Marie-Hélène Budworth

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

Marie-Hélène Budworth

Feminine Modesty

February 16th, 2016 · Comments Off on Feminine Modesty · Uncategorized


Last night the Grammy’s were awarded in Los Angeles.  Taylor Swift won for album of the year, for a second time.  Her acceptance speech was all over social media this morning.  Most reviewers called it a rebuff to Kanye West, who famously jumped on stage after her win at the VMAs to announce to the audience that Beyonce “had one of the best videos of all time.” Understandably, Swift did not know how to respond then, but she sure handled herself with confidence last night.  And today, she is a social media darling.

CENTURY CITY, CA - JANUARY 23:  Honoree Shonda Rhimes accepts the Norman Lear Achievement Award onstage at the 27th Annual Producers Guild Of America Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza on January 23, 2016 in Century City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Contrast Taylor Swift’s speech with the acceptance speech given by Shonda Rhimes after receiving the Producers Guild’s Norman Lear Award for Achievement in Television. “I’m going to be totally honest with you, I completely deserve this.”  And she does!  The speech was tongue and cheek.  She goes on to explain that she was not blazing trails but simply representing the world as it actually is.  When you really listen to the content of the speech, it is incredibly modest, almost self-deprecating.

Both speeches were given by incredibly successful women, leaders in their fields.  Taylor Swift accepts that she is the master of her own success while Rhimes argues that she was doing ‘nothing special.’  Both have a clear message for other women, be strong and show your stuff.  I found these both to be interesting examples because one is clearly confident and the other clearly modest.

There is a phenomenon is social science that I have written about before, the feminine modesty effect.  Typically women underrepresent their accomplishments relative to men.  Similarly, women who self-promote often experience backlash, suffering social consequences.  From these two isolated cases, Swift has managed to take full responsibility for her success and still maintain her image as a likeable celebrity.  How did she do that?  Could Shonda Rhimes have succeeded with the same strategy?


Fresh start

February 16th, 2016 · Comments Off on Fresh start · Uncategorized


This Blog has really been a learning experience for me. I used to believe that there was time for everything; that if you were motivated enough, you could fit anything in. Well, that has been truly tested over the last several years.

Since 2008, I have been working in significant administrative roles at the University. Since 2011, I have been dealing with the illness of more than one family member. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to keep up with my writing as much as I would have hoped. And this is not isolated to the Blog. I have other projects that I feel have taken me longer than planned. For a while, I blamed my age, believing that engagement in my work was more difficult beyond my 20s. I was tired.

In recent months, as things have not improved, but become less taxing and as I look toward the end of my term as Director of the School of HRM, I feel my voice returning. I have something to say again and I am glad to have this platform to try out my ideas.

Stay tuned to this Blog for my half-baked ideas, thoughts, and general musings on things I observe everyday. And don’t forget to comment! Thanks for sticking around.



Unconscious goals

November 20th, 2014 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized


My mentor and former doctoral supervisor, Gary Latham, visited the School of HRM last week and gave a talk to the MHRM alumni group where he reviewed his recent research on unconscious goals.  As always, it was an insightful, and entertaining, presentation.

Gary’s work on unconscious goal setting is an extension of research in social psychology where John Bargh, Peter Gollwitzer and colleagues examined how people can be ‘primed’ using signals in the environment.  In a classic study within this paradigm, study participants solved anagrams for words that either focussed on the elderly (e.g., grey hair, senior citizen) or were neutral in content.  Participants who solved the anagrams that primed for ‘elderly’ walked out of the experiment room more slowly than those in the control condition.

