Our panelists share their thoughts and suggestions on how we can all thrive at work in the coming year; and Professor Justin Huang discusses his recent research into the effects of anti-Asian bias on small businesses.
In this episode, professors from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan tackle the question, “How can we thrive at work in the new year?” They discuss what we mean by thriving at work, trends and changes facing the workplace in 2023, actionable tips for managers and individuals to encourage thriving, and potential pitfalls that can get in the way of thriving. Then, Professor Justin Huang shares some critical research into the economic effects of anti-Asian bias on small independent businesses.
Contents of this episode:
Thriving discussion: 01:00-35:10
Anti-Asian bias interview: 35:17-53:42
More information about some of the topics discussed on today’s episode:
Journal article: To Thrive or Not to Thrive: Pathways for Sustaining Thriving at Work
Center for Positive Organizations
CPO Resources on Thriving
Adam Grant TED talk on languishing
Job crafting exercise
Sue Ashford book: The Power of Flexing
Journal article: “From Anti-China Rhetoric to Anti-Asian Behavior”
Misuse of photos in coronavirus reporting
And to learn more about other work being done by Michigan Ross faculty, visit our website.
Have thoughts about topics we should cover or just want to get in touch? Send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Business and Society is brought to you by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Copyright 2023 - University of Michigan
0:00:10.0 Bob Needham: Hello, and welcome to Business and Society with Michigan Ross. My name is Bob Needham, and we're coming to you from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. On this podcast, we consider some of the ways the business world interacts with our broader society. Today, our panel of Michigan Ross professors will offer some tips for thriving at work in the new year, and we'll hear about some vital research on anti-Asian bias. It's a brilliant winter day here in Ann Arbor, and we're glad you're here. Before we get started, I'd like to encourage our listeners to subscribe, rate, and review the podcast. It helps other people find us, and we'd love to hear what you think of the show. You can also reach out via email if you have a question or just wanna say, 'Hi.' Send us a note at email@example.com.
On today's episode, we're starting the New Year with a concept we can all build a resolution around, thriving at work. And we're joined by three Michigan Ross professors who will provide some answers; Lindy Greer, Gretchen Spreitzer, and Monica Worline. I'll ask them to introduce themselves. Lindy?
0:01:09.7 Lindy Greer: Thank you so much for having me here today. I'm really excited to talk about such an important topic as we all head into the New Year. I'm a Professor of Management Organizations. My area is primarily leading high-performing teams. I'm very passionate about how do we leverage diversity, manage conflict, and flatten power structures to create a better world.
0:01:28.9 BN: And Gretchen?
0:01:30.3 Gretchen Spreitzer: Great. Thank you also for having me, and I'm so excited to be out here, Lindy and Monica with you, because you are such wonderful scholars but also terrific human beings. I am a faculty member in the management and organizations group here at the Ross School of Business, and also a faculty member with the Center for Positive Organizations, and I've been studying the notion of thriving for, gosh, about the last 15 years, so it's a topic near and dear to my heart.
0:02:00.5 BN: Monica?
0:02:01.1 Monica Worline: Thank you again, Bob, Gretchen, and Lindy for this conversation. I also am a faculty member in the management and organizations group. I work alongside Gretchen at the Center for Positive Organizations. I teach a course at the University of Michigan called the science and practice of thriving at work, but I'm not a full-time faculty member. I spend a lot of my time working with organizations or teaching professionals outside of the university, and this is a topic that I've talked about in work places all over the world, as well as I have the opportunity to study with my wonderful university colleagues.
0:02:42.0 BN: Well, thank you all so much for being here. The idea of thriving at work, which we've just mentioned, might be a new concept for some listeners, what exactly do we mean by thriving?
0:02:53.6 GS: So we do have a large, or growing, unfortunately, a growing part of our population that has symptoms or even diagnoses of depression and anxiety. There's also another group that you can think of as languishing. So they're not diagnosed with those kind of conditions, but they're still struggling in the workplace. Adam Grant had an amazing TED talk on this topic of languishing. Thriving is really the counterfactual of those two ideas. It's the idea that people, when they're thriving, they're feeling like on the cutting edge of the work that they're doing, they're growing, they're getting better, at the same time that they feel a lot of vitality in the work that they're doing. So it's a feeling of being very alive and feeling like you are on a positive trajectory of growth. So from my research, that's how I like to think about thriving at work.
0:03:51.4 BN: Any other perspectives?
0:03:54.3 MW: From my perspective, which comes from the organizational point of view, definitely builds on Gretchen's definition and Gretchen's work, but we try to talk about what makes a thriving collective system, like a thriving workplace. And we talk about that as having two characteristics that spill over into each other. The first is the human well-being that Gretchen was just describing, and the second is the capacity to create collective excellence in whatever you're doing. So if you're striving to be an excellent service organization, you can deliver high qualities of service excellence at the same time that you have people feeling well and feeling alive and experiencing the state of well-being that Gretchen described.
0:04:46.7 LG: And I'm coming to this a little bit from outside the main dialogue on thriving, but at least for me as an outsider looking in, also studying in this area. I love the interplay between these different dimensions of thriving, over how we are more prosperous or fortunate, successful, and so are our teams if we're on, I love Gretchen's phrase, of a positive development journey. I was looking up this morning, it's like how do people define thriving in practice in layperson's terms? And one of the definitions they had was growing vigorously, which I really loved within this context, over the more that, we're not just finding the easy way out, I think, but actually trying to put ourself in spaces of discomfort to learn and to grow, that allows us to stay engaged with our lives, with others, with our organizations, and allows that thriving mentality.
