Marie-Hélène Budworth

Associate Professor of Human Resource Management, specializing in learning, development & motivation.

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Fun at work?

February 13th, 2019 · Comments Off on Fun at work? · Uncategorized

I read an interesting article recently about fun and learning.  It was written by Tews, Michel, and Noe and published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.  The general finding was that fun activities at work promote learning from one another in informal ways, while having a manager who promotes fun encourages learning from oneself.  In essense, there appears to be an opportunity to encourage informal learning processes by injecting fun into work settings through various structures.

While I find the ‘fun’ angle interesting, I am particularly interested in mechanisms that can support information learning.  At risk of revealing a pretty huge bias, I view learning as core to success for both the individual and the organization.  Building organizational cultures that value learning and local climates that support learning is a way through the challenges that come with the breakneck pace of change and progress.  With that in mind,  another message from this article is that we should be hiring and promoting managers who are able to support and encourage informal learning processes, and that might just be by identifying people who are able to encourage a little bit of playfulness – both by supporting ‘fun’ and creating opportunities for ‘fun.’  Of course, this would not be without other important managerial skills, but it is something to think about.

It is interesting that fun is part of the curriculum in junior and secondary education.  It is quickly dropped from our academic experience once we hit ‘serious’ study.  The closer we get to being career ready, the greater the disconnect between fun and learning.  While I am naturally inclined to inject a little humour where I can in class, I avoid the ‘silliness’ that accompanies truly ‘fun’ activities.  Perhaps I also need to reconsider this practice as I continue to develop my teaching skills.


Stagnating during a job search?

January 8th, 2019 · Comments Off on Stagnating during a job search? · Uncategorized

I am working on a submisison to one of the largest conferences in the management area, the Academy of Management, to be held in Boston in August.  In this research, my colleagues Jennifer Harrison and Mike Halinski and I followed a sample of 142 people who were actively job seeking over a three-week period.  We looked at a group of job search behaviours in order to determine factors that predicted success in acquiring a job.

The literature has long differentiated between preparatory and active job search.  In the preparatory phase, people engage in activities that could broadly be defined as exploratory.  For example, they might ask relatives and friends whether they know of any job leads.  In the active phase, the individual is directly invovled in activities that could result in being hired.  For example, they might participate in a job interview.  While the literature has distinguished between these phases, there is less written about how to successfully transition between them.

In our work, we found that it is possible to stagnate in the preparatory phase.  Planning for too long can trap you there.  It is important to move beyond the preparatory stage to the active phase because it is only these activities that will ultimately get you a job.  We also found that goal setting intention was important for moving from the active to the preparatory stage, and job search intensity was important for moving from preparatory to active job search.  In other words, goal setting, while important for helping you set your sites appropriately, can get you stuck in planning.  At the same time, the more time you spend on job search overall, will facilitate your transition from preparatory activities to active job search.

So the bottom line is, if you are engaged in a job search, ensure that you set your sites and then move efficiently into the active phase where you are out meeting people, submitting applications, and getting closer to employers.  We also reiterate the age old advice that if you are job searching, it should be your full-time job.  The more time you spend job search, the more likely you are to transition easily into the active job search phase where it is possible to ultimately find employment.


Magical Data

March 28th, 2018 · Comments Off on Magical Data · Uncategorized


For the past few years, I have attended a conference at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania each spring.  It is always interesting and energizing. Given that it is a practitioner oriented conference, it gives me a chance to hear from leaders in various fields.  This year’s keynotes included Mary Bara, CEO of GM, Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO of Slack (formerly of Flickr), and Howie Roseman, VP of the Philadelphia Eagles.  And while the talks from these giants are clearly interesting and insightful, there are always a few ‘stars’ that quietly inspire.  This year was no different.

The theme of the conference is data.  What can you do with data?  And every once in a while, the answer is that you can do something magical.