Gary and Amanda Shantz, his doctoral student at the time, asked the question: can we prime people for achievement?  Amanda went down to union station in Toronto and asked people to perform a classic innovation task (i.e., come up with as many uses as you can for this object).  Superimposed on the question sheet, she had an athlete, a runner crossing the finish line.  When people completed the task on the page with the runner in the background, they performed better than those who did not have the image on their paper.  The take away from this study was that it is possible to ‘prime’ people for high performance by showing them an image of someone performing at a high level.  Gary has gone on to conduct more studies in this area.  For example, a similar study demonstrated that an image can motivate call centre employees to raise funds.  He also found that we can prime achievement goals as well as learning goals (e.g., come up with 3 new ways to solve this problem).

In practice, these are interesting findings in that they provide some insight into how people can be motivated.  There are still many questions left unanswered – how long does the prime last?  if the prime is left in the environment does it inevitably stop working?  Can it be used to motivate people on complex tasks?

I am also struck by the possible subversive side of this line of study.  While Latham and Shantz are focussed on helping people improve their performance, does priming have a ‘dark side’?


Using Big Data to predict well-being

November 18th, 2014 · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Achievement concept in tag cloud

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr. Marty Seligman where he was awarded the inaugural Tang Foundation prize.  Dr. Seligman is a prominent psychology, past president of the American Psychological Association, creator of the modern day field of Positive Psychology.  In his lecture, he talked about where we have been as a field, where we are today, and where we are going.  I was particularly struck by his ideas around future research methods.

To date, the field of psychology has relied heavily on self-report measures.  In fact, a large part of the advancement of psychology as a science has been around rigorous measurement and assessment using paper and pencil measures.  Dr. Seligman argues that the days of self-report a numbered!  A bold statement when one considers the prominence of this method across the field.

A recent series of studies by Seligman and colleagues has found that Big Data might be a way forward in terms of deepening our understanding of psychological processes, particularly at the community or population level.  In his recent work, mined Twitter and Facebook posts for 45,000+ words used in updates.  The words that were searched focussed on affective states, positive and negative.  Specifically, he and his colleagues looked for well-being words and found that he could use the word clouds created by these feeds to predict heart disease within communities.  In sum, when words associated with well-being were used at a higher level within a community, that community suffered less heart disease relative to commutes where these words were used less frequently.  The interesting thing about this finding is that young people were the ones tweeting and updating their Facebook status while older people were the ones suffering from heart disease!  The wellness of the young people predicted heart disease among older individuals?!

In Dr. Seligman’s words, we are moving toward being able to predict well-being at the community, and eventually country level, by looking at data available through social media.

There are clear applications of Big Data for organizational behaviour and HRM.  What are the factors that drive innovation and creativity?  What are the features of an organizations culture?  This information can be gather by the way in which we communicate – the language used in emails, intranet posts, speeches, publications.  What other questions can be answered by Big Data within organizations?



July 22nd, 2014 · Comments Off on Passion · Uncategorized

I had one of THOSE moments over the weekend.  With a title such as passion, this likely requires significant qualification.

As an academic, I have the enormous privilege of attending conferences and speaking with thought leaders in my field.  Last week, the Canadian Positive Psychology Association hosted a conference in Ottawa where leading researchers and practitioners in positive psychology gathered to share ideas.  It was a monumental success.  I had inspiring experience after inspiring experience.  Our keynote speakers were particularly motivating – Sonja Lyubormirsky talked about the myth of happiness; Tim Kasser discussed materialism;  Michael Stegar presented on the meaning of life; and Robert Vallerand spoke about passion.  While I found all talks to be inspiring and insightful, I was particularly moved by Bob’s work on harmonious versus obsessive passion.

Across a large volume of studies, Bob has found that individuals who are harmoniously passionate about something (e.g., a sport, music, their work) enjoy outcomes such as positive emotion, achievement, quality relationships, and better health.  Individuals who are obsessively passionate suffer with psychological burn out, negative emotion, and poor connectedness to others.  In fact, he has found that obsessive passion can be the result of suffering in other domains of life.  In other words, we become obsessively passionate in order to compensate for things that are not going ‘right’ in our world.  I was fascinated by connections Bob made to job performance, activism, and general life satisfaction.  At the core of Bob’s model is the notion that in order to enjoy ‘optimal life functioning’ it is useful to have a passion that complements our lives rather than takes it over.

