Specific Cognitive Abilities Can Benefit Selection Programs

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Examining the incremental validity and relative importance of specific cognitive abilities in a training context.
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Organizations oftentimes use specific cognitive abilities to help select people for jobs. Selection itself is important because organizations can sometimes waste millions of dollars in training people who don’t have the right aptitude, aren’t motivated, or who don’t fit minimum requirements for the job. When an organization selects employees, it often uses an assessment process to try and find the “right people.” This assessment often involves tests of general cognitive ability, which is basically what we’d consider overall intelligence. What if organizations could fine tune these processes so that they were more successful in identifying those who may succeed in a training context or in a job? Recent research findings offer a possible way to do this.



Many researchers adhere to the view that intelligence is made up of a single “general” factor, also called general mental ability. This view explains that there is an underlying single-dimension of mental ability that underlies numerous different types of learning and performance abilities. However, researchers debate about whether including specific abilities of intelligence can provide just a little bit of extra predictive power for organizations. Some believe that these specific abilities can help predict beyond what general mental ability alone can offer when it comes to selecting individuals for the job.



The researchers investigated the importance of using general mental ability and also specific abilities in a training context, specifically military personnel learning a foreign language. The researchers examined the predictive ability of general mental ability and the specific abilities within the trainee group by using different approaches to measuring cognitive ability. Results showed that if the specific mental abilities of the applicants aligned with what was being assessed, then using the specific abilities would add predictive value for the organization. For example, in testing learning of a foreign language, the specific ability of foreign language aptitude would be more useful than numerical ability.



These findings challenge many assessment and selection practices within hiring and training. In some cases, testing for general mental ability may be sufficient, but in other cases, managers should not underestimate the role that specific abilities may play in helping organizations predict who will succeed at training and on the job. This would require testing for specific abilities that are either closely aligned with job responsibilities, or are a requirement in a training program. Specific abilities should not be used when these responsibilities are not clearly defined or if there is a mismatch with actual job requirements.

When specific abilities match what is needed for either training or job success, then specific abilities can provide extra predictive power over merely assessing general intelligence in candidates. It is important to note that even a small incremental advantage in prediction for large selection programs could have a profound influence on return on investment figures.

Climate Uniformity: A New Concept with Important Organizational Outcomes

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Climate Uniformity: Its Influence on Team Communication Quality, Task Conflict, and Team Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


When it comes to research on organizational climate, the concept called “climate uniformity” is the new kid on the block. In fact, new research by González-Romá and Hernández (2014) is the first to actually collect data and start to determine what this concept means for organizations. The results are intriguing, as they found that the degree of climate uniformity is related to communication, conflict, and even team performance. So now you might be asking, what in the world is climate uniformity?


First of all, we have to begin with the idea of organizational climate. This term refers to a combination of individual employees’ perceptions about their workplace. For example, if employees typically feel that supervisors and coworkers treat each other justly, you might say they have a climate for organizational justice.

Another way of describing a climate is called “climate strength,” or the extent to which employees agree on what the organization’s climate is like. For example, if each and every employee believed that the organization rated a 5/10 on organizational justice, researchers would say they have a “strong climate.” If a group of employees thought it was 5/10, but many gave higher ratings and many gave lower ratings, the climate would be considered weaker because the individual ratings are more spread out.

This article discusses climate uniformity, which considers a different possibility. Perhaps half of the employees think that the organization should get a very low rating, and the other half think it should get a very high rating. In this case, there are two distinct opinions among employees. The researchers call this non-uniformity.



The researchers collected data from numerous settings and considered those in which they noticed disagreement on how much support their organization provided. Like our example above, they were looking for settings in which a distinct group of employees gave low ratings to the organization, and another distinct group gave high ratings. They found that these “split” groups were associated with worse communication and more conflict about how to conduct work-related tasks. They also found that the poor communication that results fully explained why these “split” teams had worse overall performance.



So what does this all mean? From a general perspective, this article helps us think about the different types of data we can collect about our employees. It’s not always correct to think about an average score or imagine that employees’ perceptions resemble a “bell curve”. Instead, there may be two or more distinct groupings of opinions. This is important to keep in mind no matter what we are measuring, whether it is particular type of organizational climate or simply job satisfaction.

In particular, this study highlights some of the negative effects that occur when there are two distinct opinions about organizational support. If some believe that the organization supports them and some do not share this belief, bad things happen. Specifically, the rift or “us versus them” attitude that occurs can negatively impact communication, team conflict, and ultimately performance. Organizations should be advised to note the harmful impacts of this type of rift, and learn how to identify and halt these tricky situations before they become problematic.