A clear stand out for me this year was the work being done at Crisis Text Line.  In a short, 15 minute talk, Bob Filbin reminded me of the power and potential of data analytics.  Bob and his team at Crisis Text Line have spent the last five years dedicated to helping and saving the lives of young people in trouble.  In 2013, Nancy Lublin made the simple observation that young people prefer to communicate using texts, and decided to build a crisis intervention service that spoke to young people on this platform.  Bob went on to describe how the, using data from historical texts, they were able to develop algorithms that allowed them to quickly identify and respond to individuals at dire risk.  There were simple yet power findings.  For example, the presence of ‘tylenol’ or ‘advil’ in the initiating text almost always signalled an active suicide event.  Today, the service saves 20 people’s lives EVERY day.  The algorithm allows them to detect high risk cases with 86% accuracy in just 39 seconds.  I am in awe.

This year’s conference was a wonderful reminder that not all data is about the bottom line, general performance improvement or the like.  Understanding patterns in human behaviour can support amazing and impressive outcomes.  As I plan projects for the coming year, I will keep this example in mind.


The performance appraisal debate continues

January 29th, 2018 · Comments Off on The performance appraisal debate continues · Uncategorized

Over the past year, I have spent much of my time pondering the performance management function within organizations.  This is the topic that I am asked to speak on, consult about, or write about the most.  As you may recognize from earlier Blogs, my interest in performance mangament is indirect.  I have a longstaning interest in learning, development, and as an extention, developmental relationships.  Over 3 longitudinal studies, I have looked at ways to change the conversations managers have with their employees in order to support positive, productive communications that lead to motivation and high functioning individuals and teams.  That said, there are two truths that I have come to believe underlie all research and practice in this area.

  1. Good managers don’t need systems to manage performance.

As I sat on a panel with Ed Lawler at the Academy of Management last summer, he repeated this often overlooked fact.  After hours of talking about structured conversations, performance mangement tools, and measurement systems, Dr. Lawler noted with frustration something we all know – good managers are good at this stuff. Period.  An extention of this fact is that if we focus our efforts on transitioning people to managment roles, train managers effectively, and set up managerial roles to prioritize the act of people leadership, all of this fuss about performance management goes away.  But we all know that despite our best effors, having managers firing on all cylinders all of the time is simply not possible.  As such, we continue to need systems that ensure employees are guided, developed and essentially don’t fall through the cracks.  And that leads me to the second truth.

2. If you can develop a performance management system that people don’t hate, you have won.

There are few people who truly love receiving feedback about their performance all of the time.  Research has shown generally low satisfaction with performance managment systems in general.  What does matter is that employees feel supported by managers, and that they believe whatever system is in place to distribute resources is fair and just.  The perception of fairness has been shown to be more important that fairness itself.

So while it might seem discouraging, as you consider all of the interesting and compelling advance in this area (e.g., crowdsourced feedback, strength based feedback, using technology), keep two things in mind.  First, ensure your managers have employee development in mind, that they are trained, and they feel prepared to engage their staff.  Second, communicate your intentions, be clear on the process, and ensure that you develop solutions everyone can live with.



Don’t you have the summer off?

June 28th, 2017 · Comments Off on Don’t you have the summer off? · Uncategorized

Summer is here!  And no, I do not have the summer off.  Teaching is only a part of what I do.  In fact, it is supposed to represent just over 1/3 of my commitment to the university.  When I am not teaching, I am either conducting research or supporting the functioning of the university by serving on committees and in administrative positions.  That said, the summer schedule is a little more flexible than at other times of year.  I try to get as much done on my research as possible.  It is easier to write when I have large blocks of uninterrupted time.  This summer, I plan on finalizing two manuscripts on reserch regarding job search among recent university graduates and one piece on modesty and gender.  Admittedly, some of this will be written on docks in Prince Edward County, Bancroft, and Prince Edward Island.

When I am not writing, I will be reading.  I have assembled my reading list for the summer and I am anxious to dig in.  A few of the books I intend to get through are on my e-reader but I also have a number of good old fashioned paper copies (see image).  Yes, there are four cookbooks in this list.  I love to work my way through cookbooks as if they are novels.  I find them inspiring.  Having to cook for a young family is tedious unless I find ways to renew my connection with the craft.  Beyond the cookbooks, there are fiction and non-fiction selections.  Some of the fiction is relevant to my research – written by academics for the general public – and other works are far outside of my area of expertise.

Of all of the books on my list, I am especially looking forward to reading Just Like Family by Kate Hilton.  Kate is a dear friend of mine who’s first book The Whole in the Middle spent some time on the Globe and Mail best seller list.  I hate to brag but I have some pretty awesome friends.

