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MIT Sloan: How Well-Designed Work Makes Us Smarter

08 Mar 2022
Work that permits autonomy, demands problem-solving, and meets other criteria for good design can bolster employees’ cognitive skills and ongoing learning.

Originally found at MIT Sloan Management Review by Sharon K. Parker and Gwenith G. Fisher


Promoting worker learning is an increasingly urgent priority: To succeed at executing technology-driven strategies, a company must have a workforce that can rapidly adapt to and master new tools, processes, and roles. As AI systems automate more manual and routine tasks, humans will likely take on work that is more cognitively challenging.1 All of this makes it increasingly critical that managers understand how to foster cognition and accelerate learning in the workplace.

We already know that both on-the-job learning and expert knowledge are strong drivers of higher worker performance.3 But how can we further enhance work to promote learning? Is it possible to speed up people’s informal learning at work? Can some types of work make people more (or less) intelligent over time? Our research addresses these important questions. The results show that not all work is equal when it comes to fostering learning — but the differences do not result from the type of work being done. From a review of research studies across multiple disciplines (including organizational psychology, occupational health, ergonomics, and gerontology), we identified the powerful role of work design for enhancing workers’ cognition.4 This means that, irrespective of a person’s occupation, more learning will happen when work is well designed.

Continue reading the original article at MIT Sloan

Read the original research in Academy of Management Annals.

Read the Academy of Management Insights summary.

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