0:05:35.5 MW: If I can just say one more thing, Bob, before you move on, I think what Lindy said there is so important to state at the very beginning, that while thriving is a condition of growing and feeling alive and being well, it's not the same as happiness, and researchers are trying to be very clear about making some differentiations there. So growing vigorously, learning a lot, can really entail setbacks. People can encounter losses that can be quite difficult to grow. So thriving has to incorporate the capacity to handle those kinds of challenges and difficulties, and do well in the midst of them.
0:06:20.0 BN: Right. Great, thank you. It's sort of self-evident why individuals would want to thrive at work, but why else is it important? How does the organization change when the people there are thriving?
0:06:34.1 MW: Well, when people are thriving, as I mentioned, it tends to create some, what we might think of as positive spillover effects, that people's energy, their passion for what they do, their willingness to bring their strengths to work and act on those strengths, their engagement and high quality relationships with other people, spills over into the capacity to have passion for the work that we do, to engage together in hard work that moves us towards outcomes that we value, or to tune into other people's distress and use our well-being at work to offer help and to act with compassion toward other people in need. So workplaces can become more purpose-focused, they can become more energetic, more able to meet their objectives, and they can become more relationally strong and relationally friendly places to be.
0:07:35.0 LG: Yeah, just building on that, a lot of my research is on hot teams, these teams that really go out and do something exceptional in the world. And there's really interesting research from Harvard, from Jeff Polzer and team showing that if you show people just a 30-second slice of a team meeting, laypeople are very accurate in saying whether that team is gonna go on to reach its outcomes, help the organization do great things. And what people can see implicitly is, in hot teams, teams that are high performing, there's high energy, there's high engagement, and none of that's possible if any one person on the team, in Gretchen's words, is languishing. And so thriving is really fundamental to creating organizations that have the ability to chase their goals, have those hot teams and do amazing things in the world that have a positive impact.
0:08:17.6 GS: Yeah, Lindy, I love that notion that you know it when you see it, that you can feel and see that energy that's happening when people are thriving collectively. One thing that we do also know is that when people are thriving in their work, they're actually being proactive to co-create the kind of work environment that will enable more thriving at work. So Monica mentioned purpose and meaning. Well, people, when they're thriving, they look for more opportunities to have purpose and meaning. They're out looking for ways to develop better relationships with each other. Monica used the word compassion, but lots of different ways that people are interconnecting more, and they're building more of those positive emotions. Microsoft, earlier this year, made a decision that they had been focusing on increasing employee engagement, and they said, "In today's world, we need more than engagement, we really want people to be thriving. We want them to be growing vigorously," using the term Lindy just mentioned. And so in a time when tech is struggling a bit, they're saying we need more than just people to be engaged. We want them to be thriving and growing and getting better and looking for new ways to improve the organization.
0:09:36.6 BN: So we are entering a new year and it feels like things are different than they've been in the past. People are maybe coming back to the office for the first time in a long time, and just being at work somehow feels like things are changed from where they were a few years ago. What do you all think is different as we head into the new year? What trends have you spotted?
0:10:02.3 GS: One, I'm noticing is that, where in the past, we were really trying to figure out how to make hybrid work, I think we're finding hybrid is just really hard to make work. And there's also feelings of... I'm sitting on a university level steering group that's looking at the future of work at the University of Michigan, and real strong feelings about inequality in terms of how people work and are working together and what happens as people look across different kinds of jobs. Of course, some jobs can't be done virtually, and what are the implications of that for other jobs that can be done virtually? Feelings of inequity, what about people who have to commute a long distance, or people who have to park a long ways away that add a half hour onto their work day each way, every day, at the same time that we really value being together? Ross, we talk about, "We're better together," and I think there is a lot to be said for that. But at the same time, people really want flexibility. So I think 2023 is gonna be a year where we're really needing to tackle some of these major challenges that we've been struggling with over the last two years coming out of COVID.
0:11:18.1 LG: Yeah, building on that, it is interesting about the need for paradoxical leadership, of where you have to balance seeming tensions, it is more important now than ever. In our core management class, for the full-time MBA this fall, we kicked off the series with a section on hybrid work, where we're really looking at this interesting disconnect where the leaders of companies where people in-person versus entry-line workers, especially in the MBA audience, are wanting remote and flexible conditions. There's a disconnect there where people are saying, "We want flexibility," and yet when we studied our MBA students later in the semester on the scale of how much structure they need in their work environment, we used Michelle Galpin's research on looseness and tightness, we found the students who were at 80 out of 100 on average across 400 students for how tight control they wanted their cultures to be, how much structure they wanted.
0:12:06.7 LG: And so there's really interesting tension that we're having to navigate in the workspace right now to create these thriving cultures where we're able to simultaneously offer both the flexibility and structure at the same time. I think it's really challenging our managerial skills and the way many managers have never had to before. I think that pre-pandemic, it was easier to coast by as a manager and a leader, and because the need from workers now to have these paradox of balance is just so high, it's really having to foster the sense of growth for managers that are able to navigate those types of paradoxes.
