Bath Business and Society

Research, analysis and comment on the role of business in society from Bath's School of Management

Tagged: Research

Six tips for making interdisciplinary research work

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📥  Business and society, Research, Sustainability

 

Interdisciplinary work holds lots of promise for business and society research, but it is also highly challenging. Sarah Glozer, Deputy Director of the Centre of Business, Organisations and Society, summarises the advice from our recent event about how to make it work in practice.

 

As universities, journals and funding bodies call for greater interdisciplinarity in our research, we brought an international group of academics together last night to debate one key question: how do we make interdisciplinary research work in the context of business and society research? Over food, drinks and a good dose of speed networking, we debated the challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinarity. Here are our top six tips for success.

 

1. Keep it practical. The best way to galvanise interdisciplinary interest around an issue is to get your hands dirty. See the issues first hand and focus on a specific problem or challenge with real-world impact. Trying to artificially force researchers together from different disciplines and expecting to see ‘something new’, risks getting stuck in the weeds. Get out there, find your common problem, and take it from there. This is about making it matter and developing problem-based teams.

 

2. Look for the easy wins. It is arguably easier to make novel contributions and have more meaningful impact in interdisciplinary teams. Knowing your respective subjects so well, it is easy to identify gaps when you start comparing across disciplines. We are trained to have deep areas of specialism, so let’s exploit these. Issues of business and society cannot be dealt with by each of us on our own, and so think about what skills you can bring to the table and don’t be afraid to make broad assertions early on to establish common ground.

 

3. Speak the same language. In interdisciplinary research, it is important to really integrate the scope of the work across the team, not just pay lip service to ‘collaboration’. Make sure that all parties are involved from the get go to avoid being perceived as convenient ‘add-ons’ and make sure to generate a shared package of work. This is about identifying capabilities (and points of disconnect) from the outset, and being transparent. This might even involve going back to basics… What’s the point? Why do we need an interdisciplinary perspective here? What’s the added value?

 

4. Set a goal. Interdisciplinarity requires a change in mindset. We need to be open minded and define a shared goal. In business, the goal of collaborative efforts is making money. In academia, what is the goal? More importantly, in business and society research who are our key stakeholders? Yes, we want to solve problems, yes, we want to generate good scholarship, but is there more to the project than this? An aligned goal and a joint framing of questions sets the core focus and breaks down silos.

 

5. Build relationships. We need to learn from each other and so we should base teams not just on skills, but also attitude. Interdisciplinarity teaches us to be tolerant, but most importantly, we learned last night that the best projects are those where we establish healthy ways of working. Let’s enjoy this. Interdisciplinary research can be exciting and stimulating. If it’s a pleasure, we are learning. And if we are learning, we are likely breaking new ground. The successful teams are those that embrace ignorance and aren’t afraid to get out of their comfort zone. It is easier to do this with researchers you can call friends, or where there is mutual respect for one another’s work.

 

6. Break the mould. Let’s be clear about the challenges. This isn’t easy, particularly for early career academics. We need to create the right environment and recognise that we have different measures of output in different disciplines. Are we talking impact, funding or journal rankings, or all three as measures of success? Whilst we have the intention to be interdisciplinary, the system can sometimes stifle creativity. How do we get the gatekeepers to really buy into this? How can we work to break the mould for early academic leaders of tomorrow?

 

Prof Andy Crane, panellists and guests at CBOS Interdisciplinary event, held at No15 Great Pulteney. Photo by Sarah Glozer.

 

To round off the event, the panellists were asked for their final comments on the question, ‘What advice would you give to inspire interdisciplinarity in business and society research?’

  •  “It’s about solving problems and changing the world. We have to be open to new perspectives.Adam Joinson, Professor of Information Systems, University of Bath

 

  • Listen, talk and form a gang. You can make a new field. Just look at the business ethics area which was formed from the interaction of moral philosophers and social scientists.Laura Spence, Professor of Business Ethics, Royal Holloway, University of London

 

  • Form educational systems across disciplines and learn from one another.Mette Morsing, Mistra Chair of Sustainable Markets and Scientific Director at Misum, Stockholm School of Economics

 

  • There are differences and diversity even within disciplines. Let’s recognise this and identify synergies. Don’t just focus on the lowest common denominator.Julie Barnett, Professor of Health Psychology, University of Bath

 

  •  “Impact, stimulation and let’s recognise power. What structures enable and constrain our activities?David Cooper, Professor in Accountancy, Alberta School of Business

 

Feature image by cactusbeetroot under CC BY-NC-2.0

 

How can NGOs become more credible watchdogs?

