September 14, 2021

Article on Addressing Work Overload Wins Beckhard Prize

MIT Sloan Professor Erin L. Kelly (left) and University of Minnesot Professor Phyllis Moen (right)

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review have announced that MIT Sloan Professor Erin L. Kelly and University of Minnesota Professor Phyllis Moen are the winners of the publication’s 2021 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize. The prize is awarded to the authors of the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development published from fall 2019 to summer 2020.

MIT SMR awarded the prize for Kelly and Moen’s article "Fixing the Overload Problem at Work," which appeared in the summer 2020 issue of the publication. Kelly is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School as well as Co-Director of the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research (MIT IWER) and Faculty Director of the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative at MIT Sloan. Moen holds the McKnight Endowed Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota.

The prize-winning article results from an experiment the authors designed to measure the different effects on work redesigned collectively by team members and work conducted as usual. The authors found that the teams that participated in the redesign initiative reported that they felt they had more control over when and where they worked and that their managers were more supportive of their personal and family lives. In addition, they reported getting more exercise, sleep, and social time — and they were significantly less likely than their control group counterparts to leave the organization. The experiment was described in more detail in Kelly and Moen's award-winning book, Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It (2020, Princeton University Press).

"Such rethinking about work is particularly timely as we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with new learning about when, where, and how our work can be accomplished," the judges for the Beckhard Prize said. "Moreover, [the late MIT Sloan Adjunct Professor] Dick Beckhard would surely approve…. He was a strong advocate of self-organized work teams as a key component of productive organization change; Dick held that we are not solitary creatures but members of shared communities, accountable to and dependent on one another."

In their article, Kelly and Moen identified three actions that managers must take to overcome the problem of overload at work: provide employees with greater control over their work; give employees clear direction on their work goals; and, critically, develop managers who genuinely care and support their employees in their personal lives and priorities.

This year's panel of judges consisted of distinguished members of the MIT Sloan School of Management faculty: Cyrus Gibson, retired senior lecturer; Kate Kellogg, the David J. McGrath Jr. Professor of Management and Innovation; and John Van Maanen, the Erwin H. Schell Professor of Management, Emeritus.


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