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Variable schedules harm workers and businesses

Managers who rely on less stable variable work schedules experience higher turnover, due to the negative impact on workers’ economic security, health and work–life balance.

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Variable work schedules – which employers increasingly use to maximize profits amid unpredictable market conditions – can actually undermine organizational performance, especially in crisis periods such as the pandemic, according to Cornell University research.

In a new study, doctoral student Hyesook Chung found that managers who rely on less stable variable work schedules experience higher turnover, due to the negative impact on workers’ economic security, health and work–life balance.

Additionally, Chung found the effect is likely to be more striking during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, since household financial and health-related distress is likely to be higher, and social systems that provide support are under duress. This higher store-level turnover, in turn, reduces the store’s financial performance, increasingly so as the crisis unfolds, she said.

“Tension between employers’ need for flexibility and employees’ need for predictability raises the question of whether or how the use of variable scheduling affects business outcomes,” Chung wrote in the study, “Variable Work Schedules, Unit-Level Turnover, and Performance Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic” which published online March 14 in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

For decades, employers have altered the number and timing of employees’ work hours on a daily or weekly basis in order to respond quickly to changing conditions. Chung studied the impact of this practice by integrating insights from literature on flexible staffing, turnover and organizational resilience, with data from 1,678 stores of a U.S.-based fast-food restaurant chain.

“Research in the last decade has built a convincing theoretical and empirical record that workers in units with variable work schedules suffer from unstable earnings, negative mental and physical health outcomes, and work-life conflicts,” wrote Chung, a student in the field of human resources.

These factors, she said, lead to higher rates of turnover, more so during the height of COVID-19, as employees faced greater financial insecurity, work–life conflicts and lower well-being triggered by variable schedules.

Higher rates of turnover come with substantial costs in the best of times, she said, but during a crisis such as the pandemic, that turnover can lessen a company’s ability to adapt to the competitive and regulatory changes in the business environment.

Human resources theory suggests that flexible staffing can hedge against volume and demand uncertainty, but through this study, Chung found that its value can expire if overused because variable work schedules can beget another source of uncertainty: loss of human capital due to high turnover.

“This study has practical implications for managers,” Chung said. “While variable work scheduling may provide short-term solutions to demand volatility, managers should recognize their potential negative impacts on both workers and business performance.

“The findings suggest that managers need to rethink the implication of the environmental disruption (COVID-19 in this study) with respect to the use of certain HR practices,” she said. “In particular, the loss of human capital resulting from the use of flexible staffing practices may be a roadblock for firms seeking to bounce back from adversity.”

For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

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Emojis make tourism advertising on social media more effective, appealing

The use of emojis in online messages about tourism destinations facilitates processing and reduces ambiguity, especially when the recipients encounter content with low levels of congruence.

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The use of congruent messages and emojis when promoting tourist destinations on social media leads to greater user attention. This strategy helps users to process the information effectively and reduces their cognitive effort. More specifically, the use of emojis in online messages about tourism destinations facilitates processing and reduces ambiguity, especially when the recipients encounter content with low levels of congruence.

This is according to a research – “The effect of online message congruence, destination-positioning, and emojis on users’ cognitive effort and affective evaluation” – that was published in the Journal of Destination Marketing & Management.

The study, which was carried out at the University of Granada’s Mind, Brain and Behaviour Research Centre (CIMCYC), consisted of an experiment using eye-tracking techniques on 60 users of the social network Facebook. These individuals underwent a series of experimental procedures in which the researchers manipulated the level of congruence between the messages of those posting and the users, the use or omission of emojis in the content, and the way in which the tourist destination was positioned in the media (natural environment, gastronomy, hotels, sun and beach).

The UGR research team, which includes Beatriz García Carrión, Francisco Muñoz Leiva, Salvador del Barrio García and Lucia Porcu, point out that the study “clearly illustrates the benefits in terms of the effectiveness of using congruent messages in marketing communications in general, and especially in digital communications via social media, as well as how the use of emojis contributes to improving users’ information processing, increasing their attention and reducing the cognitive effort involved. Moreover, congruent messages not only facilitate users’ information processing, but also improve their affective evaluation — a crucial aspect when it comes to making a decision on a tourist destination.”

The key findings included:

  • Importance of maintaining a high level of congruence in the information they convey through social media. As the researchers explain: “This involves systematically reviewing and managing comments across all communication channels to identify any comments that do not align with the destination’s desired positioning, with a view to mitigating potential negative effects.”
  • Pictorial representations (emojis) significantly enhance the overall comprehension of the information. However, the study did not find a significant impact of emojis on the formation of affective evaluations.
  • Tourism managers should focus on information related to the destination’s gastronomy and natural environment, rather than more conventional aspects such as sun and beach facilities or hotel offerings, as the former attract more attention and are perceived more favorably, even under low levels of congruence.

The research findings suggest a shift in the preferences of potential consumers towards more nature-based tourism. “Therefore, tourism managers should place greater emphasis on communicating aspects related to the environment and sustainability of the tourist destination in their social media posts, thereby reaping benefits in terms of visual attention and affective evaluations,” the researchers stressed.

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Study shows corporate misconduct at home hurts sales overseas

Consumers and investors increasingly read about unethical business practices globally and demonstrate their displeasure locally.

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New research in the Global Strategy Journal has bad news for companies struggling with corruption, discrimination, or sweatshops in their supply chain: corporate misconduct demonstrably hurts international sales. Consumers and investors increasingly read about unethical business practices globally and demonstrate their displeasure locally.