Reducing Stereotyping: What You’re Doing May Not be Working

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Condoning Stereotyping: How Awareness of Stereotyping Prevalence Impacts Expression of Stereotypes
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Stereotypes are quite common, but they are not always bad. Sometimes, we can stereotype someone in a positive way, and sometimes stereotypes are helpful because they reduce the amount of critical thinking a person has to do. The danger is when stereotypes are inaccurate or negative. This can lead to discriminatory behavior in the workplace. Organizations spend large sums of money every year on reducing stereotyping with training that aims to raise awareness and minimize their negative effects. A recent study by Duguid and Thomas-Hunt (2014) investigated whether creating greater awareness of stereotyping and encouraging resistance to them was the best way of curbing their harmful effects.



The researchers conducted a series of studies on three distinct social groups, older adults, females, and overweight people. The studies focused on the effectiveness of different messages given to employees about the prevalence of stereotyping, and the way to resist acting on these stereotypes. For example, in one study some participants were given a message that the vast majority of people are prone to stereotyping and that the participant should try to avoid stereotyping. Another group was given a message about the low prevalence of stereotyping and also to avoid stereotyping. Two other groups were given these same messages but were not told to avoid stereotyping. The researchers determined what effect this would have on how much participants expressed stereotypes. The study revealed that messages about the low prevalence of stereotyping in society yielded lower levels of stereotype expression than messages about how common stereotyping is.

Another study focused on females who were involved in compensation negotiations. The study also considered the different expectations of appropriate behavior for males and females. The researchers hypothesized that when behavior went against common stereotypes (e.g. women behaved in a more forward and forthright manner) that resistance and unfavorable reports would result. Those who received the message that stereotypes are prevalent evaluated the female negotiators as less warm than the group that was not given any message. They also were more likely to say that they did not want to work with people like that. Those who received the message that stereotyping is not very prevalent were the most likely to rate the female negotiators as warm and state that they would work with females like that.

In the final study, participants were given a negotiation task. The researchers found that messages about the prevalence of stereotyping along with messages about how to counter these perceptions could influence stereotyping expressions as well as the behavior of the participants. For example, men who received the message about the high prevalence of stereotyping were more likely to act assertively in a competitive task.



This study in its entirety has significant implications for how organizations can use different types of messages to reduce the harmful effects of stereotyping in the workplace. For example, awareness of the general prevalence of stereotypes may not altogether hinder stereotypic expression, but may rather increase it. In other words, some people may be less likely to try and hide their stereotypical views when they know that most people engage in stereotyping. However, creating a culture where individuals have a heightened awareness of others’ efforts to counter stereotypical beliefs can help reduce stereotypical expression and behavior.

How a Sense of Calling Can Affect Career Decisions


What helps determine whether people pursue their sense of “calling”? The advice I always got was, “Work hard, get a respectable job in a stable industry and then pursue your passion on the side.” This shaped my extrinsic motivation, or the type of motivation that comes from outside a person, when pursuing a career. Others take to heart advice from notable public figures like the late Steve Jobs who said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” This kind of advice fosters intrinsic motivation, or the type that comes from within a person, when pursuing a career. The pursuit of a career that meets at the intersection of these two approaches would be ideal, but often economic realities deter many. Recently, two researchers sought to understand what influences career decisions when these approaches clash.



Career theory posits that intrinsic and extrinsic values are both important in understanding career choice and development. Extrinsic values are more objective and measurable, and relate to wanting higher pay, prestige, and job security. For this paper, researchers were interested in intrinsic characteristics, which are more subjective and can be summed up as a calling, meaning, “a consuming, meaningful passion people experience toward a domain.” This is an interesting concept because it is linked to positive work outcomes such as work engagement, job satisfaction and clarity of professional identity. However, little is known about how people pursue careers when these aspects are misaligned within an individual.



This study was longitudinal in nature, meaning it was done over a lengthy time period, and examined people with varying degrees of a sense of calling (strong vs. weak) within the music domain. The study also noted the extent to which an individual’s perceived ability (what they thought of their own ability) and actual ability (measured as recognition from others) affected their pursuit of their calling in music.

