HBR’s Most-Read Research Articles of 2022

HBR’s Most-Read Research Articles of 2022

The new year is a great time to set ambitious goals. But alongside our plans for the future, it’s also helpful to acknowledge all the challenges we’ve faced — and the progress we’ve made — in the last 12 months. In this end-of-year roundup, we share key insights and trends from HBR’s most-read research articles of 2022, exploring topics from embracing a new identity to fostering equity in the workplace and beyond.

For many of us, the arrival of a new year can be equal parts inspiring and daunting. While the promise of a fresh start is often welcome, it’s also a reminder of all the challenges we faced in the last 12 months — and all those still awaiting us, that we have yet to overcome.

But as we set about drafting our New Year’s resolutions, it’s helpful to remember all the progress we’ve already made. Indeed, we’ve all faced countless hurdles over the last year, from navigating our own shifting identities and priorities to combatting persistent inequities in the world around us. And HBR has published dozens of research-backed articles offering insights and strategies to help us address the most pressing issues we face as individuals, managers, and leaders. So as 2022 comes to a close, we decided to take a look at the research questions that resonated most with our readers over course of the last year:

Winter: Become Your Best Self

Last winter, our most-read research articles all focused on what it takes for us to become the best versions of ourselves. In When a Major Life Change Upends Your Sense of Self, the authors share takeaways from a decade of research on how people react to drastic positive and negative life changes, whether that’s getting a new job, immigrating to a new country, or even reintegrating into your community after a period of incarceration. They describe how it can be easy to fall into identity paralysis — a feeling of mental stuck-ness where your sense of sense struggles to catch up to your new reality — and they offer five tactical strategies to help anyone let go of the past, embrace a new identity, and move forward on a path towards growth.

Another popular piece, The Psychology of Your Scrolling Addiction explores a challenge that may be more mundane, but which all of us struggle with (especially during the dark and dreary winter months): A series of studies sheds light on why we fall into social media rabbit holes, and what we can do to break free and refocus the things we actually want to be achieving. And finally, Research: To Excel, Diverse Teams Need Psychological Safety reminds us that it’s up to managers and organizations to foster an environment that enables everyone to reach their potential. The authors followed 62 drug-development teams at six large companies, and they found that especially for diverse teams, fostering a psychologically safe environment is critical for both performance and employees’ wellbeing.

Spring: Move Past Shortsighted Leadership

From April through June, our biggest hits all explored common ways in which leaders fall short — and what they can do to steer clear of these pitfalls. Stop Making the Business Case for Diversity offers (yet another) condemnation of the oft-cited “business case” for diversity, pointing to recent research showing that underrepresented candidates are less likely to want to work somewhere that justifies its commitment to DEI on the grounds that diversity benefits companies’ bottom line. Based on an analysis of Fortune 500 companies’ messaging and lab studies with more than more than 2,500 LGBTQ+ professionals, women in STEM fields, Black American college students, and other candidates, the authors argue that if organizations must justify their commitment to diversity, they should do so on moral grounds — but to make the most progress toward DEI goals, they should consider not making any case at all. After all, companies don’t feel the need to explain why they believe in values such as innovation, resilience, or integrity. So why treat diversity any differently?

Doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do may seem obvious, but it’s not the only seemingly-intuitive best practice that many leaders still struggle with. The authors of Research: More Powerful People Express Less Gratitude conducted a series of studies demonstrating that the more powerful you are, the less likely you are to say thank you. They found that powerful people tend to feel entitled to the favors and benefits they receive from others, and so they often fail to express gratitude in situations where less-powerful people would be more grateful, ultimately harming their relationships and making them less effective leaders.

Another piece that resonated strongly with our readers, Monitoring Employees Makes Them More Likely to Break Rules explores how the common management practice of tracking employee activity can backfire. Many companies have invested in tools such as desktop monitoring, video surveillance, and even biometric monitors in an effort to keep workers from breaking rules, and yet the authors’ research suggests that these technologies can actually increase harmful workplace behaviors. For example, they found that monitored employees were more likely to cheat on a test, steal equipment, or purposely working at a slow pace, because they subconsciously felt less responsible for their actions when they knew they were being watched.