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📥  Charity, Giving, Policy

 

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are indispensable watchdogs against corrupt practices and global challenges found in complex, modern societies. Yet sometimes, NGOs themselves can struggle to live up to the ambitious standards they demand of others, such as responsible advocacy, ethical fundraising, and meaningful participation of stakeholders. In this piece, Prize Fellow Stefan Hielscher and his co-authors Jan Winkin and Ingo Pies discuss their recently published research, which suggests that strengthening the rules of “fair competition” among NGOs is a promising avenue to increase their credibility.

 

Stereotyping by NGOs

With so many causes competing for attention from the public, it’s perhaps inevitable that NGOs may opt for shock tactics. Some controversial tactics can be very effective in raising public attention, gaining member support and securing funding, “Poverty pornography” provides a telling example. Critical observers invoke the term to describe the use of shocking but misleading imagery in NGOs’ fundraising campaigns, such as the notorious “potbellied child.” Critics claim such campaigns conceal the root causes of poverty, misdirect well-intentioned help, and violate the dignity of those in need. The website Rusty Radiator collects a variety of impressively frustrating examples, awarding the “fundraising video with the worst use of stereotypes” on an annual basis.

Granted, poverty porn is an extreme example. But it is the case that NGOs are sometimes tempted to simplify messages, thereby misrepresenting complex issues, and this may result in the root causes of the problem being misunderstood. For example, recent research reveals serious inconsistencies in advocacy positions related to the global food crisis in 2008. Before the food crisis, NGOs claimed that low food prices would promote poverty and hunger in rural areas in developing countries. After the food crisis, however, the very same NGOs claimed that high food prices cause hunger and poverty in urban areas in developing countries.

 

NGOs and responsible advocacy

To address challenges to their accountability and strengthen their credibility, in 2008 the international NGO elite founded “Accountable Now” (AN). Responsible advocacy is one of 12 agreed-upon accountability standards, and includes fact checks and clear procedures for advocacy positions. A complaints handling mechanism was designed to give stakeholders a voice to critique misrepresented interests or other questionable advocacy practices. A 2016 survey by AN of members and non-members however, revealed sobering results. NGOs seem to fare quite poorly in “stakeholder responsiveness” and “responsible advocacy.” Only about 10% of NGOs responded to complaints raised by AN’s evaluation team in a blind test, and many NGOs lacked robust fact checks and clear procedures to adopt or exit advocacy positions.

 

How competition affects NGO behaviour

Why is it that even member NGOs struggle to comply with AN’s standards? Our research suggests that NGOs operate in a highly competitive environment, all seeking funding, members and media attention. All these are necessary, but scare resources, and the competition for these can impede responsible advocacy.

NGOs are facing a “social dilemma” here. They can either choose the easy option and seek out attention without worrying too much about potential negative side-effects, or present a measured view which incorporates the best available knowledge on a controversial issue. The danger is that by taking the easy option, other NGOs will follow suit to secure their piece of the pie. As a result, the whole third sector’s reputation and credibility as a promotor of social change is put at risk.

 

Creating an enabling environment for responsible advocacy

Can we expect NGOs to refrain from this kind of race-to-the-bottom competition, and to engage in responsible advocacy on a voluntary basis? While some international “giant” NGOs may have the resources to take the moral high ground, some smaller NGOs are facing much stronger threats to their survival. For some of them, every successful fundraising campaign counts. Some NGOs will be able do the right thing only if the organisational benefits outweigh the associated costs. They will need to be sure that their competitors for public attention will follow suit in responsible advocacy.

This is why Accountable Now is such an important initiative. NGOs need to establish their own regulatory framework to raise standards for the whole sector. Within the AN’s NGO community, some voices are demanding stronger leadership to make this happen. Others are looking more towards external monitoring.

Our research has found that to be effective, both strategies need be designed so as to create a more enabling environment for NGOs and therefore to improve the cost-benefit balance. Effective monitoring of stereotyping campaigns requires graduated “reputational sanctions,” for example by raising public awareness of bad examples. Conversely, AN could reward best practice with public attention, by, for example, awarding prizes for responsible advocacy to leading NGOs.

