Photo of Hengchen Dai

Hengchen Dai

Doctoral Student

Research Interests: motivation, self regulation, productivity, social influence, behavioral economics

Links: CV

Hengchen Dai recently completed her PhD in the Operations and Information Management Department at Wharton. She is an incoming Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis.

Her main stream of research applies insights from behavioral economics and psychology to motivate people to behave in line with their long-term best-interests both inside and outside of the workplace (e.g., avoiding counterproductive behaviors, saving for retirement, maintaining a healthy lifestyle). From a managerial perspective, she is interested in how organizations can enhance employee motivation in the workplace and encourage employees to make future-oriented choices. Much of Hengchen’s research focuses on how fresh starts and breaks can influence employees’ motivation to engage in self-regulation and avoid counterproductive behaviors using field experiments, archival data, and lab experiments.

Her recent work on a phenomenon she calls the fresh start effect shows that calendar events and special occasions in our lives demarcate the passage of time (e.g., the beginning of a new week/month, a promotion, a birthday) and generate fresh start feelings, which motivate aspirational behaviors such as exercise and dieting. She is also seeking to understand the importance of breaks through a study using archival data from a healthcare setting. In this project, she has demonstrated that taking sufficient breaks from work helps healthcare workers adhere to professional standards (specifically: sanitizing their hands), while the fatigue generated as work shifts progress increases employees’ propensity to “cut corners.”

In other work, she has explored how different social forces (e.g., online reviews, news about a celebrity’s health, and peer pressure) affect judgments and behavior.

Her work has been featured by media outlets such as Harvard Business ReviewThe Huffington Post, New York Magazine, and The New Yorker.

She graduated with honors from Peking University in 2010 with a joint degree in Economics and Psychology.