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Bailyn brings organizational skills to post as faculty chair

Professor Lotte L. Bailyn, new chair of the MIT faculty, may have a chance to bring 20 years of research right into monthly faculty meetings.

An expert in social and organizational psychology at the Sloan School of Management, Professor Bailyn has specialized in studying the ways that work and personal lives may be effectively balanced without compromising business goals. At its first meeting of the academic year, the faculty was called upon to balance its agenda so that the role of alcohol in student life could be considered alongside routine faculty matters. Upcoming meetings will likely call upon her expertise as well.

Professor Bailyn first came to MIT in 1969. She joined the Sloan faculty in 1972 and was appointed the T. Wilson (1953) Professor of Management in 1991. Her research interests focus on both the social psychology of work and organizations and also the relationships between work and family in organizational careers. She is widely considered a pioneer in the area of innovative, mutually supportive employee-management relations.

Professor Bailyn is one of the authors and principal researchers of "Rethinking Life and Work: Toward a Better Future," a Ford Foundation study published in 1996.

"Rethinking Life and Work" received wide media attention when it was published, thanks in part to the high-profile companies that took part in the research. The firms -- Xerox, Tandem Computers and Corning -- agreed to accept the idea that restructuring the workplace with employees' personal lives in mind would benefit everyone on the corporate ladder, no matter which rung, without hurting business goals.

"Rethinking" focused on restructuring rather than reengineering, which many people associate with layoffs and other painful measures. Professor Bailyn noted in a recent interview that the word reengineering has acquired an "ominous, zero-sum" connotation.

"Most companies don't know how to think about work and family in anything but an adversarial way. They think, 'If I help my business I hurt my employees and vice versa.' But these need not be trade-offs. They can be complementary," said Professor Bailyn.

Professor Bailyn's confidence in restructuring was well rewarded. Using her research and the Ford Foundation study, the Desktop Color Printer group at Xerox achieved a new product launch in 1994 that "didn't kill my people and maintained quality," a manager said.

A member of Sloan's Organization Studies Group, Professor Bailyn has researched topics as varied as the career paths of MIT alumni/ae of the 1950s (Living with Technology: Issues at Mid-Career, MIT Press) and the impact of mass media on children. She has looked at the effects of study in the United States on foreign students and at the productivity of Britons who take their work home, rather than spend 40 hours a week behind a desk.

The common thread in her research, she said, is an interest in how people's individual needs and concerns interact with the social and organizational contexts in which they live.

Professor Bailyn teaches organizational pyschology and sociology, and a doctoral seminar in behavioral and policy sciences, both graduate courses. The author of Breaking the Mold: Women, Men, and Time in the New Corporate World (1993), she was appointed the Matina S. Horner Distinguished Visiting Professor at Radcliffe College for 1995-97. She received the BA with high honors in mathematics from Swarthmore College and the MA and PhD degrees in social psychology from Harvard University.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 22, 1997.

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