There are no ready made solutions for these issues. It is important for NGOs, though, to acknowledge that they are not spared from the adverse impact of competition just because they are siding with the weak, the marginalized, the neglected and the poor. The insight of economics also applies here: good intentions need be supported by appropriate incentives, to do the right thing and to do things right.

 

Image by Howard Lake

Public reasoning and the public intellectual

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📥  Brexit, Business and society, Education, Uncategorised

 

In our post-truth times, we are in need, more than ever, of public intellectuals. Sadly, we recently lost one of our own most spirited and courageous free thinkers in the business and society field, Malcolm McIntosh, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Management. Malcolm passed away on 7th June 2017 after a long battle with cancer. In this extract from his forthcoming book, In Search of the Good Society, he speaks of the need for elites such as academics and other experts to reengage meaningfully with society in order to address the world's most pressing social and environmental problems. We shall greatly miss not having Malcolm with us on that journey, but his words shall remain a touchstone. 

We have challenges that must be considered carefully and tackled with quiet and earnest intent: reforming the global financial system to bring it back within our control; developing economies that nurture, rather that destroy our natural capital; managing the development of biotechnology such that it provides solutions, and does not create problems; keeping control of AI, such that, as with the development of writing and printing, we know where we are going and have some control; and, turning our media tech companies into responsible publishers so that they are subject to the sort of social controls that govern our print media and daily libel and slander laws. If democracy is to work, and be more of a viable option for the 50% who don’t currently have it, it must be based on what Edmund Burke, and more recently Amartya Sen, call ‘public reasoning’. Burke said that ‘the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’ - and in this time fake news and ‘alternative facts’.

This requires the empowerment of what Pierre Bourdieu, and more recently Edward Said, call ‘the public intellectual’ who through clear public engagement restore the role of the expert and dispel the propagandists that populated the Nazi regime and drive the Trump administration and the Brexiteers. Those who voted nihilistically against those they thought to be the elite, who were the elite, must be engaged so that they can see the wholeness of society, both locally and globally, or we are doomed. Rather than coasting on our laurels we must reengage with everyone, everywhere. We must win the argument with reason.

This ‘high-opportunity, high-risk’ society is open to everyone, but also only those who have access to education and free information. As Antony Giddens says: ‘knowledge and innovation always cut both ways’. The future does not lie with nativism or isolationism. Indeed such moves defy the tide of history, the interdependent nature of all our lives, what we now know about the science of the planet, and what Karl Jung called our collective unconscious which holds the soul of humanity. At the heart of the good society should be an understanding of what Jung called instinct, for these aspects are central to what it means to be human: hunger, sexuality, activity, reflection, and creativity. And I count both art and science as forms of creativity.

Globalisation, like trade and capitalism its bedfellows, is not dead, it just needs reforming. This is not a binary, it has to be nuanced. A balance must be found on a global basis to forge what Sen calls a ‘democratic global state’ through public reasoning. The forces of financialisation, social media and consumption are out of control and have formed a model of AI such that we are beholden to their algorithmic vicissitudes. As Angus Deaton, 2016 Nobel prize winning economist, has said: ‘I don’t think globalisation is anywhere near the threat that robots are . . . globalisation for me seems to be not first-order harm and I find it very hard not to think about the billion people who have been pulled out of poverty as a result’. Deaton and his wife Anne Case have explained through enormously useful and detailed megadata trawling both the Brexit and the Trump votes: the ruling elites have been completely out of touch with white working class people. For instance, Deaton and Case highlighted the fact that the only demographic group to decline over the last fifteen years in America, because of ‘deaths of despair’, were white, poorly educated, working class men.

This is the same group that in the UK and the US have not only seen zero social mobility, but where the bottom 10% have gone backwards – they are poorer now than they were before. In the US they are now in the same position as the African-American population have always been. Just as it took the Babbage Report in the village of Haworth in Yorkshire a hundred years ago to highlight the appalling toll of poor sewage and the need for clean water so this may be a time for the elites, that’s you and me, to take a look at what really matters for everyone – at the top and the bottom of society. China and parts of Africa continue to pull people up over the poverty line, while the UK, the USA and India continue to oppress working people. Japan and most of Scandinavia have virtually eliminated extreme poverty, while parts of Europe, such as the UK, seem to lack empathy for those who suffer most. In the UK this group voted for Brexit, and in the USA for Trump. In both cases fear and ignorance triumphed. The answer is not xenophobia led by elitists (Trump and the Brexit leadership - Gove, Johnson and Farage – all of whom are rich with elite backgrounds). And the groups that voted for Trump and Brexit shot themselves in the foot, like turkeys voting for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