The results suggest that a sense of calling early in life (intrinsic motivation) is a particularly important factor in helping resolve career decisions later on, and in determining the trajectory of one’s career pursuits. A strong and early calling made it more likely that a person would get a degree in that area and be professionally involved. They also showed that participants with stronger early callings were likely to perceive their ability more favorably, which made them more likely to pursue music professionally. The implication is that actual ability was not as strong a determinant in pursuing a passion as one would expect.



Apart from the numerous applications for individuals, from an organizational perspective, it may be worthwhile for managers to investigate how to harness the passion of those who may feel a strong sense of calling, yet have chosen to pursue more extrinsic values. For example, some companies allow employees to start small side projects, whether social or technical, and are reaping the benefits of this approach. This could have an impact on positive organizational outcomes, such as improving work engagement and job satisfaction.

Abusive Supervision may have Roots in Childhood

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Roots Run Deep: Investigating Psychological Mechanisms Between History of Family Aggression and Abusive Supervision
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson


Supervisor anger is a common workplace problem. This can include a supervisor who is angered too easily or a situation when the supervisor’s anger is disproportional to the situation at hand. This study explores the true reasons behind this anger, hypothesizing that a history of family aggression is the root of angry reactions and abusive supervision.



Parents are the main role-models for children when they are young and children have a tendency to adopt the same coping techniques and reactions that they see their parents using. When a child grows up seeing an excess of family aggression, there are conscious and unconscious consequences. Exposure to aggression shows a child that this is acceptable behavior and this carries over into adult life, potentially creating an abusive supervisor. Seeing aggressive behavior lead to a successful outcome will also solidify the notion that aggression and abusive behavior will get the desired action or reaction. This ultimately means that children who grow up watching family aggression have the potential to become abusive supervisors for the simple reason that they were taught that aggression brings about desired results.



The study finds considerable evidence showing that family aggression does in fact increase the chances of abusive behavior in the workplace. This effect goes beyond the anger that is caused by situational factors, organizational mistreatment, demographical variables, or subordinates’ personality. The social learning theory was supported, meaning children who grow up seeing, and surrounded by, family aggression learn that abusive behaviors will produce the outcome they desire.



The authors also found that rumination, or the tendency to focus and dwell on negative past events, can make things worse. The association between abusive family life and abusive supervision was stronger when these supervisors engaged in more rumination. By focusing on the unpleasant aspects of growing up amidst family aggression and turmoil, supervisors became more likely to think hostile thoughts and experience hostile feelings. This led ruminating supervisors to act more hostile in the workplace.



The importance of this study is that it helps identify the root cause of abusive behavior in the workplace. This is important because abusive supervisors can have strong negative impacts on employees and the company as a whole. Two steps can be taken to decrease the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. The first is to train abusive supervisors through cognitive-behavioral coaching. This may include emotional intelligence training, in order to help supervisors gain control of the angry behavior. Training can also help limit rumination for supervisors, which may help decrease the occurrence of angry thoughts and feelings, even when supervisors are predisposed to have them. The second step that organizations can take is to not let supervisors with abusive potential into the organization in the first place. This can be done by altering the recruitment and selection process to help identify those supervisors who are most likely to lead employees in a positive manner, and not those who are reduced to abusive supervision.

How to Be Fair to Employees without Feeling Drained

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The good and bad of being fair: effects of procedural and interpersonal justice behaviors on regulatory resources.
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Research that investigates perceptions of fairness and justice-related behavior has normally focused on recipients. We still know relatively little about how justice affects the actors, for example the cost of being consistently fair to employees for those in leadership roles. Acting justly has always been considered beneficial but it is important to realize that this may come at a price for some people.



The theory of ego depletion provided the framework for this study, and it states that acts of self-control and discipline require certain internal resources that inevitably run low. For example, studies found that following periods of self-control, subsequent attempts at such regulation were more likely to fail. This study explores the idea that certain interpersonal events at work can either drain resources or facilitate the renewal of these resources. The authors also wanted to know how this in-turn affects organizational citizenship behavior, meaning those behaviors where workers “go the extra mile”.



The researchers focused on interpersonal justice and procedural justice, which are two different aspects of justice within organizations. Procedural justice involves the process of how fairness is carried out within an organization, and interpersonal justice is the enactment of fairness between people. Not surprisingly, the research indicated that justice behavior fluctuates daily in terms of consistency. Interpersonal justice variations are not surprising, as people are prone to bias, but differences were noted in procedural justice as well, which you’d think would be more regulated.

