The 2021 Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize

The editors of MIT Sloan Management Review are pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Richard Beckhard Memorial Prize, awarded to the most outstanding MIT SMR article on planned change and organizational development published in our winter 2020 through fall 2020 issues.

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This year’s award goes to Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen for their summer 2020 MIT Sloan Management Review article “Fixing the Overload Problem at Work,” which tackles an issue that leads to significantly higher levels of employee stress, dissatisfaction, turnover, and burnout — and potentially lower work quality.

Kelly, Distinguished Professor of Work and Organization Studies at the MIT Sloan School, and Moen, who holds the McKnight Endowed Presidential Chair in Sociology at the University of Minnesota, undertook a five-year study at a Fortune 500 company. Half of the 56 teams and their managers chosen for the study were coached and then allowed to redesign their work collectively — without supervisory oversight. The other half, matched with the experimental group in terms of jobs and demographics, continued to work as they had in the past.

The results over a three-year period were compelling: The redesign teams reported that they felt they had more control over when and where they worked and that their managers were more supportive of their personal and family lives. In addition, they reported getting more exercise, sleep, and social time — and they were significantly less likely than their control group counterparts to leave the organization.

The authors identified three actions that managers must take to overcome the problem: Provide employees with greater control over their work; give employees clear direction on their work goals; and, critically, develop managers who genuinely care and support their employees in their personal lives and priorities.

“Such rethinking about work is particularly timely as we slowly emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with new learning about when, where, and how our work can be accomplished,” the judges say. “Moreover, Dick Beckhard would surely approve of this participatory group initiative to work redesign as it played out in Tomo. He was a strong advocate of self-organized work teams as a key component of productive organization change; Dick held that we are not solitary creatures but members of shared communities, accountable to and dependent on one another. Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen’s approach to the overload problem at work takes this powerful principle to heart.

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