The Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative (GCGJ) fosters practice-driven research projects that explore factors that influence job quality and the evolution of work and careers in the 21st century.
The Initiative both executes research projects in conjunction with senior faculty members at MIT Sloan and supports aligned research projects conducted by MIT Sloan faculty and/or graduate students. We focus on practice-oriented research that applies high standards of analytic rigor while also generating practical knowledge. GCGJ research projects help to refine the picture, deepen knowledge, and sharpen the tools of 21st-century management and policy.
The Initiative also administers the annual Rafel Lucea Memorial Award, given to a MIT Sloan doctoral student to support research exploring some aspect of the relationship between business and the long-term welfare of communities, society, and/or the environment.
Current Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative research projects address a wide range of specific management, employment, and labor topics that fall within four overarching categories: 1) job quality; 2) worker voice; 3) technology in the workplace; and 4) training and skill development.
One of the first major research projects under the umbrella of the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative involved examining prospects for improving job quality in seven industries that employ large numbers of low-paid workers in the U.S. For each of the seven industries, one or more scholars analyzed job quality, industry structure, and incentives for and barriers to the creation of good jobs. (The seven industries are retail; residential construction; restaurants; hospitals and clinics; manufacturing; trucking; and long-term care).
This project was initiated in 2017 under the leadership of MIT Sloan Professor Paul Osterman, whose analysis of the prospects for improving jobs in long-term care made him recognize the potential of sector-specific strategies for improving job quality. Building on Executive Director Barbara Dyer’s long-standing expertise on sector strategies, the idea evolved to ask scholars who have deep knowledge of various industries to examine sector-specific opportunities and barriers to quality jobs.
A 2018 research symposium in the first phase of the effort enabled the scholars to share their ideas and receive feedback. The resulting papers were compiled in a book, "Creating Good Jobs: An Industry-Based Strategy," which was published by MIT Press in January 2020. The seven industries included in the book vary in structure, and one core finding of the research project is that the very different structures of these industries have important implications for how to improve job quality within them; a strategy appropriate to one industry may not work well in another.
Four additional job quality research projects that the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative has played a role in supporting focus on, respectively:
scheduling practices in the warehouse industry;
relationships between purchasing patterns and working conditions in a company’s global supply chain;
temporary workers’ compensation;
recruiting tactics and diversity goals at a technology company.
Another major research effort under the auspices of the Initiative focuses on worker voice in the United States. The decline of unions coupled with shifts in the organization of work have effectively reduced the agency of working people in their jobs. The underlying questions this project addresses are: How do workers in the 21st century think about and exercise influence in the workplace? What are their preferred means for taking actions to improve their economic, psychological, and social outcomes and experiences at work?
Launched in 2017, the worker voice project gathered new data about the degree to which employees can make themselves heard and have influence in the workplace. Led by MIT Sloan Professor Thomas A. Kochan, the research team also included MIT Sloan Professor Erin L. Kelly as well as two MIT Sloan graduate students, Duanyi Yang (who received her doctorate in 2020 and is now an assistant professor at Cornell University ILR School) and William Kimball. The project involved a survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, of a representative sample of nearly 4000 U.S. adults of working age, asking a range of questions about how they feel about their influence in the workplace.
Two results particularly stood out. First was the size of the gap between how much say workers felt they have with regard to workplace issues vs. how much they felt they ought to have—a difference the researchers called the "voice gap." Second, compared to two surveys in prior decades, there was a significant uptick in the percentage of nonunionized workers who expressed interest in joining a union; in the two previous surveys, roughly one-third of those workers indicated they would join a union if given the chance, but nearly half (48%) said that in the 2017 survey.
This research project resulted in a paper published in the journal ILR Review as well as a worker voice workshop held at MIT in November 2018 and a workshop on involving workers in technological change held in June 2019. The Initiative also synthesized the study's findings in a practical, accessible digest intended for practitioners and policymakers. In addition, findings from this research have been mentioned in major media outlets, including The New York Times, CNN.com, Vox.com, Fast Company, and The Boston Globe.
2018 Worker Organization Survey
Building on the insights of the 2017 worker voice Survey, the Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative in 2018 helped conduct a second major worker voice project. This project, the Worker Organization survey, used conjoint analysis to examine what characteristics U.S. workers find more or less appealing in a labor organization. The research team consisted of Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs; MIT Sloan graduate student Will Kimball; and MIT Sloan Professor Thomas Kochan. The team fielded a survey in 2018 to a nationally representative sample of more than 4000 U.S. workers.
The researchers discovered that two of the features workers would most highly value in a labor organization are collective bargaining on behalf of workers and the provision of portable health and retirement benefits. Other features that workers would highly value include unemployment benefits, training opportunities, and job search help. Workers also would be somewhat more likely to join a labor organization if it offered legal representation or input into corporate decisions, through means such as representing workers in joint labor-management committees or formally on a company board.
This study has resulted in a paper published in the journal ILR Review. The research has also been presented at a number of venues, including the 2019 Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA) Annual Conference, the Economic Policy Institute (July 2019), and the LERA sessions at the Allied Social Science Associations 2020 Annual Conference.
Three additional worker voice projects in which the Initiative has played a supporting role include:
a study of the effects of worker representation on German corporate boards;
a project studying ways in which younger employees make their perspectives heard at work;
an analysis of research on employee voice in technology companies.
IMPLEMENTING NEW TECHNOLOGIES IN THE WORKPLACE
A research project with the not-for-profit health plan Kaiser Permanente (KP) focuses on exploring different strategies for implementing new technologies in the workplace and different mechanisms for user input in shaping those technologies. The ultimate aim is for Kaiser Permanente, the unions representing the KP workforce, people working at all levels of the system, KP members, and other key stakeholders to use technology to advance all elements of the value compass.
This project is led by MIT Sloan faculty members Thomas Kochan and Barbara Dyer, along with Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld, a professor at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University. The project is currently underway and involves data collection, case studies, and pilot initiatives.
Two additional projects about technology in the workplace that the Initiative supports involve research on, respectively:
the future of training and technology partnerships in manufacturing;
worker involvement in automation in warehouses.
TRAINING AND SKILL DEVELOPMENT
The Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative in 2019 launched a new research project that involved surveying a nationally representative sample of roughly 3000 U.S. adults about their experiences with training and skills development—whether in the workplace, online, or through community colleges or other training providers. Under the leadership of MIT Sloan Professor Paul Osterman, the survey has been conducted and the results are currently being analyzed. This study is expected to have significant policy implications. A few of the preliminary results have already been reported in the press, and Osterman has also published a research brief about some of the study's findings.
The Initiative also has supported three other research projects related to training and skills development, focused on, respectively:
efforts to coordinate workforce development efforts within U.S. states;
work-based learning in higher education in the U.S. and Germany;
the role of organizational politics and various constituencies within a company in shaping skill development.