0:12:40.8 MW: Many of the students who study at the University of Michigan will graduate into global organizations that don't have the aspiration or the ability to have everyone all together. It's not that common in workplaces anymore, unless you work for a very geographically-rooted organization like the university is, or for a small company, to actually meet your colleagues all the time. I think there's a real new normal in large organizations around the world that people need to be able to focus on what we're trying to do, and that means that the notion of thriving in work and attaching it to meaning, purpose, objectives, and excellence, and all those things that we were talking about in the definition, it's really crucial for leaders and managers and people in the organization have to work wherever they work, whenever they work, and however they work, oriented in the same direction.
0:13:38.4 MW: And just aside from the geographic location differences, people in global organizations cope with massive differences in time zone, many of them work while their colleagues are asleep. There are all kinds of barriers that can in the obstacles to working together well, and I think the world of global leadership, especially global leadership in the wake of the pandemic, has become so much, as Lindy and Gretchen have attested, to finding ways to think differently about how organizations can do what they need and want to do with excellence without the same set of assumptions that you might have grown up with or studied with when you were a student yourself.
0:14:24.8 BN: What are some things that individual managers can do to help their employees thrive in this coming year?
0:14:31.6 LG: One big one I would throw is that ability to manage paradox, but as well as inequity, is, from an ability to, "Yes, and," to be able to see seeming tensions as compatible, to see different views in the organization as compatible, to seek to understand different perspectives, and to find the solutions that are truly the win-win. The more that managers can be in the headspace to role model this, which comes from self-care yourself and being in a thriving state yourself, it's easier then to help others in the organization to also approach difficult conversations where we do have different viewpoints, different perspectives, different needs, to work together to find ways that we're co-creating organizations where win-wins are part of the every day.
0:15:10.5 MW: One thing managers can pay attention to, no matter where people are located, is the quality of the human networks, not necessarily technological networks, but the human networks that they are helping build and that they are stewarding in their organization. So if you think of human networks as the highways that tie us together as people, the one thing that managers can do is make sure that those highways are smooth and that people are using them. So getting people together, having good conversations, using the both and paradoxical, emotional social intelligence that comes with doing that kind of work to engage people in rich conversation and in interaction, and to encourage them to connect with others. That's a really important part of helping people foster their own thriving, and fostering thriving across the group.
0:16:17.2 GS: So I'll just build on what both Lindy and Monica said, two things that I think stand out as the best things managers can do to enable more thriving units. The first one is about building community. So it's similar, Monica, to some of the things you were talking about, making that kind of network home, but a place where people feel psychologically safe, where they feel like they're part of something bigger than themselves. Really crucial for people to put themselves out there and grow and take risks and try new things. And of course, community is one of the most powerful ways to build vitality when you're in connection with other human beings. And of course, we were just talking about remote work. I think we're still trying to figure out, how do you build strong communities when you're not physically together? Many ways to do that, but we're not as familiar with those practices.
0:17:10.5 GS: And then the second one is about empowering people. So not everybody's gonna thrive in the same way. Some people really want to be challenged, other people, maybe at our early year level of their own development, need a little bit more guidance and structure. So understanding the needs of your people and empowering them to do their job in the best way possible, playing on their strengths, and connecting to each other through collaboration.
0:17:39.6 BN: And then the flip side, what can individuals do to help themselves thrive, maybe even when their manager isn't particularly interested in that concept?
0:17:50.5 GS: I'll hop on this one right away because, Chris Porath and Chris Gibson and I just have a brand new paper coming out on this topic in research and organizational behavior. When we were looking at the literature and the research on thriving at work, there's a lot that says what managers should do to enable their people's thriving. But what if you have a manager or you're in an organization that doesn't believe in those kind of things, doesn't create that kind of environment? So we wrote this paper with the idea of, if you are an individual, what can you do? What's within your realm of control? And I'll just highlight a couple of things that come out of that piece. One is, what we call full engagement strategies. So we're like at the darkest days of the year right now. It's rainy and cold this morning. We know that the more people have healthy practices like movement, like getting outside, having fresh air, getting a good night's sleep, really crucial. If you're sleep deprived, it's very hard to feel a sense of vitality.
0:18:55.6 GS: Nutrition, do you have the right nutrients in your body so that you have good energy? So a whole bunch of things that are about physiological energy are important. But then a second set of practices that are really important are about building high quality connections. And even if you have leadership that doesn't create a thriving culture, there are things that you can do with your peers, or with your people, whether they're in your unit or other units, work together collectively, you can begin to co-create the kind of environment that you want it to be.
0:19:32.0 BN: Great. Anything to add?
0:19:35.3 LG: I can build on Gretchen's, I guess, quickly over just the power of change management. I think that, especially looking at all of our students, our students don't realize how much power they have when they go into the workplace, and that most changes don't start top down. And that if you are in an organization where maybe thriving isn't immediately appreciated, to Gretchen's point, the more that you can find others in the organization that are like-minded, you can start to build up that power of numbers to find other people that are coming in community to talk about these topics, find ways and to co-opt those in power in the organization. Of the entire people upwards, there's gotta be at least one or two that are relatively more open, and how do you start to build attraction to then snowball top down the types of workplace cultures that we need to have more thriving organizations. So I wouldn't want any of our students today to underestimate the power they have to help co-create these organizations and influence those above them.