It is not too late. All the statistics prove that globally we have made good progress over the last seventy years and we will look back and see that 2016 was a moment to take a deep breath and ask what went wrong, and then move forward again. The megalomaniacs, the greedy, those lacking in empathy and many corporate interests will always try to take over, but just as meerkats and bonobos run on cooperation so the best of humanity has been when we collaborate and cooperate. We must work for a feminised future not an avaricious masculine past. The future is liberal, collective and progressive but it requires us not to walk past on the other side or hide in a dark room listening to Beethoven with our headphones on until the world blows over. Art may be the best way forward, for it is through artistic expression in different dimensions that we can see the world afresh.

 

This is an excerpt from In Search of the Good Society by Malcolm McIntosh, which will be published by Routledge on 26th October 2017.

Tackling child labour in the fashion industry - why the best firms have the most to lose

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📥  Business and society, Consumers, Human rights, Modern slavery, Policy, Supply chains

 

New research suggests that firms with a good reputation for ethical sourcing in the fashion industry are judged more harshly than their peers when child labour is discovered in their supply chainMeggan Caddey, a final year PhD student, and Johanne Grosvold and Stephen Pavelin, all from the Centre for Business, Organisations and Society at the University of Bath, explain their findings.

Child labour remains a major societal challenge. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 168 million children are involved in child labour today, which the United Nations (UN) defines as “work for which the child is either too young – work done below the required minimum age – or work which, because of its detrimental nature or conditions, is altogether considered unacceptable for children and is prohibited”. Many of these children work in the garment and fashion apparel industry.

The drive for child labour

According to the organisation Stop Child Labour, fast fashion has resulted in high demand for children who are willing to work for very low pay and in dangerous conditions. Some have suggested that their employment is tantamount to modern day slavery. Some of our best known high street brands including Adidas, H&M and Nike have relied on manufacturers who have subsequently been exposed as using children to work in unsafe conditions.

Increasingly, global firms are recognising that failure to address the challenge of child labour can seriously impact on their corporate reputation. However fashion supply chains are complex, relying on numerous suppliers, sub suppliers and manufacturers. According to H&M’s Head of Sustainability Helena Helmersson, these supply chain networks are so complex that “it is impossible to be in full control”.

Corporate responsibility and corporate reputation

Prior research indicates that, by going above and beyond the basic requirements for fulfilling their corporate social responsibilities, proactive firms can engender goodwill that acts as an insurance against potential damage to their reputation.  The theory goes that if news of wrongdoing emerges from the supply chain of such a proactive firm, its reputation will suffer less because people will give it the benefit of the doubt - 'surely, this good firm must not be to blame'. Other firms that have no such record of exemplary behaviour would be more readily blamed and, as a result, their reputations would suffer more. According to this theory, H&M would suffer less of a reputational impact if child labour was uncovered in its supply chain, as it is now working strategically to become the most ethical fashion chain on the high street. We set out to test this theory in relation to supply chains in the apparel industry.

Research findings

Our study used an experimental vignette method. This involved presenting study participants with carefully constructed, lifelike scenarios, to evaluate their attitudes, opinions and views of a firm’s actions regarding child labour in the fashion supply chain. Over 800 participants took part in our study, and our initial results are surprising. We found that a firm that had taken steps to address child labour and unsafe working conditions in its supply chain enjoyed a better reputation than a firm that had not. However, when something went wrong, people judged these firms more harshly than they did the firms that had previously behaved less responsibly. So, while firms that are more socially responsible tend to benefit from an improved reputation, such goodwill is accompanied by greater reputational risks - specifically, such a firm experiences greater harm to its reputation if unsafe labour practices are subsequently discovered in its supply chain.

Our findings imply that it is in firms’ interests to address unsafe practices in their supply chains, as doing so results in a better corporate reputation. However, our results also suggest that steps taken to stamp out child labour and poor working conditions tend to strengthen the imperative for a firm to maintain a consistent commitment to responsible sourcing. If they don’t, they risk particularly stringent reputational punishment. In effect, this can create something of a virtuous cycle, which gives momentum to firm's steps towards stamping out child labour and unsafe working conditions. Careful reputation management implies that firms setting high standards must continue to live up to them.

