Recently in Say What? Category

A recent New York Times article described a so-called "emerging field called work-force science:

It adds a large dose of data analysis, aka Big Data, to the field of human resource management, which has traditionally relied heavily on gut feel and established practice to guide hiring, promotion and career planning.

While the practice of human resource management could certainly use stronger foundations in rigorous scholarship, this article is insulting to generations of researchers who have used data to carefully answer critical questions in the field for decades. In 1949, the first director of the precursor to today's Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies at the University of Minnesota, Professor Dale Yoder, launched a series of pioneering benchmarking studies of personnel ratios, salaries, and budgets. In the 1950s, Professor Yoder's colleagues developed of a number of measurement instruments that continue to be used today around the world, including the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire. And so on and so forth right up to today, such as a recent project by some of my current colleagues who worked with data from seven organizations to better understand turnover. In fact, while we can always keep learning from new data sources (especially those using company records, or, even better, field experiments), from my perspective the field sometimes has too much data and not enough conceptual clarity.

With many people still buzzing about Yahoo's termination of its telecommuting program, Best Buy has just announced the end of its Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) in which only job performance for corporate employees mattered, not time worked or time spent in the office. Like Yahoo last week, Best Buy attributes its decision to a need for greater collaboration among employees. According to a Best Buy spokesperson, "Bottom line, it's 'all hands on deck' at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business" (Star Tribune, March 5, 2013). But there might be something deeper and more troubling at work (no pun intended).

In an article in today's Star Tribune ("GOP weighs cost of union battle"), Minnesota State Senator Dave Thompson, a supporter of Minnesota's right-to-work initiative, is quoted as saying about the proposed Minnesota right-to-work law, "In my opinion, there's nothing we can do that is more beneficial for people's freedom and liberty, and creating a better business climate in this state.'' Seriously?

Say What? A Right-to-Work?

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So-called "right-to-work" laws are again a hot topic of debate. Most right-to-work laws were passed decades ago, but Indiana (Republican) lawmakers hurriedly passed a right-to-work law last week, and Minnesota Republicans are pushing to have a right-to-work law included on the state's November ballot. The conservative perspective was succinctly summed up by a Minnesota legislator launching this initiative: "There is nothing more fundamental to my economic liberty than the ability to obtain employment, feed myself and my family, without having to pay another organization to do it" (Star Tribune, February 3, 2012). Powerful words. But accurate?

Last week I was at the annual meeting of the Labor and Employment Relations Association, an association notable for the number of academics, practitioners, and policymakers who are deeply concerned with employment issues in the United States. One panel featured Bob Herbert, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Demos. Mr. Herbert argued that we should fight the jobs crisis as we would a war. I'm not a fan of using war metaphors in the economics arena (too many corporate behaviors have been justified by seeing business competition as a war), but the more I thought about the severe consequences of the jobs crisis, the more this made sense (and it's not really a metaphor anyways!).

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About this Blog

Whither Work? is a blog about work created by John Budd. I am a professor of Work and Organizations in the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management, and the author of several books including The Thought of Work. Follow me on Twitter: @JohnWBudd.