Best wishes to you for both a productive and restful summer.  I’ll plan to drop a line from some Canadian lakeside retreat.


Your best asset in today’s job market: Resilience

March 15th, 2017 · Comments Off on Your best asset in today’s job market: Resilience · Uncategorized

Last year my former graduate student and current research colleague Jennifer Harrison and I followed a group of new graduates during the early phases of their job search. We collected a set of measures at planned intervals to capture their progress and experience during the process.  In particular, we were interested in what personal characteristics provided support over what was certain to be a lengthy and challenging search.  I am currently organizing our findings in preparation for a paper.

As this generation emerges in to the job market, they face a particular challenge.  First, the labour market has changed.  There has been movement away from full-time, permanent employment to contingent work arrangements.  Second, the relationship between the individual and work has changed.  Studies have demonstrated that emergent workers are searching for meaningful work rather than simply looking for an entry level position from which they can grow a career.  In other words, expectations for a first job have changed relative to earlier generations who searched for an organization where they could spend a career.    Third, the education level of the population has increased.  More people are graduating with Bachelor’s degrees increasing the competition for jobs among this population.  The result is that emergent workers are facing the most competitive job market for young people that we have seen in generations.

In our study, we looked at whether factors such as hope, optimism, resilience, and self-efficacy would support emergent workers as they faced the challenge of today’s job market.  These are all related yet distinct constructs. Each has enjoyed some popular appeal lately.  With the rise of “positivity,” many articles and books have been written on the benefits of each of these variables.  Yet, to date, research has not distinguished among them and determined their utility in specific contexts.

The research tells us quite clearly that there are times when positive thinking is counterproductive.  For instance, when faced with adversity, people who had a positive outlook are less likely to overcome the challenge when compared to those who view the upcoming event as a challenge to be overcome.  These studies have led us to predict that factors such as optimism and hope would be less helpful on a prolonged job search.  We predicted that resilience, bouncing back when faced with failure, and self-efficacy, confidence in one’s ability to complete a task, would be the best predictors of success.  The early data is supporting our hypothesis regarding resilience, but the same is not true for self-efficacy.

The early results indicate that resiliency will buoy a job searcher over the long haul.  So when preparing for a job search, update your resume, plan your networking and actively work on improving your response to failure.  Rising to the challenge and responding to adversity are key to success in today’s job market.


Thinking about the past, present, and future

March 6th, 2017 · Comments Off on Thinking about the past, present, and future · Uncategorized

I read somewhere that there is no past, present, and future only memory, perception, and anticipation.  Despite my best efforts to track down this quote, I cannot find the source.  However, I find the message quite powerful all the same.  There has been no other time when this idea has been more obvious to me than today, in our “post-factual” world.

In reading today’s headlines there are two possible extreme outlooks that one can take – either everyone is lying or no one is.  A pretty solid middle-ground would be that everyone is telling their own truth(ish).

The brain is a complex thing and the memory systems within it, even more so.  We put a lot of stock in our brain’s ability to accurately  observe the world, encode that information, and then retrieve it at will.   Memory scientists will caution that errors can be made at any point in this system.  We do not play back a videotape of events, rather we pull up a rough image of our experiences where the very act of recalling the event can alter how it is encoded.  My favourite example of the fragility of recall is exemplified in a study by Elizabeth Loftus and her colleague John Palmer.  In this study, participants watched a video of an automobile accident and were subsequently asked to recall details.  The question used to prompt recall varied from “About how fast were the cars going when they hit” to “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed?”.  Individuals in the ‘smashed’ conditions reported that the cars were travelling significantly faster than in the ‘hit’ condition and were more likely to report that there was glass on the ground around the automobile – when there was in fact none.

Our memory of yesterday, perception of today, and anticipation of what will happen tomorrow is coloured by a wide range of contextual factors, including our beliefs and values.  In that way, ‘truth’ is a moving target altered by the lens through which one views the world.