0:20:27.5 MW: I'll build on that, Lindy, with just giving this word that researchers like, human agency. It's not a word outside the university that people think about a lot. But it's a really important idea that we, as people, tend to underestimate, as Lindy said, our capacity to shape and co-create the experiences that we're having and that we actually have the ability to change the situation we're in in really powerful ways. And I'll give a shout-out to some other Ross scholars who have invented something that has come to be known as the job-crafting exercise. It's based on this idea of human agency that people actually are given a job description when they enter a job, but they're always actually crafting what they do in that role.
0:21:22.0 MW: And if they more proactively and agentically think about how to craft that role in ways that matter to them, how to craft that role so that they interact with people that they want to interact with, and how to craft that role so they do what's essential to the job, but maybe they add on pieces or parts that the job didn't envision, but they creatively want to add to the job. This is happening all the time around us. Nobody needs to give us permission. This is the way jobs work, actually. And in addition to the relationship-building mechanisms that Gretchen mentioned, and managing your own emotion and healthy state, it is the biggest route to finding new ways to thrive and work, is to agentically look for opportunities to create more meaning in the role that you have.
0:22:22.3 BN: Great. We certainly touched on the challenges of hybrid and remote work, and there are going to be a lot of people dealing with those in the coming year. Are there any special challenges here to thrive that we haven't covered and any suggestions to get past them?
0:22:38.6 GS: I'll put out one practice to think about for those that work in a virtual setting or a hybrid setting, and that is, so this morning, I came into the office, ran into some people in my hallway, walked down here to this conference room where we're doing this conversation. And I ran into people along the way. I saw the MBA students coming together for breakfast and feeling their nervous energy. There were lots of tactile things that I experienced that were kind of booster shots of purpose, like, why am I here? When you're in a virtual setting, those things don't naturally happen. And so we have to create ways for those to happen. A number of years ago, the School of Information here at the University of Michigan had an office on main campus and an office on our North Campus.
0:23:26.6 GS: And in their break room, they actually created a huge, big monitor that was on all the time, that was kind of like a window between the two places. And so if you went in to get coffee, you might be able to run into your colleagues in the other office, just by chance. So maybe we need these kind of big windows where we can see each other spontaneously. But maybe another way to think about it is to build in short check-ins each day or each week, and they don't have to be for an hour. They could be for 10 or 15 minutes, but opportunities to check in with each other. Because I think one of the things I know I lose when I'm not seeing people and feeling the interactions with them, that it's easy to feel isolated and lonely. So, create opportunities for more check-ins with each other, even short opportunities.
0:24:18.9 MW: Another researcher that I work with who has studied for a long time how organizations shape this capacity for thriving will just say over and over and over again, something that I think can be helpful. Maybe our listeners can pick it up and say it to themselves. That when it comes to fostering thriving for yourself or thinking about it for other people, small is all. We don't have to do really grand gestures. Sometimes big changes are needed, but big changes, as Lindy said, often start with small things. And if you can think about whether you're running an in-person team or a team that doesn't work co-presently all the time, small ways to do a lot of things differently. Like, can you do a small trick to how you use your Slack channels or your instant messaging system so that you're instant messaging about something about thriving or something about connecting with each other or something about purpose, regularly?
0:25:28.9 MW: Can you do hangouts just for idea swapping? You can do them online or you can do them in-person. Can you change the first couple of minutes of how you run your team huddle so your team huddle always has a touch on how people are, or on something that matters to the community? And can you organize your all-hands meeting or your team days or ways of celebrating so that you're bringing people together to celebrate what's working and to build that positive energy and keep the positive energy and momentum flowing on a regular basis? So, small tweaks to lots of things that we do in workplaces add up really fast to foster thriving.
0:26:15.9 LG: Yeah, just to build on both of those, the practical examples, there's a lot you can do if you're working remotely to build in purpose to your daily life at home. We often, I think, take it for granted that when we walk into the front doors at somewhere like Ross, that we see things that give us purpose and we do not think ourselves as individual employees or students with this organization, how we might also be creating that in our lives at home as well, especially when we're working remotely. I love to chat with our students about ideas to have personal artifacts at home on your desk if you're working remotely that remind you of your why, of why you're in this job or this profession. What is your purpose or motivation to get up? And if you don't have the luxury to see people in person, what are other reminders you can scaffold in to your daily life to help reconnect?
0:27:00.2 LG: As you're leading teams, I also love to scaffold in purpose in other ways too. I love Monica's suggestion of the different Slack channel, GChat channels. I know within our center, Leadership Center, we have a GChat channel called Rompers, Stompers and Clompers, which is a joke across these ship statues, not kidding, ship statues. They used to float around them on the dock. When we went remote, we could no longer playfully put the ship on someone else's desk each day. So we now have this GChat channel for the sheep, but it ends up now being the place where people share photos of their family over the weekend, or recipe they cooked. And it's actually been a way, because some of us are co-located. Like, I don't get to sit with the rest of the team. I think we actually have a stronger sense of connection now with one another, because we scaffold in that channel for informal communication that we've really kept alive even as we come back in-person more.
0:27:44.7 LG: Another scaffold that I love to use is meeting agendas to reinforce connection and purpose. And so even if you're remote, everybody still will see that agenda. Like if you walk into the office, you see the cultural reminders. When you're remote, what is that shared visual faith that you all share? The one key one would be meeting agendas. So for us, we always have will have themes, like our values are our purpose and the header of every single meeting agenda, just to call that back in every time we're in a shared visual plane, over, who are we? Why are we together? Why do we want to be in this team, in this organization? And we also would do segments like value spotlight, calling out someone on the team who really lived up to the values and purpose of our team that week, as another way then to just scaffold and remind people of, why are we together? Why do we want to be in community? Which then helps us thrive.
