The Secret Recipe for Good Workplace Conflict
The term “Workplace Conflict” sounds ominous. It conjures up images of yelling, screaming, finger pointing and, in rare cases, hunkering down under makeshift table forts and lobbing used Styrofoam cups at rival camps.
But can workplace conflict occasionally be good? New research by Todorova, Bear, and Weingart (2014) has found that, under the right circumstances, frequent workplace conflict can lead to an exchange of valuable information and, eventually, to higher job satisfaction.
TYPES OF WORKPLACE CONFLICT
Employees who express differing opinions about how work should be done are engaging in “task conflict.”
There are two different ways they can do this. When intense conflict occurs, employees “clash and argue,” and typically spend more time defending their own opinions than listening to the other side. Naturally, this doesn’t often lead to any good outcomes.
But employees can also engage in mild conflict, which is characterized by “debating and expressing.” In this scenario, employees are still arguing, but they are also listening to the other side in an honest attempt to solve the problem. This type of conflict can lead to more positive results.
HOW MILD WORKPLACE CONFLICT LEADS TO INFORMATION
The current study found that frequent mild task conflict provides employees with new information that will ultimately help them succeed at their jobs. For example, after debating about the best way to file records, a secretary may learn a more efficient way of doing his or her job.
And what happens when people get better at their jobs? The researchers found that they are more likely to feel active, energized, interested and excited. These positive emotions about work lead to higher overall job satisfaction.
The positive effects of frequent mild task conflict are stronger in two different circumstances.
The first is when conflict occurs in an active learning environment, which is when employees experiment, reflect and use feedback in an attempt to discuss results and improve work processes. This learning environment communicates to employees that conflict is meant to be constructive, helping them learn to improve at their jobs. Accordingly, employees respond well and feel good about learning new information.
Secondly, when mild task conflict occurs between people who work in different functions, more novel information is shared and employees respond better. The study found that, when task conflict occurs between people who work in the same job, there is simply not as much new information to be gained.
GOOD WORKPLACE CONFLICT
This article helps leaders understand how to use workplace conflict to the benefit of both their employees and the workplace. Here’s a simple guide to having more productive workplace conflict:
- Conflict should be task-related and about how to do work, and not interpersonal.
- Conflict should be kept to mild expressions of debate, and not intense arguing.
- Conflict works best in a learning environment, which is when employees are actively engaged in discussing and improving work processes.
- Conflict provides best results when it is between people who have very different organizational functions.
Tell Me Again: How Retelling Stories in the Workplace Builds Culture
The little stories that tend to get passed around an office on a daily basis can have a profound impact on life in the workplace. “Did you hear about Susie? She was fired just for fixing the boss’ coffee wrong. Right on the spot, just like that!”
A new study on Retelling Stories in Organizations by Stephanie L. Dailey and Larry Browning seeks to understand the functions this sort of narrative repetition can have. Ultimately, the authors found storytelling in the workplace builds the foundation for a unique organizational culture.
STORYTELLING AS ORGANIZATIONAL FOLKLORE
Workplace stories, such as the example above, function as a form of folklore within the company. As they spread through each retelling, these tales provide insight into the complexity of an organization.
The individual, the context, and the audience each inform the process of retelling the story, though the essence of the narrative always remains basically the same. Used as a way to process social information, storytelling reflects a more dynamic and fluid perception of the organization.
These stories ultimately have the potential to influence employees’ perception of reality, and have moral and behavioral implications as well.
WHY RETELLING STORIES MATTERS
The researchers identified several forms and functions of these stories:
- To control behavior: These forms of stories serve as lessons, and indoctrination to the behaviors that are either encouraged or discouraged by the moral. Themes of punishment or reward are common.
- Oppositional stories: These stories provide an outlet for expressing frustration with the company. Researchers suggested that even these types of stories can be used strategically, if key leaders in the organization are aware of them.