The researchers found that procedural justice is taxing, and it depletes self-control. This is because it requires greater effort to suppress favoritism and bias. This finding not only shed light on the resource depletion that may ensue, but also how this depletion can impact subsequent organization citizenship behavior. Employees who feel depleted may be less inclined to resist deviant behaviors or go the extra mile.
Researchers found that resource-replenishing interpersonal justice behavior can counter this effect, specifically when employees were either introverted or neurotic. The authors say that these two types of people may have more to gain from the restorative power of getting along with others.



This research is significant because it highlights the potential drain that those in leadership positions may experience when engaging in daily justice behavior. It also tells us who may be more likely to experience this drain. Organizations can provide opportunities for resource replenishment for those who are constantly enacting these behaviors. They can do this by expanding opportunities for personal care, such as getting enough sleep, or by supporting an environment that encourages positive interpersonal justice. This is in the best interest of organizations, as it facilitates the kind of behavior that benefits the organization. It is also in the best interest of employees, because it may help avoid burnout.

How to Fix the Negative Relationships that Affect Team Performance

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: When Do Bad Apples Not Spoil the Barrel? Negative Relationships in Teams, Team Performance, and Buffering Mechanisms
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson

Nearly all companies and organizations use teams to get work done, but can negative relationships be preventing that from happening? As common as teamwork is, the dynamics that make a team actually work are often overlooked. Whether the team is temporarily thrown together or a permanent fixture, how the individuals get along is an essential factor in how well the team performs. Every individual has their differences, and frequently this can lead to disagreements or negative relationships amongst members of a team.


Negative relationships can be characterized by emotional and behavioral actions that induce distress, anger, and withdrawal. These types of harmful relationships amongst team members create a divided team, which in turn leads to an overall poorer team performance. A cohesive team will ultimately be more productive than a team that is separated by negative relationships. Negative relationships can never be completely avoided. However, there may be ways to decrease the undesirable effects of negative relationships on team performance.



The researchers examined three possible methods of negating the effects of negative relationships within a team. The first is called communication density, or how often a team talks with each other and brings to light harmful or damaging behaviors. If a team actively strives for a comfortable atmosphere where people can connect with the other members, negative relationships should be kept to a minimum. In turn, if there is little communication, negative relationships can continue to grow.

The second method is team member exchange, which is where members exchange feedback, support, and assistance when needed. When team members bounce ideas around and go to each other for help, negative relationships will be neutralized.

The third method is task-interdependence, which is when members of the group must work together to accomplish one task instead of each member having individual tasks. When team members must work together in this fashion, they are succeeding or failing together, which allows little room for negative behaviors.



The researchers who explored the three buffering ideas found that how frequently people talked and the overall group atmosphere did not play a significant role in neutralizing negative relationships. However, when team members went to each other for advice and support and when members depended on each other to complete a task, negative relationships were found to have a less damaging effect.



The use of teams in organizations is not going to stop, and it should not, because teams often foster innovative ideas and accomplish tasks that could not be done by a single individual. However, there are drawbacks, such as negative relationships, which will decrease a team’s cohesiveness and ultimately its performance. Companies should recognize the potential problems caused by negative relationships, and while negative relationships can never be completely avoided, they can be kept to a minimum. This study shows that these negative relationships can be mitigated by using two strategies. First, encourage team members to support each other, and second, design work so that employees need each other to complete tasks. These strategies should help reduce the harm caused by negative relationships, and ensure that teams remain successful.

Proactive Employees Need Political Skills to Succeed

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Are Proactive Personalities Always Beneficial? Political Skill as a Moderator
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


Employers assume that proactive employees are important for job success. Indeed past research shows that proactive employees, those who take initiative and champion change, perform better and earn more. However, proactive employees typically push the envelope, control their environment, and bring unexpected changes which may be viewed as threatening and distracting by others. A new study by Sun and van Emmerik (2014) introduces political skill as a factor that may reduce such concerns.



Politically skillful individuals are good at understanding others and their social environment, monitoring their behavior to influence others, and developing alliances to access resources. They also create good impressions because they are perceived as sincere in what they say and do. According to the researchers, proactive employees need political skills to express their change-oriented patterns in a more socially sensitive and acceptable way. This way, supervisors don’t think that they are challenging the status quo or imposing control based on a hunch.