0:28:28.4 BN: Thank you. Lots of great ideas. Finally then, are there any potential pitfalls that people should be watching out for as we go into the new year?
0:28:39.3 MW: Yeah, there's really interesting new work up on the difference that I mentioned at the beginning between something like happiness and the state that we're calling thriving. And the research shows that if we're striving to be happy, and we could probably substitute the word "thriving" there, if you sort of misunderstand what we mean by thriving. And my single-minded goal right now is to thrive. The speaking of that fate actually fosters worse outcomes. So we've talked so much, like if you measured drops of things that were in all of our comments, we've all talked about meaningful activity and objectives and aims and values and purpose. But I think putting your eyes on the bigger picture of what you're hoping to accomplish this year or where you wanna go this year or goals that are personally meaningful to you, and then thinking that question back to the beginning, how can I grow vigorously toward that goal that's meaningful to me? It's very much more likely to foster your thriving than setting the goal of, "I'm gonna thrive at all costs," which has counterintuitively been demonstrated to show that it undermines your thriving instead of fosters it.
0:30:09.6 LG: Yeah, I love that one. I'm a big fan of Dan Gilbert's research that we're so bad at forecasting what makes us happy, and that we actually are happier when we're striving more for a purpose. Huge fan of that area. So, more on related paradox. I think sometimes when we short-handedly strive just for happiness, at least for me, if I have new year's resolutions, I tend to be all. Like, "I'm gonna go to the gym every day. It's gonna be a thing," and there's no balance, or that ability to manage paradox, if you will, to have seemingly different goals at the same time. Because if I only go to the gym every day, I may not have then that time for recovery, for times with friends, and that ability to have more balance. It says all of us high achievers tend to enter the new years with resolutions.
0:30:49.4 LG: I would really give a callout to the researcher, Sue Ashford, on the idea of flexing. That it's not just one goal, one behavior that we should be striving for, but that ability to flex, to step into spaces of discomfort and to set those goals that are ambitious for ourselves, because that is where we will grow, but then also to be able to systematically build time there where we step back for recovery; whether it's times with friends or family, maybe it is Netflix and chill, pick your choice of what you need for that recovery, but then we're really intentional about having that balance and seeing that paradox. That in order to thrive, we need to both be in spaces of discomfort as well as comfort and have a plan for how we can flex between those spaces.
0:31:30.5 GS: I've been taking so many notes here today. I love learning from the two of you. Bob, when I think about your final question about pitfalls, I just think about the world we live in today is so complicated. Whether it's the political environment or inflation or mental challenges or sustainability, there are so many external forces that can pull us down. My daughter is a first grade school teacher and she shares stories with me sometimes that indicate to me that coming to school is, for some kids, the best part of their day. And I think that might be true for some of our workplaces too, that the lives that people live are very difficult. And so, to remember that work can be something that elevates and pulls people up in difficult times, and so to Monica and Jane's work on compassion, to really think about how can we be there for our colleagues and our people and our students, because we do live in a very complicated time and work can be a positive force.
0:32:36.9 BN: Anyone have anything to add or any final thoughts?
0:32:40.9 GS: It's a great reminder I love learning from my colleagues. Thanks, you guys, for being here today.
0:32:46.1 MW: Thank you, Bob. I think that, in what we might, not in a derogatory way, just in a historical way, call old school management thinking, [chuckle] a word like thriving would have been considered a luxury. One of the things I think we've all learned through the pandemic, but Gretchen, Lindy and I have also learned through doing research, and many leaders learn through the School of Hard Knocks, is that considering thriving is one of the most essential questions that leaders and managers and people who care about the quality of work can think about. And so, far from being a luxury, it's actually one of the most essential leadership and organizational questions that we can be asking today.
0:33:38.2 MW: And I am grateful, out of all the hard times that have come across the globe, I'm actually grateful that it has elevated the conversation around thriving and brought it into the open, because I think that is so important. And as Gretchen said, sometimes workplaces or schools or the things that we do together that have meaning and give dignity to our lives are what teach us how to elevate the rest of our lives and raise up our family life. And we can create the kind of society that we want to live in by elevating this conversation, and I'm just grateful to you for hosting it.
0:34:21.4 BN: Oh, thank you.
0:34:22.8 GS: And just one other thought too. Sorry, this could go on and on.
0:34:24.5 BN: No problem. [chuckle]
0:34:25.2 GS: But I just wanted to say, there are tremendous resources coming out of the University of Michigan, Ross School of Business. The Center for Positive Organizations has a website with tools and sharing research as well. So, this is the tip of the iceberg. Take a look at some of those things as well.
0:34:41.1 BN: Absolutely, and we'll put some links in the episode notes for people who want to check it out. Well, thank all of you for a really interesting and, I think, helpful discussion. I really appreciate your time.