- Differentiation/integration: This type of story serves to answer the question, “Who are we as a group?” These stories establish the unique identity of the company, and make a distinction between the organization and its competitors. These tales shape impressions of the organization, and the employees’ place within it.
- Preparation for the future and change: These stories can be used to provide stability and a road map during times of difficulty or change by setting examples for solving problems.
KEY LESSONS FROM THE STUDY
By focusing on the process and implication of retelling stories in the workplace, researchers found that sharing stories generally establishes a sense of unity among employees. The key take-away of these findings is that it’s important for organizational leaders to be good listeners. Keep an ear out for the kinds of stories that pass through the halls of your organization, and be very selective about which ones you pass on.
Ultimately, these stories not only establish organizational culture, but inform employees’ perception of the company as well as their own behavior within its structure.
Mindfulness in the Workplace
One of the newest concepts that people are talking about (at least here in Colorado) is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state in which you pay attention to the present without making judgments, negative or positive, about the feelings or thoughts you have. You’ve probably heard of it, and maybe you’re a little bit skeptical. Very few studies are out there that investigate mindfulness in the workplace, but a team of researchers in the Netherlands, led by Ute Hülsheger, recently set out to determine the benefits of mindfulness at work.
Hülsheger and her colleagues studied workers in service industries, because these fields tend to demand that employees fake their emotions at work; in I/O psychology, we call this surface acting. For example, an employee might be really angry with a rude customer, but in a customer service role she must surface act, hiding her true feelings and pretending to be happy.
Through two studies, the researchers found that people vary both in how mindful they are at any given time (state mindfulness), as well as how mindful they are overall (trait mindfulness). The level of mindfulness also predicted job satisfaction and emotional exhaustion, with higher levels of mindfulness resulting in greater job satisfaction and less emotional exhaustion. In addition, mindfulness training reduced the need to fake positive emotions, causing job satisfaction to increase and emotional exhaustion to decrease.
These results imply that mindfulness training can be beneficial in your organization, especially in service industries. People can be taught to be mindful, improving job satisfaction and reducing emotional exhaustion.
Survey Nonresponse and Job Satisfaction
Using surveys to assess the job satisfaction of employees is widely understood to be a vital part of successful management and employee retention. However, not all employees respond to these surveys. Gauging the job satisfaction of employees who don’t respond to a survey is at least as important as gauging the satisfaction of those who do respond. But how can survey nonresponse be accurately assessed? A recent study conducted by Fauth and his colleagues aimed to answer this question.
In this study, job satisfaction scores were combined by work group. The researchers then correlated that to the responses of four different groups. Group-level job satisfaction was significantly connected to response rates for the groups. In other words, more satisfied workers were more likely to respond to employee satisfaction surveys. Those in smaller groups were also more likely to respond.
In plain language, this means that when you interpret the results from your employee opinion surveys, you should consider the response rates. Lower response rates may indicate unsatisfied employees. Also, be wary of comparing the job satisfaction results for two different groups, if the groups have different response rates. Try to increase the response rates by stressing that positive changes can result from employees taking the survey and emphasizing that you value the results whether they are positive or negative.
The Connection Between Self-Esteem and Job Satisfaction
Previous research (e.g., Chang, Ferris, Johnson, Rosen, & Tan, 2012) has shown that core self-evaluation – an umbrella term that includes self-esteem, self-efficacy, locus of control, and emotional stability – predicts job satisfaction. Simply put, if an employee thinks highly of herself, she tends to be satisfied with her job. Furthermore, these investigators found that if an employee feels good about herself and has success at work, she is even more satisfied with her job.
In contrast, if an employee feels bad about herself and has failures at work, she thinks even less of her job. This is important for employers to be aware of as failures at work could have much more negative impact on those employees with lower self-esteem or confidence. In addition, how the manager responds to the failure may further exacerbate the issue (“How could you do such a thing?!”), or start to turn things around (“Learning is an important part of development, so let’s see what we learned and what we need to do to get this right next time”). The right type of intervention may be a means of improving job satisfaction, and ultimately job performance.
