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Organizational Behavior and the Working Poor Carrie Leana
Description of Population • 35.9 million people in U.S. (12.5%) live below poverty threshold (heaviest burden on children and elderly) • 5.3% of all workers (7.4 million) in U.S. classified by BLS as “working poor”* • This does not include those working “underground” Recent Commonwealth Fund Study Shows Deeper Problems: • 41% of workers with incomes between $20 - $40K were uninsured for at least part of the last year • 34% of all adults ages 19 to 64 report problems paying their medical bills in the past year • 21% of all adults ages 19 to 64 are currently paying off medical debt on time (e.g., monthly credit card bills) *Working at least half the year with income below poverty threshold
Profile of the Working Poor: • Work Full time (60% of total) • Female (6% rate vs. 4.7% for men) • Younger (10% rate for 20-24 age group vs. 2.9% for 55-64 yr. group) • White (70% of total although rates are at least twice as high for minorities) • Poorly educated (14.1% for those who did not complete HS vs. 1.7% for college grads) • Single mothers (22.5% rate) • Concentrated in three industry/occupational groupings: • Service (30% of total) • Sales and office • Production, transportation, material moving Or: Young single mothers in service jobs
What does this have to do with organizational behavior? Population profile differs markedly from samples used in organizational research In OB, three primary categories of “subjects” a. College undergraduates b. Managerial and professional workers c. Unionized, blue-collar workers
Can we generalize our theories and findings to populations that: • Are concentrated in jobs that are closely monitored and controlled? • Have fewer employment alternatives? • Are demographically dissimilar from our samples? • Often live in a state of deprivation? • Have a higher frequency and more consequential off-work problems? • Have higher incidence and severity of both physical and mental health problems? • Generally are losers rather than winners in the larger society, regardless of whether or not they “play by the rules” • Perform work tasks whose impact is often invisible – only recognized in their absence (social support; interpersonal smoothing; client well-being; bacteria)
Are the fundamental assumptions of our theories appropriate? • Motivation/ Incentives • Empowerment/ Power & Influence • Justice/ Fairness • Attraction and Retention • Leadership • Attachments, Psychological Contracts • Stress • Efficacy
Some insights (but not conclusions!) based on our current work: • Often very high levels of emotional labor and stress in low wage jobs (e.g., frontline service workers). • Although low paying and low status, such jobs often carry a great deal of discretion in terms of how the day-to-day tasks are carried out (e.g., child care workers). • Workers often have more discretion in lower-quality workplaces (e.g., nursing homes; child care centers) • Work-family issues are even more important to this workforce because: • Domestic problems more substantial and more frequent • Can’t purchase substitutes (e.g., child care) • Flexibility may be as important to attracting and retaining these workers as to their higher-paid counterparts but it will look very different (leaving early to attend to a sick child vs. flexible work tasks).
Some insights (but not conclusions!) based on current work (cont.): • Performance initiatives based on research from other populations may not be effective (e.g., quality improvement efforts in nursing homes) • Intrinsic rewards cannot substitute for extrinsic rewards • Discretion and pay may be negatively related in low-wage industries (e.g., child care). • Variety of coping strategies • Change representation of job to others (to enhance status) • Strive to be “good employee” and “good person” (acceptance) • Hostility toward authority and illogical/wrong directives (reactance) • Palliative coping (positive and negative) – social support; substance abuse
Do you have ideas on . . . • WHERE there are other examples/ contexts • Alternative ways of conceptualizing HOW the working poor are different from more traditional OB research subjects • A more refined framework for articulating WHY the working poor may be different in terms of organizational behavior. • What are the mediating/intervening factors (e.g., Does deprivation take so much energy that it’s difficult to focus on work? Does inherent and constant inequity lead to a loss of belief in a work system that works for them?)