Job Quality Research

Job quality research helps pinpoint ways to make work better for everyone—as well as identify obstacles that get in the way.

Job quality is a multifaceted topic, and these five research projects focus on different aspects of the quality of a job and a workplaceranging from compensation to training, and from working conditions to the degree to which a workplace is inclusive and diverse.



Creating Good Jobs: An Industry-Based Strategy

Researcher: Paul Osterman, along with 15 coauthors

MIT Sloan Professor Paul Osterman

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 that employ large numbers of low-wage workers in the U.S. to examine sector-specific opportunities and barriers to quality jobs.

A research symposium during 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 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.




Scheduling Strategies for Warehouse Work

Researchers: Alexander Kowalski, Erin L. Kelly, and Hazhir Rahmandad

Alex Kowalski (left), Professor Erin L. Kelly (center), and Professor Hazhir Rahmandad (right)

In this research project, Kowalski, Kelly, and Rahmandad, all of MIT Sloan, look at a large U.S.-based retailer to explore the following question: Can a company improve worker well-being and productivity and reduce absenteeism and turnover by giving workers more control over their schedules? They are conducting a multi-method study that uses interviews, surveys, and administrative data to study the working conditions at warehouses.

The project aims to document the relationships between schedules and turnover as well as the effects of certain schedules on subjective well-being and self-reported health for workers overall as well as for specific demographic groups. The study seeks to quantify the costs of current scheduling practices for the organization by building a more systemic view of the interdependencies of scheduling, absenteeism, productivity, and turnover.

Kowalski is a doctoral candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where Kelly is the Sloan Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies and Rahmandad is the Mitsubishi Career Development Professor and an Associate Professor of System Dynamics. The research team is developing and will evaluate a workplace intervention targeting workers’ control over their schedules using a cluster-randomized trial. The first phase of the project has already been completed; it included traveling to six warehouses and interviewing 105 workers and managers.




Paying Outsourced Labor: Direct Evidence from Linked Temp Agency-Worker-Client Data

Researchers: Andres Drenik, Simon Jäger, Pascuel Plotkin, and Benjamin Schoefer

Simon Jäger, the Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Economics at MIT

This research project, a collaborative effort involving Andres Drenik (Columbia University, Simon Jäger (MIT Department of Economics), Pascuel Plotkin (University of British Columbia), and Benjamin Schoefer (UC Berkeley), explores how wages are set for temporary workers and the relationship between what an organization pays its regular employees and what it pays temporary workers.

That has in the past been hard to measure, because most existing datasets link temporary workers with the temporary firms that are their formal employers but not with the organizations in which they work. Drenik, Jäger, Plotkin, and Schoefer overcame this challenge by leveraging data from Argentina that includes such linkages. Using these data, the researchers estimate that temp agency workers at companies that pay higher-than-average wages receive about half (49%) of the workplace-specific pay premium earned by regular workers in those organizations.

Drenik is an Assistant Professor of Economics at Columbia University, Jäger is the Silverman (1968) Family Career Development Assistant Professor of Economics at MIT, Plotkin is a doctoral student at the University of British Columbia, and Schoefer is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley. The research has been published in a March 2020 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper and was presented at the January 2020 American Economic Association conference.  A draft of the working paper is available on the MIT Department of Economics website.




Global Purchasing as Regulation of Labor Standards

Researchers: Matthew Amengual, Greg Distelhorst, and Danny Tobin

Greg Distelhorst (left) is an Assistant Professor at the the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources and the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and Matthew Amengual (right) is an Associate Professor at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

How well do manufacturers with global supply chains succeed in using their leverage as customers to improve working conditions in the factories from which they purchase? To gain new insights into this question, Amengual, Distelhorst, and Tobin conducted a detailed study at a North American athletic apparel and equipment company that has a reputation for addressing labor conditions at factories in its supply chain. The study involved analyzing purchasing data as well as audit records about supplier factories’ compliance with the apparel company’s code of conduct for labor standards in its supply chain.

Amengual is an Associate Professor in International Business at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Distelhorst is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources and the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, and Tobin is a Senior Research Support Associate at the MIT Department of Political Science. 

The paper stemming from this research has been published in the journal ILR Review; the findings have also been summarized in a blog post. The authors are also working on a second paper that builds on some of the initial research.




(Not) Paying for Diversity

Researcher: Summer Jackson

Summer Jackson

Summer Jackson is a doctoral candidate at MIT Sloan, and her dissertation work is on the policies and practices associated with building diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplaces. The Good Companies, Good Jobs Initiative supported her research by funding her fieldwork.

In one study from this project, Jackson used an inductive, ethnographic approach to explore how managers at a high-growth technology company, referred to in the study by the pseudonym “ShopCo,” attempted to achieve its organizational diversity goals in hiring and recruitment. In particular, Jackson examined ShopCo’s approach to recruiting a diverse slate of candidates in the early rounds of hiring for technical positions.

Her research reveals a previously unrecognized barrier to hiring racial minorities: managers’ discomfort with the explicit commercialization of diversity. ShopCo managers saw “paying for diversity” as a morally fraught strategy, and for example, avoided recruiting via technology platforms that created an ecommerce-like website experience. These concerns ultimately led ShopCo to partner with recruiting organizations that undertook a developmental approach insteadfor example, organizations that provided free technical training to underrepresented minority candidates. This developmental approach, though beneficial to the candidates, may create the unintended consequence of reinforcing organizational stratification at the company by concentrating underrepresented minorities at the lower levels of the company hierarchy.

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