Research is the intellectual backbone of Wharton People Analytics. We partner with dynamic organizations across a range of industries to understand how frontline workers, culture, collaboration, and remote and hybrid work impact the organization and their employees. Our research processes range from analysis of existing data sources, to carefully designed assessment studies and experiments.
This time commitment required for research partnerships varies depending on the scope of the project. The simplest studies might take a few months to a year, while some are many years in the making. The payoff is a set of ideas and interventions that equip organizational leaders, as well as individuals, with well-tested insights into how to achieve their goals.
Frontline workers are critical to the success of many organizations—but they can be difficult to retain, especially when they are offered few opportunities for advancement. These missed opportunities undermine workers’ career development, thwart socioeconomic mobility, and leave organizations prone to key worker shortages.
Our research seeks to answer several questions: What are the career paths that can help frontline workers grow upward and/or outward from their organizations? And if we can identify and clear some of the key barriers to advancement, how might that change the makeup of the frontline workforce and the outcomes they are able to generate?
Culture & Collaboration
How can we create workplaces where people can help one another without sacrificing their success? What can leaders do to drive the performance of their orgs without driving their people into the ground?
Our research seeks to find new ways to understand culture and find the practices and tools that will promote cultures of productive and rewarding generosity.
Remote and Hybrid Work
Many organizations are wrestling with what feels like a growing tension: Can we offer employees flexible work arrangements while maintaining a strong culture of connection—or do we have to choose one? It’s clear that employees want to maintain at least some freedom with where and when they work. At the same time, though, many organizations still remain concerned about lost productivity, decreased well-being, and challenges with relationship-building.
Our research seeks to understand the complex dynamics that affect the multiple goals remote and hybrid workplaces are trying to balance. In doing so, we aim to provide research-based best practices for addressing the organizational challenges posed by flexible work arrangements.
We partnered with a global organization to design an evidence-based online diversity training and test its effects of on attitudes and behaviors toward women and racial minorities. This field experiment included the development of a novel intervention and multiple new measures, and it featured participation from more than 3K employees globally. The scientific results were published in the leading academic journal PNAS, and we also wrote about key insights for Harvard Business Review.
Well-Being and Burnout
We ran a series of studies around employee well-being / burnout with a global professional services firm. One study tested whether employees could improve their own well-being by offering advice to their colleagues, and another examined the effects of an existing well-being training program. The largest of these studies was a field experiment of more than 10K employees in 5 countries, where we found that a brief reframing intervention could nudge employees to use more of their paid time off benefits. We are currently analyzing data from a follow-up study with more than 1000 employees at another international organization. We described some implications of our preliminary results from these studies in an article for The Atlantic at the start of the COVID pandemic.
A project is currently underway with a large technology company to study ways to improve brainstorming in hybrid and remote work teams. More than 2K employees have already participated, and the study is allowing us to (a) test specific hypotheses around brainstorming best practices, (b) investigate some causes and consequences of employee attitudes about and experiences with remote / hybrid work, and (c) explore themes in more than 4K employee-generated ideas for creative ways to improve flexible work.
We developed novel assessments of employee motivation for multiple for-profit and non-profit organizations, particularly focusing on how and how much employees want to help people in their work. We’ve written about some of this work in Harvard Business Review.
Internal Mobility and Advancement
Working with a global investment bank, we studied internal mobility to examine its impacts on performance and promotions. We analyzed company-wide personnel data and conducted a survey to understand people’s experiences of mobility. The results informed their strategy for promoting internal moves and led to the development of further research we have done on lateral mobility.
Project Portfolios and Career Success
A study with a large services firm of internal career patterns with a focus on understanding the kinds of project portfolios that help people be promoted to the highest level. The results of that analysis are helping inform employees about what kinds of project experiences are associated with success. They are also being used in an academic study that has been invited to be revised at the leading academic journal, Management Science.
Effective Staffing Strategies
An extensive study with a large healthcare company to compare the effectiveness of different staffing strategies. This involved detailed analysis of eight years of personnel data as well as a survey of new hires. The results were used to inform onboarding approaches. We have also published two studies using this data in the leading journals Organization Science and Academy of Management Journal, and a third publication that is conditionally accepted at Management Science.
Research is conducted in partnership with organizations who share our commitment to advancing evidence-based work places.
Atta Tarki and Cade Massey | Harvard Business Review
Hiring the best talent remains a persistent struggle for many companies. That’s because they are doing it wrong — often looking at the labor pool for carbon copies of people who are already successful in their roles.
Matthew A. Killingsworth, Daniel Kahneman, and Barbara Mellers | The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)
Do larger incomes make people happier? Two authors of the present paper have published contradictory answers. Does happiness rise with log (income) and then plateau beyond $75,000/y, as Kahneman found in 2010? Or does happiness rise steadily with log (income) without a plateau, as I’d found in 2021?
Matthew Bidwell, Kira Choi, and Isabel Fernandez-Mateo | Industrial and Labor Relations Review
The authors explore how career paths are shaped by the involvement of search firms in hiring. Drawing on theories of market intermediation, they argue that search firms constrain horizontal moves across functions and industries by favoring workers from within the same function and industry as the role being filled.