,000 brands. The researchers focused on data related to the political preferences of Twitter users who followed at least one of 307 brand-based accounts between February 2016 and December 2018.
After the election of Trump in 2016, Twitter users exhibited increased political polarization in the brands they followed on the platform, as well as in their stated intentions and actual purchasing decisions. This trend was especially prominent among liberal-leaning users, who sought out brands that were openly critical of the Trump administration—such as retailer Nordstrom, which discontinued its sale of Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing.
“Members of the politically threatened group,” says Stahl, “take compensatory actions such as purchasing more liberal-leaning brands to better establish their political identity.”
Their study was published in the December 2022 issue of Marketing Science.
Research in the News
■ ChatGPT goes to business school. ChatGPT, a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence, has captured the public imagination. ChatGPT’s AI can provide well-written and well-reasoned answers to a range of questions, raising concerns about what that means for original work. Could AI drastically increase student cheating or even displace white-collar workers?
Christian Terwiesch of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia decided to put Chat GPT to the test, literally, to see whether the AI could pass the final exam of an MBA course. Terwiesch has shared the results in a new paper, which has been featured in publications ranging from Fortune to Yahoo to NBC News. The verdict? ChatGPT passed the exam with the equivalent of a B to B- grade. It tested well on case-based questions, but fell short in more advanced process analysis. It also botched simple sixth-grade-level calculations.
Should educators be worried about students using ChatGPT to cheat? Absolutely, writes Terwiesch, who bans the use of the chatbot in his own classes. However, he believes the technology, used responsibly, could be a boon to productivity and creativity, helping teachers come up with test questions, programmers refine their computer code, and leaders conceive creative solutions to problems. “It is now up to us,” he writes, “to determine what to do with this increased productivity.”
■ New computer model predicts recessions. Professors at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Bloomington and the University of Missouri Trulaske College of Business in Columbia have created a new model to predict recessions and economic slowdowns. According to a school release, the model “improves recession prediction by considering the aggregate probability of financial misreporting in the economy.” The researchers say that the model does not predict a recession for 2023—just an economic slowdown. They have published a paper on their findings in Accounting Review.
■ Baylor launches research podcast. The Hankamer School of Business (HSB) at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has launched “Innovative Business,” a new podcast to promote research conducted by HSB faculty and students. The podcast—which will be co-hosted by marketing specialist Bo Mello and publications manager Justin Walker—will expand on research featured in Baylor Business Review magazine. Episodes will be released every month, except for June and July. The first episode aired on January 18; it featured research by Claudio Alvarez, assistant professor of marketing, on the behavior of consumers using grocery delivery services.
Send press releases, links to studies, PDFs, or other relevant information regarding new and forthcoming research, grants, initiatives, and projects underway to AACSB Insights at [email protected].