Summer: Combat Inequity

By the summer, Quiet Quitting was trending on TikTok. We saw renewed interest in fighting for a workplace that prioritizes wellbeing and transparency, and that takes a concerted, nuanced approach to addressing the systemic inequities that continue to hold our organizations back.

Our top-performing research piece for the year was When Quiet Quitting Is Worse Than the Real Thing. This action-oriented take offers managers an overview of the trend, its root causes, and tactical, research-backed steps to help them navigate it. Through the lens of the psychological concept of “organizational citizenship behaviors,” the authors discuss how when workplaces don’t prioritize equity and wellbeing, employees are less likely to act as organizational citizens and go the extra mile. And while they acknowledge that this isn’t necessarily problematic in certain roles and contexts, they argue that an increasingly disengaged workforce should be a cause for concern for both employers and employees.

Of course, addressing the underlying factors that drive workers’ growing dissatisfaction is no easy feat. In Research: The Unintended Consequences of Pay Transparency, for example, the authors found that while there’s increasing pressure on employers to improve pay equity by making pay-related information visible to employees, many organizations stumble with implementation. Based on a study of British, American, and Chinese firms, they identified several unintended consequences of these policies, including narrower pay ranges and more personalized negotiation for alternative forms of compensation.

The complexity surrounding the fight for equity is front and center in our final summer hit, We Can’t Fight Climate Change Without Fighting for Gender Equity. While gender parity and environmental sustainability may seem like unrelated issues, this piece draws on a broad array of research to demonstrate how they are in fact closely intertwined. The authors argue that women and other underserved groups are both disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis and uniquely positioned to combat it, going on to offer strategies to help leaders take an intersectional approach to pursuing equity and sustainability in all their forms.

Fall: Trust Your Instincts

Finally, our most popular fall articles all encouraged our readers — in one way or another — to trust their instincts, embrace who they are, and express themselves authentically. Stop Telling Introverts to Act Like Extroverts offers a welcome rebuttal to the common wisdom that introverts must act more extroverted to get ahead. The authors discuss findings from both their own research and a number of prior studies, all of which suggest that if you’re naturally more introverted, putting on an extroverted face can be extremely draining and ultimately fail to pay off. As such, the authors argue that rather than assuming extroversion is always best, introverts and extroverts alike should reflect on the activities that they personally find invigorating or exhausting, and take proactive steps to manage their social energy levels however works best for them.

Our autumn readers were also particularly interested in how to answer the question: Are You Being Quiet Fired? In this piece, researchers share takeaways from a survey of more than a thousand American workers, looking at both how to spot the warning signs that your employer is trying to “encourage” you out the door, and what to do when it happens. They describe a variety of changes that an employer might make to your responsibilities, compensation, working conditions, and communication, providing some helpful validation and recommendations for employees who may feel gaslit by their workplaces.

But of course, authenticity comes in all shapes and sizes. While we may focus most on expressing our true selves in our relationships (and ensuring our employers are being honest and authentic in how they treat us), Research: Simple Writing Pays Off (Literally) reminds us that being authentic is a choice we can make in even the smallest actions. Whether you’re writing a novel or sending off a quick Slack message, the research shows that saying what you mean — without excessive embellishment or jargon — is often your best bet.

• • •

The New Year is a great time to set ambitious goals. But alongside our big plans, we shouldn’t be afraid to build in some flexibility as well. After all, if the last year is any indication, we’re likely to encounter all sorts of unforeseen hurdles and opportunities in the months to come. So rather than taking a one-and-done approach to goal-setting, consider leaving yourself room to adapt as new challenges inevitably come to light, new research and evidence emerge, and your own priorities shift. Remember: January 1 isn’t the last time you’re allowed to make a resolution.

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