Data were collected from two samples: 137 matched pairs of employees and their immediate supervisors as well as 227 participants recruited via StudyResponse, a nonprofit service that matches researchers to participants.
Fake Smile at Work? How you do it may determine your job satisfaction
Have you ever given a fake smile to someone at work even though you weren’t feeling happy or very excited to see him? If so, you’ve engaged in a process known as emotional labor in which you manage your emotions in order to act in an appropriate way in a work setting. Maybe you wouldn’t go to such efforts when around friends and family, instead feeling free to express the emotions you actually feel. In a work setting though, it may not be best to show your irritation about missing lunch to your brand new client.
Previous research has divided emotional labor into two categories: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires even though it may not be the emotion that you are feeling. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client even though you feel neither happy nor cheerful. Deep acting also refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, but instead of merely faking it, you try to generate the required emotions by thinking of historical events or associations. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client, and even though you’re feeling tired and grumpy, you generate happiness and cheer by thinking of positive associations or of things that make you happy.
Through a literature review of over 116 samples, the results of this investigation indicate that the type of emotional strategy utilized – surface or deep – affects job performance. Specifically, those who use a surface-emotional-labor strategy are less satisfied with their job and more stressed and exhausted, while those who use a deep-emotional-labor strategy are more satisfied, less stressed, and perform their job better. In explaining this finding, the authors believe that surface emotional strategies have worse affects on job performance because they require more effort in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between an emotion felt and an emotion expressed. Though this result is important for the job performance of anyone with a client-facing role, it is particularly important for those in the service industry in which customer satisfaction is key.
Assessing idiosyncratic deals (IO Psychology)
When people are being hired or negotiating the terms of their employment, they often make idiosyncratic deals, also known as i-deals. I-deals are informal, nonstandard agreements between the employee and the employer that lead to beneficial outcomes for both parties. For example, they might negotiate compensation or work hours.
In a recent series of studies, Christopher Rosen and his colleagues set out to determine what exactly i-deals are, develop a measure of i-deals, and then establish that measure’s validity.
According to the authors, i-deals have four distinguishing characteristics. They are individually negotiated, heterogeneous (in other words, they’re not the same for everyone), mutually beneficial, and vary in scope. The authors proposed four main dimensions of i-deals: schedule flexibility, location flexibility, financial incentives, and task and work responsibilities. They then developed a measure that can be used to assess to what extent an employee reports negotiating i-deals.
Using the measure that they developed, the authors found that employees with better exchange relationships with their supervisors or who have more political skill are more likely to negotiate i-deals. Schedule flexibility i-deals and task and work responsibilities i-deals were positively related to job commitment and job satisfaction.
As a result of this work, we have a reliable and valid measure to assess i-deals. In addition, we now better understand what i-deals are, what may influence their occurrence, and what they may lead to. I-deals are related to employee satisfaction and commitment, so they are an important part of the negotiation process with employees.
Talkin’ ‘bout my generation: Does it affect work-related attitudes?
Topic: Job Attitudes, Organizational Commitment, Job Satisfaction, Turnover
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (in press)
Article: Generational differences in work-related attitudes: A Meta-analysis
Authors: D. P. Costanza, J. M. Badger, R. L. Fraswer, J. B. Severt, & P. A. Gade
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin
Do generational differences predict work-related attitudes, like job satisfaction and commitment? Although many organizations base training programs and interventions on the belief that there are generational differences, research has found mixed results. David Costanza and his colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis using the available research findings to determine if there really are generational differences in work-related attitudes.
Contrary to popular belief, there were not meaningful differences in work-related attitudes (like job satisfaction or organizational commitment) due to the generation of the worker. Older workers were slightly more satisfied than younger workers, but this result was likely due to the difference in age or tenure of the employees and not due to generational differences. Also, older workers were less likely to leave their jobs; but again, this result is best explained by factors other than generational differences.