0:34:58.4 BN: In today's interview segment, we'll talk with Professor Justin Huang about research he and his Michigan Ross colleague, Julia Lee Cunningham, have done on the economic effects of anti-Asian bias. Justin, thanks for being here. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
0:35:12.8 Justin Huang: Thank you so much, Bob. I'm very excited to be here. So my name is Professor Justin T. Huang. I'm Assistant Professor of Marketing here at Ross School of Business. Generally speaking, I study the design of social networks, and more broadly, technological ecosystems and how the policies that are set by the owners of these ecosystems, the owners of these platforms, create incentives for small creators on those platforms. But this research actually ties in pretty well with that because this research is about how government communications and journalistic communications have created branding around being Asian, being Asian-American in the US, and how this has had a lot of impacts for small Asian businesses.
0:35:51.7 BN: Yeah, and just as a starting point, we have an unfortunate history in this country of a particular group of people being unjustly blamed for something and then that leading to hate crimes against individuals who are members of that group. Could you give some past examples of this phenomenon?
0:36:08.4 JH: Yeah, definitely. I'm very happy to share. So as you mentioned, it is a very unfortunate history and a lot of it comes in from this feeling of collective blame as well as this notion of the perpetual foreigner. So you have these groups that exist out there, there are these large geopolitical events, and as a result, kind of this negative sentiment towards this foreign group can lead to this notion of collective blame. There's this individual. They're a representative of that group. They should be responsible. And then individuals, unfortunately, are taking what are oftentimes violent and hateful actions against them. So I'll give a couple of examples. One example was in the 1980s. There was the rising competition between the US and Japan. And in particular, this happened just right here around Detroit, where there was rising competition from Japanese auto manufacturers, which were feared to be taking over and out-competing American auto manufacturers. And as a result of that, you might remember the murder of Vincent Chin.
0:37:02.1 JH: Vincent Chin was a Chinese-American. He was out partying and he was attacked by auto workers who were laid off. Because Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American, but was presumed to be Japanese and therefore this kind of collective blame sentiment, "The Japanese are responsible for the loss of our jobs. This individual here, I'll consider him a foreigner, I'll consider him part of this collective other." And therefore, it's right or it was justified in the minds of these auto workers to attack him and unfortunately murder him for it. So that's one of, unfortunately, many examples of this occurring. To give another two, I'll give two more, one of which happened after the 9/11 attacks. There's 9/11 attacks, and we saw this massive, massive spike in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment. And there was a gentleman by the name of Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was in Costa Mesa, Arizona, and he was an American Sikh, but he wore a turban because he was a Sikh.
0:37:58.4 JH: And as a result of that, he was attacked, he was presumed to be Muslim, and he was, again, murdered for it. And again, this tragic misidentification, the fact that the individuals that oftentimes hold the most negative sentiments towards these individuals are oftentimes also those that are least able to distinguish amongst ethnic groups or distinguish between, "There's a group that's foreign out there, they might be responsible for this and that in my mind," but differentiate that from the Asian-Americans or the Americans who are part of this country. So that's one example, and I'll finish up with the last one. There was Bawi Cung in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is just in March 2020. He was in a shopping center with his son in Midland, Texas, and he was attacked and then he and his son were slashed and stabbed.
0:38:43.5 JH: Thankfully both he and his son survived, were able to get away with relatively minor injuries considering the magnitude of the attack, but again, a case of misidentification, a case of this hatred towards external groups being internalized against Asian-Americans. And again, the misidentification comes in as well. Bawi Cung, he was Burmese, Burmese-American, and yet he was stereotyped as being Chinese, and so the attacker said, "You look like you are Chinese, you look like you are Asian. And therefore, it's right for me to attack you for," In his mind, "Bringing COVID in to the country." And a lot of these instance of collective attacks and the notion that there should be some collective blame, collective punishment, led us to think a lot about this research and really shaped some of the hypothesis that we tested within the paper.
0:39:30.8 BN: So why is there this notion of collective blame? Why does that seem to happen so frequently?
0:39:38.9 JH: Yeah, definitely. So unfortunately, I think a lot of it is coming in from, unfortunately, lack of exposure, potentially ignorance as well. So we studied this within the paper. We ask individuals, "What ethnic group do you believe is most responsible for the spread of COVID 19?" We ask individuals... That's a blame sentiment. We ask individuals about the fear sentiment as well. To what extent does Asian food represent an increased risk or Chinese food represent an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 when ordered for delivery? So no direct contact with the people that are serving it. And we also asked the individuals, "Hey, by the way, would you mind estimating the percentage of Asian-Americans that are immigrants, estimate the percentage of of Asian-Americans who are ethnically Chinese?"
0:40:20.9 JH: And what we found was a really interesting correlation. So the real number, for example, on the percentage of Asian-Americans that are ethnically Chinese, it's around 24%-25%. Depends on the data source that you utilize in the time period. But on average, people tend to report 35% or more of Asian-Americans were ethnically Chinese. And furthermore, the more that an individual tended to overestimate that fraction of Asian-Americans that were ethnically Chinese, if you thought, for example, that 50% or 60% of Asian-Americans were Chinese, the more you were likely to say, "Well, also Chinese or Asians are most to blame for the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic." And the more likely you are to say as well, "Well, I think that Chinese food, which I've ordered from a Chinese-American business, which is based here in the United States, their safety standards, something about them makes them higher risk for contracting COVID-19 and therefore I should avoid these products."
0:41:11.5 JH: So, I thought that was a really fascinating correlation, and was really interesting to see these patterns that we saw in terms of violent attacks also being replicated for incidents of, you could say some discriminatory intent, perhaps there are some legitimate fears, but the patterns follow the same way, whereby the less that you necessarily knew about these groups, the more that you would tend to fear and then project lame sentiments towards them.
