Beware of 'Populist Science!' – A Commentary on Bal (2020)


In his essay, Bal (2020) calls for the “PWexit” – that is, work and organizational psychologists should stop studying employee performance and well-being. The essay is one of several recent papers written by “critical organizational scholars” that have appeared in work and organizational psychology journals (see also Bal & Dóci, 2018; Mumby, 2019). These papers have in common that they, in an ostensibly provocative manner, lament the supposedly miserable state of science and practice in the field and advocate change based on their critical ideas and paradigms. In this commentary, we argue that the strategies employed by critical organizational scholars have several similarities with those of political populists (Rodrik, 2018). To facilitate a critical discourse on “critical organizational scholarship,” the first goal of this commentary is to describe typical strategies used to support populist science. Furthermore, we would like to challenge several, in our view problematic, ideas advanced in the PWexit essay by Bal (2020). In particular, we regard it as cynical and contrary to scientific and professional values to suggest that high levels of burnout and depression are necessary to impact changes in workplaces and society. Accordingly, the second goal of this commentary is to urge caution regarding the provocations, simplistic arguments, and prescriptive recommendations of populist scientists.

Zeitschrift für Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie