5 Fears About Applying To HBS Dispelled

A Human Approach To The MBA

In October, a Japanese journalist died from overwork after logging 159 hours of overtime and only taking two days off in the month leading to her heart failure.

While karoshi (death from overwork) has notoriously been a Japanese labor issue, its implications also relate to the stigma of the MBA in western countries.

Thomas Calvard, a lecturer in human resource management at the University of Edinburgh Business School, recently published a Financial Times article discussing the danger behind overworking MBAs and how taking a human approach might be better for everyone.

“In business schools across the world, candidates continue to run the risk of becoming MBA stereotypes — laboring under the impression that their success in this alpha dog-eat-dog world hinges on being 100 per cent ‘on it’ 100 per cent of the time,” Calvard says.

A Culture of Blame

The stereotype breeds an unhealthy culture of placing blame on students themselves who, he says, are “stressed, over-tired, or not getting on well with classmates.” The culture, in turn, tells students they need to be more “resilient” and deal with the challenges because an “individual’s wellbeing is no one else’s responsibility.”

At the University of Edinburgh Business School, administrators are challenging the stigma by creating a diverse program. The university website markets a “boutique experience” in its MBA program, where students can expect to “develop deep, life-long professional and personal networks in a small cohort with constant interaction.”

Calvard says the institution’s approach starts at the recruitment stage.

“From the very early stages of recruitment, which is handled personally by an MBA recruitment manager, it is not a process that pits candidates against each other,” he says. “Rather, it is about building a boutique learning environment and a close community among the cohort that is inclusive and supportive.”

A Human Approach

Rather than pitting individuals against each other in a competition, Calvard says business individuals, institutions, and companies need to take a new approach: see each other as human.

“Wellness and self-improvement are things we should all strive for, but in our obsession to take on the world — and beat it — we often neglect one salient factor. We are only human,” he says.

Studies have shown that unhappiness and stress breed less productivity. In the UK, the CIPD (Championing better work and working lives)—a non-profit championing better work and working lives—found that longer working hours contributed to a 41% increase in mental health problems.

Calvard says MBA students need to begin to see themselves and others as human and “realize it is OK to be vulnerable, take a night off once in a while, and to not have all the answers.”

The solution, Calvard says, is to build inclusive environments “where everyone feels secure and adequately supported.” Only then can individuals develop properly to become leaders.

“Leaders need to recognize what really motivates themselves and those around them,” Calvard says. “All the theory and strategy MBA students learn does not count for anything if they cannot connect with the people they lead. Because they are human too.”

Sources: Financial Times, The Guardian, CIPD, University of Edinburgh

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.