0:41:36.6 BN: And why did you choose restaurants to look at?
0:41:38.1 JH: Restaurants were a great bell weather for broader sentiment towards these ethnic groups, because if you think about a class of business that would be good to study for this, we want something that is ubiquitous. We want a type of business sets everywhere. We also want it to be easily ethnically identifiable, and restaurants, because they are often times mom and pop shops, often times because they need to create some branding, create some understanding really for the consumer before they walk in, what kind of food am I expecting? So they tend to categorize themselves into these nice little ethnic buckets, and as a result of that, they need to inherit their branding and their subject to the same forces that shape sentiment towards these foreign countries or areas of the world.
0:42:20.2 JH: So why we studied at restaurants? I think these results that we find translate really well to other classes of businesses that are ethnically identifiable. So in the same way that you might identify maybe Japanese restaurant or a Korean restaurant, you could also identify who may be a Chinese lawyer is or Japanese lawyer, Vietnamese lawyer due to typical naming conventions for lawyers. Same thing with say, doctors or dentists, other small businesses in the United States, you can think of maybe landscaping company, so you can think of barbers or nail salons or beauty salons. All these businesses are also subject to these same forces, whereby if an individual holds these blame sentiments, then that could be expressed in consumer avoidance, consumer discrimination. So that was why we wanted to study restaurants for this, and the really interesting thing about this is that we are at a relatively unique time where we can gather the data.
0:43:12.3 JH: So you saw, in the 1980s, you saw a lot of anti-Japanese sentiment. It would have been great if we could have gone back and done a study and looked at, well, were Japanese-American run businesses negatively impacted there? And I'm sure there's a lot of anecdotal evidence of that, but it's difficult to study on the large scale and across the entire United States. Same thing after the 2001, the 9/11 attacks. But now we have this relatively rare moment in time where geolocation data is available. So this is coming in through a cell phone location data. We are able to get the data set that aggregates that up. So we can see visits to particular businesses and look at how those visits at a business changed over time.
0:43:52.7 JH: Now, this data has been under a dismount of scrutiny. We utilize only aggregated data, so it's just counts of how many people walked by, say, Ross School of Business, or walked by the Japanese restaurant down the street on a particular day. But this data has also been sold in ways that are disaggregated and allowed the tracking an individual path from one location to another. So they're coming under significant scrutiny. We might not expect the same granularity of data to be available in the future as privacy protection laws catch up, but this gives us a very unique circumstance of kind of like a one-shot opportunity to measure the broad spread effect of the pandemic and associated anti-Asian hate on business activity. So this is a really fascinating one.
0:44:36.7 BN: And then you did in fact find some fairly significant impacts on the small businesses because of all this. Could you describe some of those results?
0:44:47.2 JH: Yeah, yeah, definitely. So when defining that avoidance of Asian restaurants occurred during the pandemic. So relative to comparable non-Asian restaurants within the same areas, we saw that Asian restaurants experienced a drop in traffic of 18.4% on average. Furthermore, unfortunately, former President Trump was creating a lot of stigma through the rhetoric that utilized through some of the language like the China flu or Kung Flu, for example, and Kung Flu I'd say is particularly egregious because it takes one of the more recognizable aspects of Chinese culture and then it ties it in with disease. So it creates a very strong stigma around being Chinese. And so he was one of the main voices that were spreading this rhetoric. What we saw was that this pattern of Trump says Kung Flu, Trump says, this is the Chinese virus.
0:45:34.7 JH: On the other hand, you had politicians like former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. She was visiting some China Town and saying, "Hey, recognize that Asian-American businesses are American businesses, and it's not right to be avoiding these businesses when they don't have any responsibility for the spread of the pandemic." So we saw that pattern born out within data. In short, in areas that were more Trump supporting, where Trump support was over 75%. We saw avoidance as high as 30%. 30% relative drop to Asian restaurants, relative to non-Asian restaurants, whereas in low Trump support areas, those numbers, that avoidance was less than 10%, right? So significant heterogeneity there.
0:46:16.5 JH: And there's the other thing that I wanna highlight from our results is that we're able to see a lot of the same patterns in terms of that consumer avoidance and this Anti-Asian sentiment tends to be relatively non-targeted. So it would be one thing if consumers were only avoiding Chinese restaurants, but more broadly, they are avoiding all Asian restaurants too. So across a number of different places that we did, there wasn't a lot of difference between avoidance of non-Chinese Asian restaurants, Japanese restaurants, Korean restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants, so on and so forth, versus Chinese restaurants, and furthermore, that degree of spillover was also moderated by the level of Trump support. So the more Trump supporting the area it was, the more individuals also tended to avoid, say, Korean restaurants too, perhaps out of this misidentification.
0:47:02.4 BN: Did any of these results surprise you at all or the size of the effects?
0:47:06.0 JH: Yeah, so I'd say we went into it without a lot of strong assumptions about how large an effect we might see, because a few factors are at play. So the drops that we measured were in addition to the pandemic-related drops in general restaurant and business traffic. We had lockdown, we had individuals staying at home, so we thought, for example, it might be the case that just all business drops proportionally and therefore we might not see, very much of an effect. We also were wondering the extent to which there might be some support for Asian businesses during that time. So it coincided with Stop Asian Hate, there was #StopAAPIHate that was trending over on Twitter. You might wonder whether or not you have a small subset of individuals that are maybe relatively hateful, might be committing violent acts, vandalism act. We saw, unfortunately, a lot of these during the early days of the pandemic. You might wonder whether or not this subset of the population was the ones that maybe we're never buying Asian food to begin with.