“Socially irresponsible acts transcend geographic boundaries and negatively affect foreign subsidiary performance,” said Nuruzzaman Nuruzzaman of the University of Manchester, one of the study’s authors.

Nuruzzaman, along with co-authors Erin E. Makarius and Debmalya Mukherjee of the University of Akron and Ajai Gaur of Rutgers, monitored the sales growth of 335 subsidiaries in 109 countries over nine years. They charted the growth alongside the number of corporate social irresponsibility (CSI) incidents reported against parent companies. Social irresponsibility hurt subsidiaries’ sales whether incidents occurred internationally or in the parent company’s home country.

“We weren’t looking at incidents that were local to the subsidiary,” said Makarius. “We wanted to explore how much negative news spreads globally and how stakeholders react to incidents beyond their borders. The data shows the location of misconduct no longer seems to matter. There’s still significant negative impact.”

The study also explored whether creating distractions could buffer the consequences of a parent company’s bad behavior. The researchers compared two methods of strategic noise: marketing campaigns and product innovations. Promotions, contests, and sales showed little ability to curb reputational damage, but introducing two or more product or service innovations could flip sales growth in a positive direction despite CSI incidents.    

“Perhaps consumers perceive marketing campaigns as hollow responses,” Mukherjee said. “Because innovation is more costly, it may create a stronger positive impact.”

While the study demonstrates that subsidiaries do have agency against negative media coverage of their parents’ activities, the authors emphasize that the larger takeaway concerns the potential fallout from CSI. Managers at parent companies and their subsidiaries abroad should be aware that misconduct even in distant locations can quickly impact international sales performance.

“Given the adverse impact of CSI on global performance that this study shows, global corporations should strive to uphold and implement strong ethical and social responsibility standards throughout their global operations,” Gaur said. “Moreover, they should prioritize transparent communications with subsidiaries so they can quickly mitigate the negative impact of socially irresponsible activities.”

To read the full context of the study and its statistical modeling methods, access the full paper available in the Global Strategy Journal.

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Cultivating relationships with former employees important – study

One of the biggest mistakes employers make is not supporting workers on their way out, and then turning around and saying they want to stay in touch.

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For many people, leaving a job can be like leaving a family — and because of the personal and professional bonds they’ve forged, many naturally stay in touch with their former coworkers and keep apprised of what’s happening in the organization.

But what happens when companies make a concerted effort to bolster those bonds, help former employees in their careers and keep them in the loop? According to new research from the UBC Sauder School of Business, it can have big benefits for both employees and employers.

For the paper, researchers studied a wide range of businesses — from top law firms to Starbucks — to understand why organizations are putting time and resources into solidifying ties with ex-employees, also known as alumni.

The researchers propose that alumni-organization relationships (AORs) are particularly important to companies because alumni have a unique mix of insider knowledge and outside-world information and contacts. This can be valuable if employees return as contractors, or move on to companies that might do business with their former employer. Companies can also gain a boost to branding and reputation because maintaining these relationships shows they support employees even after they move on.

“Traditionally, AORs were most common in professional service firms. But as it becomes more common for workers to job hop over the course of their career, we are seeing more organizations investing in relationships with alumni,” said UBC Sauder assistant professor Dr. Rebecca Paluch.

For some organizations, AORs help generate new business. Many law firms support AORs because junior lawyers move on and end up in general counsel roles new organizations. If they need to hire outside counsel, the continuing relationship with their former employer may encourage them to hire that firm.

Companies like Starbucks appreciate the fact that AORs boost their brand image in the community. “They call all of their stores ‘third communities’ because they want to make people feel welcome and like they’re part of something when they visit the stores,” said Dr. Paluch, who co-authored the study with Dr. Christopher Zatzick of Simon Fraser University and Dr. Lisa Nishii of Cornell University. “AORs are in line with the overall branding of building community and keeping people connected.”

Programs that support AORs can offer a variety of benefits to alumni, including newsletters and updates about alumni and the company, career resources, job boards, training and development opportunities and in-person networking.

One of the primary challenges in forming AORs is there is no set playbook, said Dr. Paluch. There are established norms for employee management when it comes to practices like hiring, compensation and benefits, but standard practices don’t exist for managing relationships with alumni after they move on.

In order to develop successful AORs, organizations need to think about their outreach to alumni through broad communication with a wide-range of alumni as well as strategically target alumni who can bring back the most value to the company. It’s also important to encourage current employees to stay in contact with alumni so they can help bring knowledge and resources back into the organization.

The most successful programs, she adds, involve input from former workers. “It’s important to make sure the organization is getting alumni feedback so they’re meeting their needs and not just offering things because some other company is doing it,” advised Dr. Paluch.

One of the biggest mistakes employers make is not supporting workers on their way out, and then turning around and saying they want to stay in touch. “If employees are having terrible exit experiences, then it shouldn’t be surprising if they don’t want to stay in touch after they leave.”

The idea of cultivating relationships between alumni and organizations might seem counterintuitive because it can make leaving more palatable, said Dr. Paluch. But savvy companies realize today’s workers are highly mobile, so it makes sense to keep a positive relationship even after they’re gone.

“We’ve been seeing tenure decline over the past few decades, and most employees move on to a new company after four or five years,” said Dr. Paluch. “Strategically, organizations might as well consider, ‘If we can’t keep them in the organization, how can we at least keep them connected to the organization?’”

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