Opportunities to work with HBS faculty on experimental field studies
The Research Exchange is a place for Harvard Business School professors and doctoral students to announce field studies in search of a corporate setting. The ultimate goal: to solve various dilemmas facing companies all over the world. Business managers are encouraged to peruse these listings and consider whether their company might be a good setting for any of these field studies. By forming a collaborative partnership with an HBS researcher, your firm could gain the competitive advantage of finding answers first—and, ultimately, make a difference for the world of business. More details about field research.
How to Break Tough News to Employees
Doctoral student Erin Frey is investigating how managers give difficult news to employees. Managers often have to give employees negative performance evaluations, tell employees about layoffs or organizational changes, or confront employees about inappropriate behavior. How managers deliver this information to employees has been shown to affect employees' performance and effort. This project will study different ways that managers deliver bad news, with the goal of identifying strategies that managers can use to improve the outcomes of these types of conversations.
This project is targeted toward large organizations in the United States. The study is ideal for organizations that: A) have policies, systems, or training programs that help managers give both formal and informal feedback to employees, and B) are able to track employee performance over time.
If your organization is interested in participating in a field study designed to help managers deliver difficult news to employees, please contact Erin Frey at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Manager Feedback Field Study."
Why employees conceal or downplay high-status identity
Identity concealment is
pervasive in organizational contexts. Employees often conceal identities that
convey low status, such as having a lower social class background.
Yet, little is known about whether and how employees
conceal high status identities, such as having a Master’s degree, a
degree from an elite university, or an influential role in one’s company or
industry. Disclosing and emphasizing these identities can increase an
employee’s respect, power, and influence, yet may disrupt social harmony if
others lack identities of similar stature. Doctoral Candidate Rachel Arnett investigates
whether, why, and how individuals conceal or downplay high status identities in
organizational contexts, and the impact of such behaviors on interpersonal
perceptions, workplace relationships, employee experiences, and professional
If your company is interested in a field study on high status identity
concealment, please contact Rachel Arnett at email@example.com.
“Restarts” & Productivity
Associate Professor Francesca Gino is studying how "restart effects" boost productivity during the workday. In contrast to more traditional breaks (for lunch or coffee), restarts are somewhat random changes in the environment that are not directly related to work. For example, the simple acts of rearranging office furniture or changing a screensaver have the potential to make employees more focused and increase their performance. The outcome measures in this study will be employees' productivity, creativity, performance and energy levels during the workday. More broadly, understanding the benefits of "restarts" can be helpful in designing work that increases organizational creativity and productivity.
If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study on this topic, please contact Francesca Gino at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Transparency & Productivity
To enhance others' performance in organizations, when should we observe others, and when should we not? To enhance our own performance, when should we be observed, and when should we not? Answers to those two pairs of questions often remain asymmetrical: we demand transparency of others but want privacy for ourselves. And yet, if the goal is productivity, there must be a scientific answer to the question of how much observation is ideal versus too much or too little. Based on a proven methodology in his prior research, Assistant ProfessorEthan Bernstein is pursuing additional field studies on how observability of employees--or, conversely, the presence of "boundaries" to constrain it--boosts productivity. He is particularly interested in non-manufacturing settings (e.g., health care, professional services, retail, finance, technology) in a wide array of geographies (e.g., North America, South America, Europe, India, Middle East, Asia).
If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study about the impact of transparency on productivity, please write to Ethan Bernstein at email@example.com with the subject "Research Exchange Field Study."
Layoffs, Downsizing, & Workforce Flexibility
Professor Sandra Sucher is studying how companies can do a better job of balancing the needs for a highly motivated and committed workforce with the flexibility and cost competitiveness necessary to thrive in a constantly changing world. Three decades of academic research have shown that while downsizing activities can help companies adapt to many necessary changes, layoffs are full of hidden costs - from loss of morale, to high turnover rates of top employees, to loss of key customer relationships, and reduced levels of innovation. Professor Sucher is interested in talking to both senior and frontline managers who have conducted a layoff to learn about their experiences--what worked, what didn't, what hidden costs were found afterwards, and ideas for how the layoff process can be changed to be more efficient and more humane.
She is also interested in talking to managers in companies that have developed innovative practices to manage recessions and other short term demand cycles that do not involve reducing the workforce.