So what’s the takeaway message from this meta-analysis? Don’t just assume that there are generational differences that you have to deal with. The research doesn’t support the idea that workers’ attitudes are affected by their generation, so before implementing any interventions or programs based on mitigating generational differences, conduct a needs assessment of your employees. Find out if there are any differences that need to be addressed before just assuming that you need to develop an intervention.
Costanza, D. P., Badger, J. M., Fraser, R. L., Severt, J. B., & Gade, P. A. (in press). Generational differences in work-related attitudes: A meta-analysis. Journal of Business and Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10869-012-9259-4
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
EMPOWERMENT Is Everything! What Does It Take?
Topic: Job Satisfaction, Organizational Commitment, Performance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (SEP/OCT, 2011)
Article: Antecedents and Consequences of Psychological and Team Empowerment in
Organizations: A Meta-Analytic Review
Authors: Scott E. Seibert, Gang Wang, and Stephen H. Courtright
Reviewed By: Mary Alice Crowe-Taylor, Ph.D.
Are you a manager or an HR professional who thinks that your workplace is a pretty good place to work for your employees? Think that your employees are empowered? Well, see how well your organization measures up against 30 years of research into what empowerment looks like!
This study combined over 150 samples of adult workers in organizational settings. It looked at the key factors needed for employees to be intrinsically motivated to perform their jobs well; that is, to be empowered. Needless to say, it indicates some key organizational conditions needed as well as other great outcomes (correlates) of empowerment in addition to better performance.
First, organizations that utilize high-performance managerial practices (like open information sharing; decentralization; participative decision-making; extensive training; contingent compensation) are on the right track to empower their employees. Those companies that provide material, social and psychological support for employees also are. When positive, trustworthy leaders who coach well and provide effective feedback are in charge, and the work is well-designed, the company also empowers!
What about the employees themselves? Empowered employees had more positive self-evaluations; they felt better about themselves. They felt that they were worthy, competent and capable at work. It didn’t matter whether they were male or female; had a certain level of education, or length of tenure, or a certain job level.
What about the great outcomes? Well, when employees felt empowered, not only did they perform better, they were more innovative. They also reported greater job satisfaction, greater organizational commitment and performed more organizational citizenship behaviors. They also felt less job strain and were less likely to leave their organizations.
This research also showed that empowerment works for teams in the same ways! That is, teams managed with high-performance systems, in a supportive manner with positive leadership and well-designed work, reported greater team performance.
To see an integrated model, based on 30 years of theory and research, that lists the antecedent conditions and the solid outcomes of empowerment, pull up this article and make it your wallpaper! Be positive and empower your employees if you’re not already! You won’t regret it, and your organization will be both more effective and more innovative. In today’s business world, empowerment is a must!
Seibert, S.E., Wang, G., and Courtright, S.H. (2011). Antecedents and Consequences of Psychological and Team Empowerment in Organizations: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96(5), 981-1003.
human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management
If you’re trying to cut costs, don’t cut the engagement survey
Topic: Engagement, Job Satisfaction, Surveys
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (JUN 2011)
Article: Measuring employee engagement during a financial downturn: Business imperative or nuisance?
Authors: Van Rooy, D. L., Whitman, D. S., Hart, D., & Caleo, S.
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin
In these difficult economic times, organizations have been forced to cut costs. One way in which organizations are saving money is by reducing the use of employee surveys, but Van Rooy et al. (2011) contend that these surveys are valuable and should not be cut. The authors argue that measuring engagement is important because engagement has been shown to be related to many important business outcomes, such as turnover, efficiency, and performance. By researching engagement, an organization can better protect its current talent and prepare itself to attract talent that may leave other organizations.
The authors provide advice for practitioners who want to measure engagement but are looking to save money. Re-administering a survey without making changes from the previous administration will reduce costs, though it will present challenges if edits need to be made. Items should be directly actionable, so that responses to the items can be used to make real changes.