This conference sent me thinking and reading in a new direction.  I am completely jazzed by the experience.  There is a lot in this work that connects to some of my interests in motivation, self-efficacy, and strength based performance.  I already have a few research ideas percolating.  Stay tuned…


Neuroscience meets social science

June 4th, 2014 · 6 Comments · Uncategorized


I have been reading Matthew D. Lieberman‘s book, Social: Why our brains are wired to connect.  It is incredibly interesting. Lieberman describes scientific studies that use brain imaging technology to observe the neural pathways in the brain that are active as individuals perform certain tasks.  This type of work gives us great insight into how our social selves connect to more fundamental biological needs.  Neuroscience can help us to answer questions such as – what is important to us? what do we find pleasurable? and what do we find painful?

One of the questions that Lieberman examines is what does one ‘get’ out of altruistic behaviour.  Social scientists have been asking this question for some time.  In that literature, there is a theory that describes altruistic behaviour as having a number of outcomes for the ‘giver.’  This includes (1) feeling good because one is morally correct, (2) improving one’s self-concept because one can view oneself as a giver, and (3) enjoying the response or gratitude received after one gives.  In other words, we are not exactly altruistic.  We don’t give blindly with nothing in return.  We give because it feels good and because it makes us feel good about ourselves.

In neuroscience, the findings are quite similar.  When an individual behaves in altruistic ways, the part of the brain centre that lights up is the centre associated with ‘reward.’  This affirms the idea that doing something for others provides us with significant personal reward.  Amazing.

I find this exciting because it shows that neuroscience and social science can work together to explain and confirm social phenomenon.  This is what we would call methodologically a multi-method approach.  A theory has been developed and we can use many different approaches to find supporting evidence for the theory.  We can observe individual behaviour and we can also observe brain function.  So cool.  Now where can I find an MRI machine for my next study?


Finding meaning at work when suffering loss

May 15th, 2014 · 5 Comments · Uncategorized

This is a call for volunteers more than a Blog post.  My co-author, Kate Rowbotham and I are at the very beginning of a research project around how workers deal with personal loss.  As an initial step, I am looking to speak with one or two people who have suffered the loss of a friend or loved one while continuing to work.  This is not for participation in a formal study, it will be a semi-structured interview mainly centred on how you managed work and employment during that time.  It will help us to develop ideas around how to structure the research.  We recognize that it might be difficult to  participate in this discussion as it deals with highly personal content.

We are concerned with the interface between meaning of work and experiences with death and dying. At some point in an individual’s career, they are likely to experience the loss of a significant personal relationship through the death of the ‘other.’ It is precisely in these significant life events that individuals begin to question the importance of every aspect of their life, including work. Meaning is a tool used by the individual to impose stability in life. As life unfolds, individuals seek to fulfill needs for purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth. Various lines of research are concerned with the salience of work relative to the rest of one’s life.  Our long term plan is to explore how the experience of loss effects the individuals’ experience of working and their commitment to their jobs, organizations, and careers.

If you have any comments about the project, feel free to comment below.  If you are willing and able to speak with me briefly, please email me directly at


Overdoing your strengths

April 29th, 2014 · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Last week, the School of HRM hosted an event where Glain Roberts-McCabe of the Executive Roundtable shared her ideas about leadership – and she has a lot of them!  As the president and founder of this leadership development firm, Glain has worked with all kinds of leaders from a range of firms.  I asked Glain to comment on the ‘big errors’ otherwise smart leaders made regularly.  I found one of her answers particularly interesting.

Glain has observed that many leaders overplay their strengths!  This was interesting to me because of my focus on strength based interventions.  However, you can have too much of a good thing.  If we rely too much on our strengths, we can develop blind spots.  While on the surface this might seem obvious, it does lead to questions around striking the balance between leading through our strengths and developing our weaknesses.  

