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Home sweet home base

July 12, 2022

ASU business professor says remote employees enjoy their freedom but still need a network of support, friends, sense of self-identity

Nearly a quarter of all Americans either work from home or have flexible schedules that allow them to work remotely, according to a State of Remote Work 2021 poll.

It’s no longer a perk in a post-pandemic world. Instead, more Americans are simply demanding it from their employers.

While these workers enjoy this newfound freedom, they may still miss the office and need a sense of friendship and social activities, says an Arizona State University researcher.

W. P. Carey School of Business Professor Blake Ashforth recently co-authored three related research papers on work-based identity and how best to support employees.

ASU News recently spoke to Ashforth, a Regents Professor and Horace Steele Arizona Heritage Chair in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, about remote work and work-place connections.

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Blake Ashforth

Question: Your research paper, “My network, my self: A social network approach to work-based identity," has an interesting premise. How did you and your co-author, Jordana R. Moser, arrive at that conclusion?

Answer: Our work-related networks play a huge role in our work lives. We suspected their influence went beyond helping us find jobs, learning the ropes and supporting us as we worked through our problems. We suspected that they influence the way we come to think of ourselves, at least in the workplace.

Having a network of friends at work reinforces your friendliness and sense of being a friendly person; being part of a clique of movers and shakers suggests that you're an up-and-comer, and so on. This is especially true because we have more options in selecting network partners than coworkers or teammates. Choosing a particular network means you’re implicitly selecting a version of yourself to amplify. 

Q: Given what you just said, how can employees find a place of identity in a hybrid or at-home workspace?

A: We’re adept at defining ourselves according to where we are and what we're doing. If you’re working from home, you’re still a professional, a teammate, an organizational member and a “virtual worker” — or whatever label you feel comfortable adopting. The trick, though, is feeling a real attachment to an organization, a team and coworkers. Work-based identities are more likely to take root in a virtual world if you have frequent and authentic interactions with people — preferably in informal and non-virtual contexts.

So, one organization we studied, which relied heavily on virtual work, did its best to bring people in periodically for work meetings but made sure to build in time for free-flowing social activities. The relationships they formed provided a lubricant for the inevitable frictions they encountered back in their teams while doing difficult projects together.

Q: Your second paper, which you wrote with Ronald H. Humphrey, “Institutionalized affect in organizations: Not an oxymoron,” is slightly different than the first. What can you tell us about this finding?

A: We tend to think of emotions and moods as fleeting. We argued that they could become baked into the DNA of a company. Companies have at least implicit affective cultures — a preferred way members should feel about certain things and how they should display those feelings. A retail outlet, for example, wants salespeople to be friendly and upbeat. At the same time, different employees react to challenging tasks, demanding clients and so on in similar ways such that an affective climate tends to bubble up from the bottom. The preferred culture and the actual environment then interact such that, over time, specific emotions and moods come to describe the true tone of the organization.

For example, newcomers can sense quickly if they're working in a place that seems tense, joyful or frustrating. The institutionalized affect, as we call it, becomes self-perpetuating. This matters significantly because shared affect influences how people interact, how well they do their jobs, whether they quit, etc.

Q: Your third paper, co-written with Daniel V. Caprar and Benjamin W. Walker, “The dark side of strong identification on organization: A conceptual review” is entirely different from your other two papers. Can you tell us the premise and give us an example of how that might look in the workplace?

A: Strong identification with your occupation, team or organization is usually very good. You care more and do what you can to fulfill that identity. But we argue that it becomes dangerous when you identify strongly but exclusively with any one target — at least in the work context. You become a one-note player and forget the other parts of yourself that should add richness and depth to who you are. It becomes all too easy to do unethical things on an organization’s behalf, get caught up in group tribalism and trash other groups, and jump to ill-considered conclusions.

The solution is not to identify less with that target but more strongly with other targets. You want to bring the well-known benefits of diversity into your thinking. Having multiple identities makes us wiser people.

Q: The common thread in these papers seems to be how we think about ourselves at work and feel about our work-place surroundings. Is there an overall message here for making organizations more effective?