The business case for doing good

There is an increased policy emphasis from both governments and NGOs to reduce the use of child labour and unsafe working conditions in the supply chain. There is also evidence that firms are increasingly taking the problem of child labour seriously, with some estimates suggesting that reliance on child labour was reduced by 30% from 2002-2012. As our research shows, tackling this issue can bring benefits for both children and firms.

We provide distinctive new evidence that guides us towards a more detailed understanding of the business case for being good and doing good. By illustrating the reputational benefits of sustainable supply chain practices, our research findings can help motivate firms not already on board, and inspire those who have already taken action to sustain and expand their efforts. This may in turn encourage them to sign up to independent initiatives such as  GoodWeave, which awards companies the right to carry the GoodWeave label if they can show that no child labour or bonded labour was used in the production of their goods. With 11% of the world’s children still sacrificing school in order to work, this is no time for business to be complacent.

Image by Zoriah

 

 

Higher education as a global commodity

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📥  Education, Policy

 

Rajani Naidoo is Professor and Director of the University of Bath's International Centre for Higher Education Management, and recently organised a conference in South Africa to explore higher education's contribution to inclusive development. In this piece, she reflects on the commodification of higher education and the implications for the sector in emerging economies.

In the past, powerful organisations such as the World Bank promoted the view that investment in higher education in emerging economies offered low returns. There is now widespread agreement that quality higher education is essential for emerging economies to escape their peripheral status in the global economy. However, burgeoning demand, a lack of financial and academic resources and brain drain prevent poorer countries from developing strong higher education systems. In this context the provision of degrees by foreign universities could have much to offer. But what are the benefits and the pitfalls when universities from rich countries offer degrees in poorer countries?

Universities in high income countries have previously operated under a model that was distinct from business. However, this is changing. Government funding has been reduced and the belief that universities should be independent from corporate and political interests has been challenged. The social and cultural mission of higher education has been eclipsed by the demand for it to contribute in a more direct way to each country’s competitive edge in the global economy. Universities have thus become more like businesses, and they seek to increase revenue by transforming degrees into global commodities.

A growing number of public and private non-profit universities have joined for-profit conglomerates in exploiting new market opportunities in low income countries. At the same time, rapidly growing economies such as China have developed new higher education relationships with the developing world. There have been a number of benefits. Foreign universities have helped meet demand for higher education where there is little domestic capacity. They have opened up the possibility of degree level study to sectors of the population such as particular ethnic groups, or women, who might otherwise be excluded by their governments. They have also been more responsive in linking courses to changing labour market needs.

Numerous examples exist of reputable foreign institutions working in partnership with universities in emerging economies to meet national goals for transformation. An example of this is the University of Bath School of Management partnership with Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa. Leaders from South Africa’s universities come together to study for a professional doctorate with the aim of contributing to the positive transformation of  the country’s higher education system.

But there are also dangers. Universities that are financially squeezed may protect provision in their home countries whilst viewing developing countries as mass markets for lower cost learning. The reduction of costs may be achieved by focusing on scale rather than quality. There may be a large reliance on learning resources which simply provide information in an attempt to ‘teacher proof’ delivery. This becomes important when less qualified, less experienced, and thus cheaper faculty are used. Rather than using a variety of feedback mechanisms to help students learn in a developmental way, there may be too much reliance on easy-to-assess computerised multiple choice tests. There is little investment in academic resources such as libraries.

When motivated by profit, foreign universities are more likely to offer programmes in disciplines which generate revenue at the expense of disciplines that are expensive or difficult to teach. This draws students away from studying these subjects at indigenous universities, who as a result lose the income from popular courses that they need to cross-subsidise expensive subjects such as Medicine and Engineering. This may in turn lead to a shortage of graduates in key strategic areas that are essential for a country’s economic and social development.

In a marketised higher education environment, there is little interest in research degrees. Masters and Diploma programmes based on coursework hold the promise of economies of scale. These courses are often similar to undergraduate courses and do not contribute to training new generations of indigenous researchers.

Such dangers impact on all countries but these are particularly risky in countries which have undergone social transformation and where democratic dispensations may be fragile. So how can developing countries capitalise on the benefits of foreign universities while protecting themselves from the most corrosive forms of commodification?