Strength based performance management interventions should complement existing feedback systems.  With these two structures in place, individuals will develop an understanding of what they do well while gaining insight into areas where they lack skills will have the best chance for success.  

Have you observed leaders overdoing their strengths?  I would like to collect examples of this phenomenon.  



The future of HRM

April 2nd, 2014 · 9 Comments · Uncategorized

A couple of weeks ago, I served as a judge for a case competition hosted by McMaster University.  The competition, Focus 2040, asked students to consider one simple question – what does HR look like in the future?  A larger field of competitors had been narrowed down to a group of 10 finalists.  Over the course of the day I viewed 10 separate presentations on this question.  It was an exciting and inspiring experience.  Exciting because of the energy and creativity demonstrated by the participants and inspiring due to the intelligence and consideration that each presenter infused in to their work.

We saw presentations with innovations such as work histories contained in biometric fingerprints, payments in cryto-currency, and remote working arrangements (even for factory workers) via the use of remote controlled  arms.  Some of these advancements are difficult to wrap our minds around but who would have predicted video-conferencing at the turn of the last century?  

One of my favourite presentations admitted that it would be impossible to predict the future and instead focussed on skills and organizational structures that would see us through a chaotic and fast paced business environment.  I appreciated this perspective and viewed it as the only plausible view to the question of predicting the future.  

What do you believe will guide the future of HRM?  Undoubtedly the two major forces in human capital management will continue to loom large, technology and globalization, simultaneously allowing us to be farther apart while bringing us together in new and unpredictable ways.  But what else?  I’m interested in hearing your views on HRM 2040.  


Positive Psychology

February 27th, 2014 · 9 Comments · Uncategorized

Yesterday, I gave a talk on positive psychology.  The aim was to create a buzz about the topic at York University and to get people excited about the upcoming Canadian Positive Psychology conference to be held in Ottawa.  As a Board member for the Canadian Positive Psychology Association, I have been anxiously looking forward to this conference.  We have an amazing program lined up with excellent keynote speakers and wonderful presentations.  Here is my plug to invite anyone reading this to consider attending!  

In case there are folks out there who are not yet familiar with Positive Psychology as a discipline, here is a short overview.  The term positive psychology originated with Maslow in his 1954 book, Motivation and Personality.  At the time, it did not catch on.  It was in 1999, when Martin Seligman as President of the American Psychological Association, lamented that psychology focussed almost entirely on dysfunction.  His aim was to reorient the discipline so that we could understand how to take people who were functioning well and make them even better.  He also wanted to understand ‘high talent’ or genius.  His message caught on and many researchers have spent a great deal of time studying individuals strengths, well-being, and optimal human functioning.  

As a researcher, I feel it is important to note that positive psychology is a science.  It is rooted in empirical research that utilize the principles and methods of the underlying discipline – psychology.  And there any many positive things that are not positive psychology.  When you stand in the self-help section of Chapters, you are not looking at positive psychology texts!  Research tells us that well-being is linked to all kinds positive acts, but not to everything represented in the media and popular books.  For example, self-affirmations had a popular moment in the self-help world, however, research tells us that affirmations are not always helpful, in fact, under some conditions they can make people feel worse about themselves.  Conversely, there are some circumstances that are inherently negative, challenging, or displeasing and are clearly supportive of the development of individual strength building and resilience.  Therefore, negative things can be part of positive psychology.  

At this summer’s Positive Psychology conference, I will be giving a talk on assessing the effectiveness of positive psychology interventions.  The methods I propose will be drawn from the organizational psychology literature and our knowledge of assessment of developmental tools.  I am hoping that by sharing between disciplines within psychology, we can begin to develop common systems for evaluation of psychological interventions.  It is notoriously difficult to demonstrate the utility of psychologically based interventions, however, researchers have made incredible advancements in this area.  I’m looking forward to exploring the possibilities!