Time for Management Researchers to Tackle Tipping

In this post, author Simon Pek at Canada’s University of Victoria reflects on his research paper, “The Tip of the Iceberg: A Roadmap for Management Research on Tipping,” published in the Journal of Management Inquiry.

I have long been fascinated with tipping. Ever since I picked up my first tab at a restaurant, I found myself wondering why I feel an urge to tip in some contexts and not others, how I should navigate the tipping process, and how much I should tip. Then, while working at a golf course during high school, I became curious about why my employer only enabled some workers to receive tips and how this discrepancy shaped the way workers related to each other.

Yet, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was the impetus for me to pursue this research project. As take-out and delivery via apps quickly became the norm, I noticed seeing many more prompts to tip and intensifying rhetoric around tipping in some media outlets. While some urged consumers to tip frontline workers as much as possible as an act of solidarity and support, others raised concerns about the negative consequences of tipping and urged employers and platforms to do more to support workers directly. Unfortunately, policy-makers were largely silent in these debates. It was dawning on me that tipping is not only a fascinating phenomenon but also one that has significant practical and policy implications that deserve attention. As the number of questions running through my mind quickly piled up, I knew it was time for me to dive into this topic.

As part of my deep dive into tipping, I found lots of fascinating research, particularly research focused on unpacking antecedents of consumers’ tipping behaviors. At the same time, I found that there are some important gaps in our understanding of why tipping happens and what its myriad impacts are on individuals, organizations, and society. Management research has surprisingly been largely silent on the topic, which is perplexing to me given its prevalence. The Journal of Management Inquiry’s Generative Curiosity section seemed to be an ideal outlet in which I could develop a roadmap for how management researchers could shed light on these topics.

I hope that this article spurs management researchers to come to see tipping as an interesting and consequential research topic that they can tackle through a wide range of lenses. For instance, those interested in the diffusion of organizational practices can shed light on how organizations approach their decision-making about tipping. Those interested in spillovers between work and society can shed light on how the rise of tipping in newer contexts might shape important outcomes like inequality and the spread of practices like the classification of workers as independent contractors. There is so much to explore, and I encourage management researchers, particularly those interested in the changing nature of work and social sustainability, to consider joining this conversation.

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Simon Pek

Simon Pek is an assistant professor of sustainability and organization theory at the Gustavson School of Business at the University of Victoria. His primary research explores how organizations and the individuals within them embed social and environmental sustainability into their cultures, strategies, and daily operations.

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