Moral licensing and the state of America

February 16th, 2017 · Comments Off on Moral licensing and the state of America · Uncategorized

A phenomenon has been observed in the social sciences whereby people who initially behave in a moral way subsequently exhibit behaviors that are immoral, unethical, or otherwise problematic.  The tendency has been demonstrated in a range of important contexts such as hiring, charitable donations, and consumer behaviour.  For example, if Tom donates to charity today, he might find it less problematic to ‘forget’ to claim some of his income on a tax submission tomorrow.  While this might be an intuitive finding, it is surprising to social science researchers who have largely found that people want to behave in ways that are consistent with their values and with their past behaviours.  Yet, we still see this exception across a range of domains.

In an incredibly interesting study, Daniel Effron of the London School of Business demonstrated that people were more likely to favour White job applicants over Black job applicants after having had the opportunity to endorse Barack Obama as president.  In other words, supporting Obama gave these individuals moral credit that they could then use to justify future prejudiced behaviour.

I have been thinking about this study and the general idea of psychological licensing broadly, and moral licensing in particular, as I have been watching what has gone on in the United States.  The politics of conservatism and liberalism aside, there has been a heightening and highlighting of ‘us versus them’ tensions.  The current US government ran on a platform of and has introduced policy to ‘build walls’ and ‘ban’ entire groups of people from the country in the name of nationalism and security.    This is such an incredible shift from the previous administration that it has left me searching for answers.  I don’t believe there is one single answer.

Moral licensing is an individual level phenomenon.  It cannot be used to explain a nation’s political shift.  Nor would I categorize an entire government as the ‘moral choice.’  Yet, I do believe there is something compelling here.  Could we have had Trump without Obama?  Could Trump have followed McCain?  Doubtful.


Migrant workers in Canada

May 11th, 2016 · Comments Off on Migrant workers in Canada · Uncategorized

I have been working on a series of studies with my co-author, Dr. Sara Mann from the University of Guelph.  Together we have had some really interesting experiences looking at migrant workers on farms in Ontario.

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program gets a lot of bad press.  I will not review the criticisms here as I am certain you are either aware of them or a quick google search will get you up to speed.  In our relationship with the program, we are not focussed on it from a policy angle or from a immigration standpoint.  Nor are we looking at single cases where it is easy to find some pretty difficult stories.  We are hoping to look at the program more broadly in order to gain an understanding of what this type of work arrangement means for foreign workers, their families at home, and the communities wherein those families reside.  On the flip side, we are also interested in looking at the individual farmers and the communities within Ontario (where this project is based) in order to understand the impact of the work arrangement on the work and home lives of the employers.

So far, as part of this project, Sara and I have had a chance to spend time with farmers in Ontario who hire Foreign Workers, and sit through a series of meetings with Caribbean governments around the details of the program.  The experience has been nothing short of fascinating.  There are so many issues to explore – immigration versus migration, secondary economies, quality of life.  We are at the very early stages of our work so I am reluctant to share any ‘findings.’  I can say that there are many people who feel very strongly about this program and Canada’s role in supporting the movement of labour in this way.  When I tell people we are working on this project, they almost immediately reflect on the stories they have heard from the media.  These stories are certainly important, however, I am not convinced they represent a complete picture.  In today’s global marketplace, there are many models for employment and all need to be examined from many perspectives in a balanced and careful manner.  I will keep you posted on our work!


The Art of Doodling

May 11th, 2016 · Comments Off on The Art of Doodling · Uncategorized

me!_1I did a doodling workshop last Friday. It was offered by Carolyn Ellis of Brilliance Mastery.  It was creative and fun and engaging; a great way to spend a Friday.  I took the workshop largely because I enjoy being creative and wanted to find ways to inject some creativity into my work life.  I have read the books on this topic by Sunni Brown and Dan Roam.  They have done some interesting work on injecting creativity into team collaboration and leadership skill development.  It is intriguing.  There is a literature on arts based leadership development.  My colleague Soosan Latham has contributed to this research.  The thing with doodling in the style of Ellis, Brown and Roam is that it is a bit playful.  The techniques do not take themselves terribly seriously.  This makes is accessible to a wide audience.

So now I need to figure out how I will use doodling.  At a minimum, I will enhance my classroom presentations.  I am hoping I can use some ‘live doodling’ to make classroom discussions more engaging.  There is a science to support the use of blackboards and whiteboards in learning.

I will let you know how it goes!