OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
Interview by Dahlia Mani, Assistant Professor, HEC Paris
Editor's note: First awarded in 2010, the Best Published Paper Award recognizes a journal paper published in the previous year that advances our theoretical understanding of organizations, organizing, and management. The 2014 winner was: Emily C. Bianchi (Emory University), for her paper "The Bright Side of Bad Times: The Affective Advantages of Entering the Workforce in a Recession" published in Administrative Science Quarterly, 58(4): 587-623.
First, Congratulations on winning the OMT Best Published Paper Award! Can you briefly describe what the paper is about?
Thank you. The paper is about the bright side of graduating during a recession. Recent work has shown that graduating during recession negatively influences earnings and career outcomes for decades to come. I found that despite these negative outcomes, recession graduates tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, even long after they entered the workforce.
What was the genesis of this paper? How did you come to this particular question?
During the height of the Great Recession, a paper came out that showed that recession graduates earn less even decades after entering the workforce. Like many others, I was surprised by how long these effects persisted. It was striking that an experience in the distant past could continue to affect outcomes so many years later. But I also wondered if there could be a bright side to this otherwise bleak picture. Psychologists have repeatedly shown that people can be happier with worse results depending on how they think about what they have. When I read first person accounts from Great Recession graduates, I was surprised how frequently they expressed gratitude for whatever jobs they could find. This was much different than when I was in college during the dot.com bubble. During that time, college students seemed consumed with optimizing their job choice and ensuring that they secured the very best job they could find. This mentality often undermines satisfaction and makes even a great job seem lacking. Gratitude, on the other hand, can help people focus on what is good about their jobs rather than on what could be better. Thus, I wondered if these recession graduates might actually be happier with their jobs, even though these jobs might pay less and be less prestigious.
Can you tell us about the research process you went through for this paper? Any anecdotes you can share with us?
My initial test of the idea was fairly straightforward. I had used the General Social Survey before and was able to test the idea in that context. When the effect emerged there, I threw most of my research energy into this project. The process was slow from there. The topic overlapped with many different disciplines and I spent a tremendous amount of time reading research from other fields. Also, most of my previous research had been experimental, so I had to learn a lot about the mechanics of this type of research. The review process was challenging as it is in any top-tier journal. The reviewers were supportive but challenged me to develop the ideas and rule out alternative explanations. This process made the paper much better.
What was the most interesting finding for you? Anything that surprised you as you went through the research or review process?
I am still surprised by how long these effects endure. Some of the participants had been in the workforce for decades and yet the effects were as robust for them as they were for new graduates.
What kind of responses do you get from academicians/practitioners when you describe this research?
Most people think the idea makes sense once they have thought about it for awhile. Other people express complete disbelief. Many of them have read news stories chronicling the negative effects of graduating in a recession. Others have watched their own children graduate from college during the Great Recession and struggle to become self-sufficient. It is hard for them to imagine that this challenging experience could have any upside.
How does this paper fit into your current and future research program?
This project has fostered an interest in how macroenvironmental conditions in young adulthood can shape attitudes, behaviors, and worldviews for decades to come. Young adulthood seems to be a particularly impressionable time for people and I am fascinated by how environmental conditions influence the people that young adults become. In other work, I have found that those who enter adulthood in recessions are less narcissistic and more prosocial.
Were you surprised by the critical acclaim for the paper? What does this prize mean for you?
Yes. I spent many years working on this idea and developing the paper. While I was lucky to receive guidance from so many mentors and peers, it was a fairly solitary experience. It is exciting to see the paper live outside of my head and to be recognized by others. I was extremely honored to have the paper recognized with this award.
Tags: ASQ | Best Published Paper Award | Emily Bianchi
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