A: We tend to think that effective management is largely about getting the incentives right. And people do respond to incentives. But what motivates them is having a sense of who they are, who they can be, and how they can realize this desired sense of self. Knowing these things provides clarity, meaning and direction. That's incredibly powerful. So, yes, pay and benefits matter, but the real incentives are those that let us realize our best selves.

Top photo courtesy Pixabay

Reporter , ASU News


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Airline cancellations have personal, economical impact

July 12, 2022

ASU economic expert talks ongoing airport woes, what you can do

Flying these days can be hazardous to your mental health.

According to the United States Department of Transportation, more than 63,000 flights had been canceled by late June, compared to just over 44,000 in 2019, the year before the pandemic hit.

Several reasons have been cited for the cancellation surge: bad weather, air traffic control issues, rising fuel prices and, most notably, airlines slow to replace personnel who retired or took a leave of absence during the pandemic.

Whatever the issue, airline travelers are being stranded at airports, unable to get where they want to go.

With airline travel peaking in the summer months, ASU News talked to Lee McPheters, a research professor in the W. P. Carey School of Business and director of ASU’s JP Morgan Chase Economic Outlook Center, about why the cancellations are occurring, whether the situation is going to get worse before it gets better, and what recourse travelers have if their flight is canceled.

Lee and researchers at the W. P. Carey School of Business have studied the economic impact of airports and conducted surveys to see what travelers spend per day. 

Editor's note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Question: What do you think is the underlying reason for all the cancellations?

Answer: It’s the airline industry’s response to the pandemic. In February of 2020, before the pandemic, there were about 465,000 employees in the airline industry. Two months later, that number was down by 100,000. Now, that number has come back up, but think about it for a minute. There were an enormous amount of retirements. That would mean that those people that left were eligible for retirement and would be more experienced and probably higher paid. If you look at the number of pilot certifications, they went from about 8,000 per year down to 2,500. Plus, people simply left the industry. So while we see passenger numbers back up to pre-pandemic numbers, what we don’t see is the level of service.

Q: We’re in the peak of the summer travel season. Given what you said about the lack of high-level airline personnel, is the situation going to get worse before it gets better?

A: I think this is going to be with us for a considerable period of time. It takes a long time to certify pilots. Some of the airlines are actually taking steps to try to reduce some of the FAA requirements, but that won’t be a quick turnaround. Then, when you look at airport infrastructure, the modernization of airports and the maintenance is subject to a lot of the same supply chain constraints that we see (everywhere else). So you have issues that simply affect the ability of airports to handle (the resurgence in passenger travel).

Q: What is the economic impact of all these cancellations, and where does that impact land?

A: If it really results in fewer flights and less travel, that means visitors probably have one less visitor day. You have food, hotel accommodations, that’s several hundred dollars right there. If you have a metro area like Las Vegas or Phoenix that really depends on visitors… I’ll tell you one thing I saw that startled me is United Airlines said it’s pulling out of Flagstaff. That is approximately 100,000 travelers per year, and just kind of a rough rule of thumb, 50% of those would be visitors, people that are part of travel groups going to the Grand Canyon, foreign visitors who spend a lot of money. That is going to really have a noticeable effect on the northern Arizona economy.

Q: Let’s say my flight has been canceled. What’s my recourse for getting compensation from the airline? It seems like that’s a maze that confuses a lot of people.

A: My very strong advice would be to research beforehand what you can do. I think it’s time for consumers to get a better understanding of what happens if there is a cancellation. These things are going to be more frequent. (The U.S. Department of Transportation operates a website providing these answers to travelers.)

Q: Final question: Airlines know they’re short of personnel. So why don’t they just cut down on the number of available flights rather than continuing to cancel so many scheduled flights?

A: It looks like to some extent, they are backing off. Maybe that will be the answer as the next few weeks play out, because I don’t think the flying public is going to be happy with the enormous number of cancellations and all the costs associated with it.

Top image courtesy Pixabay

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News