Robust regulation is required to protect students from unscrupulous providers and assure quality. It is ironic that developing countries are urged to create unregulated markets in higher education while rich countries maintain strong protectionist mechanisms in their own countries. At the same time, regulation should not stifle innovation but should be flexible and fleet of foot to assess different types of institutions. Foreign universities could be steered through incentives so that rather than merely competing on price and prestige, universities compete to meet developmental goals. In addition, decisions can be made regarding which aspects of higher education should be publicly funded and protected and which can be opened to the market.

Above all, policy makers should desist from implementing competition as a solution to all the problems facing higher education. We need joined-up policy to foster a combination of collaboration, competition and differentiation between domestic, foreign and private providers in order to create a system from which everyone benefits.

 

Image by Aaron Hawkins

 

Changing our diet to save the planet - the role of social marketing

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📥  Consumers, Environment, Policy

 

CBOS PhD student Thomas Mansell discusses the role of social marketing in helping people shift towards more sustainable consumer eating habits through four distinct stages of change. 

Global food consumption and production is seriously unbalanced. In the UK alone we threw away 4.4 million tonnes of “avoidable” food waste in 2015 – that is food that was edible before it was discarded – which equates to £13 billion worth of food wasted, or £470 per household. Meanwhile, nearly 800 million people globally are chronically undernourished.

The world population is projected to grow to 9 billion people by the middle of this century. We face a huge challenge in finding ways to adequately feed this rapidly growing population whilst also protecting the natural environment.

However it is not just the amount of food production and the balance of its distribution that are key concerns for sustainably feeding the planet. We also need to think about what we are eating.

Presently western diets are characterised by a high proportion of animal foodstuffs, and this is a problem not just for our health, but for the environment.  The Hunger Project has cited climate change as one of the hidden sources of hunger. In doing so it highlights how food production and the environment are inextricably linked.

Meat and dairy production requires more land, more water and has higher greenhouse gas emissions than plant based alternatives. As the global population continues to grow, we will need to be ever more prudent with the resources that are required for food production. We must consider whether the proportion of resources currently devoted to meat and dairy production is optimal given the numbers needing to be fed and the environmental impacts such diets can cause.

Already China has pledged to reduce its meat consumption by 50% by 2050 through changing its government-issued dietary regulations. In many European countries, however, there is more resistance to regulation. The German Environment Ministry’s plan to no longer serve meat at official functions was met with criticism earlier this year. In the UK, the government has a clear preference for encouraging individuals to make the right choices as opposed to regulating them.

So how can people be encouraged to switch to a more planet friendly diet? And how can social marketers and policy makers encourage a dietary transformation of the population when it seems so many people struggle with, or are resistant to change? Research in the field of environmental psychology suggests that individuals will switch to a meat-reduced diet, but this change needs to be self-regulated and go through a process of several stages before it sticks. At each of these four stages of change an individual needs to overcome different barriers to progress to the next stage.

At the first stage, individuals have a stable but unsustainable behaviour pattern and do not see any need to change. For those in this stage, the initial barrier is to understand why their current behaviour is harmful and to recognise that by changing it they could ameliorate this harm.

At the second stage, individuals are contemplating changing their behaviour but haven’t yet changed what they are doing and may be unsure how to do so. They need to determine a specific course of action that facilitates their goals. In relation to meat reduction, this could involve reducing portion sizes, only eating meat at one meal or having meat free days.

At the third stage, individuals are trialling their new behaviour, but are still highly susceptible to relapses. To progress to the final stage, they must come up with effective implementation plans to ensure their new behaviours will be sustainable in different contexts.

Should individuals reach the fourth and final stage, their behaviour should have built up some resistance to relapses and is therefore more likely to have an impact.

The research tells us that targeted campaigns designed to reduce meat consumption which address the specific stage of change for an individual, are more effective than traditional informational campaigns. At the University of Bath, our research is looking at which social marketing techniques are most effective at each stage of change. In particular, we are looking at what social factors are significant in driving change through the different stages. This is particularly important given the social or collaborative aspects of dietary behaviours: we might eat breakfast with our family, lunch with our colleagues and have dinner at a restaurant with friends. Each of these situations brings different social rewards and pressures which are likely to impact on our choices.