Finally, Professor Sucher is interested in learning about the experiences of individuals who have been laid off - both positive and negative, and about the most successful methods they have found to recover from their layoff. Professor Sucher may incorporate these tales from the field into future research publications. However, names of individuals and companies can be disguised upon request.
If you are interested in sharing your layoffs story or workforce flexibility approach, please contact Professor Sucher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matchmaking & Productivity
Associate Professor Michael Norton is pursuing field studies in which employees are asked to play "matchmaker"—introducing employees whom they know but who do not know each other. Research shows that this kind of matchmaking increases people's well-being, and that companies with more densely-connected networks (i.e., more employees who know more employees) are more successful. The goal of the experiment would be to encourage some employees on some work teams to play matchmaker—introducing employees to each other—and measuring the causal impact on employee satisfaction and productivity.
If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study about matchmaking, please write to Michael Norton at email@example.com
The Hidden Costs of Luxury Pricing
Assistant Professor Ryan Buell is studying the extent to which the price you charge for service affects how much it costs you to provide that service. For example, a traveler charged a high price for a hotel room might use more towels and make a bigger mess than a similar traveler charged a low price for the same room. Understanding this dynamic should lead to better pricing decisions and improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.
If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study investigating whether price drives cost-to-serve among your customers, please write to Ryan Buell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Misinterpretation of Emotion in Email
Increasingly, vital business interactions happen over email and other means of text-based communication, rather than in person or over the phone. However, these communications become ripe for misinterpretation due to the limited social and emotional cues in email. The costs of such misunderstandings can be severe. The goal of a new set of studies, organized by Doctoral Candidate Andrew Brodsky is to explore and improve the process through which employees, managers, and customers use email and other means of text-based communication to interact with one another.
If you think your company may be interested in a field study on this topic, please write to Andrew Brodsky at email@example.com. (Note that Brodsky is seeking companies with at least 200 employees, headquartered in countries where English is the primary spoken language.)
Social Adoption Incentives
Associate Professor Michael Norton is pursuing field studies in which employees are incentivized to hit some target—such as uptake (e.g., "completing HR survey, getting a flu shot"), physical activity (e.g., "10,000 steps per day"), or weight control (e.g., "losing or maintaining weight"). The higher the number of employees who meet the goal is, the higher the payoffs for all employees. Incentives will be based on groupperformance—and incentives will rise as more people hit the target. (The first 10% of employees who reach the target get $1, but when 20% hit the target, everyone gets $2, and so on). The idea is that early adopters are motivated to encourage later people to hit the target (because their payment goes up), and late adopters are motivated because the payoffs keep getting larger.
If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study about social adoption incentives, please write to Michael Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Rediscovering the Past Benefits the Future
Doctoral student Ting Zhang is conducting field studies in which employees rediscover their thought process and work from the past. This project will study how the process of rediscovering past experiences impacts how employees interact with one another, mentor new employees, perceive their own work, and evaluate others' work. This study is ideal for organizations that 1) already encourage employees to reflect on or evaluate their experiences and 2) have access to these records from the past.
If your organization is interested in participating in this field study on rediscovery, please email email@example.com with the subject "Research Exchange Field Study."
Meaningful Virtual Work
Doctoral student Hayley Blunden is studying how virtual employees find meaning in their work. Meaningfulness has been associated with numerous positive work-related outcomes, including engagement, job satisfaction and performance. This project will study how the process of finding meaning in one's work differs for virtual employees and how these differences influence work-related outcomes.
If you think your company may be interested in pursuing a field study on meaningful virtual work, please write to Hayley Blunden at firstname.lastname@example.org (Note that Blunden is seeking companies in which English is the primary spoken language.)
An Important Note About Field Research:
Companies hosting and participating in a field study must understand that they are agreeing to be part of a scientific experiment in which the researcher directs the process.
Compared with a simple trial, an experiment provides a more accurate assessment of policy or procedural changes by including a "treatment" group of employees (who are testing out a new idea)
and a "control" group of employees (who are conducting business as usual). The process enables conclusions to be drawn about whether any subsequent outcome differences result from the change
itself or from other external factors. Results are owned by the researcher and intended for publication; participating firms can choose whether to be identified or remain unnamed in the published research.
There is no charge for participating, and aggregated results will be provided for the participating company. While not always conclusive, studies are always educational and often fun.
Company authorization is required for participation.
HBS researchers interested in listing a field study through The Research Exchange should send a note to Sean Silverthorne at
HBS Working Knowledge
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