0:48:06.9 JH: And as a result, the larger portion of the population that don't hold the sentiment, maybe they don't express these avoidance behaviors, or maybe they even support Asian businesses because they see these things are happening. So in short, we didn't go in with a lot of expectations around it, but as a result, we did see that there was this large 18.4% additional relative drop for Asian restaurants versus non-Asian restaurants. Another thing that we did was we performed actually some back-of-the-envelope calculations. So we could look at the total restaurant business in the United States, look at what that looked at before the pandemic, after the pandemic, look at some industry stats terms of what fraction of restaurants are Asian, and we wanted to estimate, alright, well put this in numbers. You say 18.4% relative drop, what does that really mean? So some of our back-of-the-envelope calculations came out to that this would cost Asian restaurants around $7.42 billion in lost revenue in the year of 2020.
0:49:05.5 JH: So that really puts a number on it, really punctuate the impact that this has, and it really is a large impact for a large swath of businesses that are oftentimes small businesses. They're the life blood America. They're providing Americans with crucial food and nourishment that they need in order to get through the pandemic. So it was really, really interesting to see.
0:49:26.7 BN: Wow. So what would you say is the single biggest take away from this research over all?
0:49:31.9 JH: Yeah, so I'd say, the biggest takeaway is to the responsibility of politicians and, unfortunately, some of the media outlets as well, there was some examples of, early on the pandemic, there was this unfortunate article in the New York Times that was reporting on the first COVID-19 case that was in New York City. And it was brought in by supposedly coming in from Iran. They didn't identify in the individual. We don't know exactly who it was or what this case was, but the imagery that they utilized in order to represent this was a picture of China Town. It was a picture of a large number of masked Asian-Americans that are just walking around China Town minding their own business. And I wish I could show you guys the image, maybe you can link it in the podcast notes, but there's this notion that the Asian-Americans are a collective other, a perpetual foreigner. And this imagery that kind of dehumanized, they're not looking directly at the camera, they're not identified, they're not expressive, this is just the image that they had chosen, it really made Asian-Americans the face of the pandemic in a lot of consumers and a lot of readers minds.
0:50:37.4 JH: That was combined with Donald Trump putting out the rhetoric around, "This is the China flu. This is the Kung Flu. The Chinese are bringing the virus into our country," and there wasn't the correct amount of nuance around distinguishing between overseas versus domestic, distinguishing between some notion of like, if you think the Chinese Government is responsible versus Chinese individuals versus Chinese-Americans. And this really created the perfect storm as an environment whereby individuals felt like, "Well, I see that there's an Asian face here, and this is a dehumanized agent face. Maybe I don't distinguish very much amongst Asians, and therefore this Asian person, I can feel like they're responsible as well for this." And that can lead to dehumanization stigmatization, which can lead to attacks, vandalism, consumer discrimination.
0:51:28.4 JH: So in short, what does this research mean? This research underlies the responsibility of a lot of public-facing individuals to make sure to not create stigma around geopolitical events, not create stigma around diseases. Really highlighting the World Health Organization in 2015 put out a recommendation to not stigmatize diseases, and I would say that that decision that they made was actually pretty prescient one.
0:51:52.4 BN: Alright. Is there anything else you wanna add about the research?
0:52:00.2 JH: I think I shared a lot of good sentiments from this. I think this research had a little bit of a personal aspect for me as well, as an Asian-American. I was born here in the United States, was born in actually Cambridge, Massachusetts. And this research really emphasized to me the importance of speaking up and telling your story. And a lot of these stories around Asian-Americans, they oftentimes aren't told enough. This Asian-American history isn't necessarily taught enough. And when this history is taught, when these stories are told, then it allows us to contextualize a lot of the events that we see around us, and I think that's really important. So this research was a bit of a learning journey for me.
0:52:38.2 JH: I wish I could tell you that I'd known all this history prior to embarking on this research, but once I had done the research, once I had understood a lot of the Asian-American history, then a lot more of the pieces come together and it allows us to contextualize these events, that allows me to really understand, yes, this is how harms are created to a lot of vulnerable individuals that might be new immigrant, they might be living in relative poverty, might be working a restaurant job, and those restaurant jobs, they're tough. Often times 10, 12 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. So these are really some of our most vulnerable businesses, and it's very important for us as Americans to think about protecting them.
0:53:15.3 BN: Absolutely. Okay. Well, thank you very much for sharing this really important work. We appreciate your time.
0:53:21.3 JH: Thank you so much for the opportunity, I appreciate it, Bob.
0:53:25.4 BN: So that wraps up our fifth episode of Business and Society with Michigan Ross. If you'd like to know more about the subjects we discussed today, look for the links in the episode notes. And for more news about our faculties' work, check out the new section of our website at michiganross.umich.edu. Thanks for listening, and we hope you'll come back next time when we take a look at corporate crime. Business and Society is brought to you by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Thanks again to our guests today, Lindy Greer, Gretchen Sprritzer, Monica Worline, and Justin Huang. Our audio engineer and editor is Jonah Brockman. Executive producer and today's host is me, Bob Needham. Until next time, this is Business and Society.