Understanding these contexts is therefore of utmost importance when designing behaviour change campaigns. If we can better understand how individuals are likely to respond to different campaigns and policy measures to change their diets, then we can help social marketers and policymakers design measures that are least likely to encounter resistance and most likely to encourage the desired behaviour changes.

The food system is inherently complex and reducing meat consumption is just one example of how consumer habits will need to change if we are to alleviate world hunger and sustainably feed the planet. If we can arm policy makers and change agents with the right tools to encourage a shift to different behaviours, then hopefully we can enable a smoother transition to a sustainable food system.

Image by Albert Mock

 

Going the extra mile at work - good for your career, bad for your mental health

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📥  Business and society, Employers

 

"Going the extra mile" at work - helping colleagues, going beyond the confines of a narrow job description, taking on extra responsibilities - can help people feel more engaged with their work, improve job satisfaction and increase promotion prospects. But as Bruce Rayton explains, this doesn't come without a cost.  

Mental health is becoming a hot topic. Boosted by a high profile awareness campaign fronted by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry,  recent months have seen public figures from the worlds of music and sport as well as Prince Harry himself speak out about the challenges they’ve faced.

Businesses too have joined the conversation, and it makes sense for them to do so. After all, paid work is the primary activity for many people during their waking hours, and the costs associated with employees’ mental health problems are significant.

The UK’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence estimated the cost of impaired work efficiency associated with mental health problems at £15.1 billion a year. This figure is almost twice the estimated annual cost of absenteeism (£8.4 billion). These costs are associated with loss in productivity because of sickness absence, early retirement, low engagement, and increased staff turnover, recruitment and training.

 The mental health risks of being a good citizen at work

Our recent research helps us understand an important piece of this problem.  Our findings show that employees who work beyond the narrow boundaries of their job roles are at increased risk of mental health problems. We found that going the extra mile at work can lead to higher levels of emotional exhaustion and work-family conflict. We also found that these effects were most pronounced for employees who already performed well in the core elements of their jobs.

We defined ‘going the extra mile’ using well-known academic measures of organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB), with a particular focus on the dimensions of ‘altruism’ (helping colleagues) and ‘conscientiousness’ (going beyond the minimum). We were especially interested in the effects of conscientiousness and altruism because these time-consuming activities have the potential to exhaust employees emotionally and leave less time for family life.

OCB is widely regarded as being beneficial for both employers and employees. We know from earlier work that OCB improves group and organisational performance and influences managers’ decisions on an individual’s performance ratings, promotion and pay. The worker puts in extra time, or takes on extra responsibility, and as a result feels more engaged with their work and positive about their career prospects. The employer gets committed staff, with improved productivity or results. However, our work suggests that there is also a cost to be paid for these benefits. Somewhat surprisingly, these costs are disproportionately paid by those who are doing “the day job” well.

What can employers do?

Managers are prone to delegate more tasks and responsibilities to conscientious employees who are likely to try to maintain consistently high levels of output. We can see the sense in using today’s strengths to solve today’s problems. However, we think that companies should think twice before asking the same ‘good soldiers’ to take on yet more additional tasks and consider how the burden might be shared.  Even the highest performers will eventually run out of emotional energy and the consequences for their mental health will have further consequences for their employers.

We believe that much greater consideration needs to be given to the kinds of behaviours that HR practices are encouraging and how organisations might cope with the consequences. Reviews of practices in three key areas are necessary:

·         A narrow focus of reward and performance management systems on short term goals might encourage the kind of ‘sprinting’ which increases the longer term costs of OCB.

·         Education and training practices for both line managers and employees could aid recognition of situations where employees risk becoming emotionally exhausted.

·         Health and safety practices, especially those associated with mental health and emotional well-being, can help those who suffer from the problems we identified.

An opportunity to “go the extra mile” is something that many employees want employers to provide. The resulting benefits including learning opportunities, skill development and knowledge transfer, can all have a substantial impact on the bottom line for firms and on the career development of individual employees. That said, managers need to keep an eye on the bigger picture if the performance gains associated with providing these opportunities are to be sustained. The human capital developed through OCB can only create value for organisations if the employees are healthy enough to use it to good effect.

Employers should pay attention to more than the quarterly bottom line. They should make themselves aware of both the current state of and potential threats to the mental health of their employees, particularly their high performers. If nothing else, this awareness holds the prospect of helping firms avoid turning today’s solutions into the sources of tomorrow’s problems.

Image: Working late by Victoria Pickering