To test their assertion, the researchers surveyed full time employees and their supervisors from 12 companies in various industries in China. Employees reported their political skills while their supervisors rated the employees on their task performance, helping, and learning behaviors. Results showed that highly proactive employees were rated lower by their supervisors, as long as employees’ political skills were low. However, when employees had high levels of political skill, there was no relationship between proactivity and supervisor ratings. When employees were not politically skilled, it seems that their proactivity was a detriment to themselves.



This new study shows that without high levels of political skill, proactive employees run the risk of being negatively evaluated in terms of performance by their supervisors. Proactive employees who are politically skillful are likely to frame work-related changes as serving the needs of others and garner supervisor support by appearing sincere and influential. This study highlights the importance of developing political skill to be able to identify organizational needs and adopt a socially sensitive approach in bringing change. By having the right amount of political skill, employees can avoid the potential negative influence of their proactive tendencies. From the perspective of employers, proactive employees might seem important, but if these employees aren’t politically savvy as well, employers might find themselves appreciating them less than they expected.

Flow at Work: Recovery Affects Whether Employees will “Be in the Zone”

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Making flow happen: the effects of being recovered on work-related flow between and within days
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


Flow at work is an enjoyable peak experience that happens when an employee feels completely engrossed in a challenging project or activity. Not surprisingly, this kind of experience means great returns from employees in terms of performance and productivity. Unfortunately for most, it is not a permanent experience, and instead varies considerable on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Earlier research suggests that flow starts out high, dips, and then increases again, within any given day. This research sought to determine whether this was the case and also explore what the possible predictors of optimal and decreased flow may be.



Flow is a relatively complex phenomenon and consists of nine elements. I won’t list them all, but some of these include a balance between skill and challenge, the amount of control over a task, loss of self-consciousness, and sense of time loss as hours go by as you are absorbed in a task. Flow requires energy and expenditure of certain internal resources, as well as application of above average skills to a relatively difficult problem.

The researchers used the Effort Recovery Model to investigate work related flow during a given day. This theory concerns the investment of an individual’s resources into an activity that inevitably leads to depletion of the individual’s mental resources. Also included is the idea of recovery, which is a process that helps the employee restore their energy and internal resources.



The researchers hypothesized that the extent to which someone feels recovered (meaning fresh and full of energy) at the beginning of the day, affects their energy levels and internal resource availability. This would subsequently affect flow experiences during the day. This state of recovery and higher energy level would allow greater investment of resources into more difficult tasks, increasing the likelihood of experiencing flow.



The research confirmed that when employees felt more recovered than they usually do, they were more likely to experience flow during the day. As said before, that flow typically happens by starting out high, dipping, and then peaking again, in a pattern that looks like the letter U. When employees start the day in a poorly recovered state, there was a different pattern. They started low, remained low during noon-time and then experienced a further decrease in flow in the afternoon.



This study is unique in that it explored how flow interacts with situational factors, as it considered flow in light of employee resource availability within a given day. The findings are useful for employees and managers as they show that flow at work can be fostered through encouraging employee recovery. This goes beyond merely focusing on strategies that target how the work or tasks are done. Managers should also consider encouraging employees to disengage from work after hours to aid the recovery process.

Death Anxiety is Related to Burnout and Other Organizational Problems

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Don’t Fear the Reaper: Trait Death Anxiety, Mortality Salience, and Occupational Health
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

The typical workplace has many different personality types: Happy employees, charismatic employees, ambitious employees, egotistical employees, and many others. But have you ever thought much about employees who fear death? It’s not the kind of personality trait that you’d think has relevance in the workplace, but new research by Sliter, Sinclair, Yuan, and Mohr (2014) has shown that death anxiety has important implications on employee success.


Death anxiety refers to how much a person fears death. It is considered a personality trait, which means that people basically maintain the same level of it over time. A little bit of death anxiety is probably good, because it might prevent someone from doing something risky or dangerous. The problem happens when people have too much death anxiety. This is when it can get in the way of normal behavior, especially at work.



In the current study, the authors found that death anxiety has several negative outcomes in the workplace. Employees who have higher levels of death anxiety had higher levels of burnout, higher levels of absenteeism, and lower levels of work engagement (meaning they were not as dedicated to their jobs).

Why do all of these bad things happen? The authors hypothesize that people who worry about death more often will have fewer emotional resources to deal with other problems at work. According to many researchers, this lack of resources is how job burnout begins. This also helps explain why employees who fear death are not as dedicated to their jobs. It’s difficult to be absorbed in your work when your mind is preoccupied with something else. Finally, when employees fear death and experience burnout at work, it eventually leads to missing work entirely. This can be because of illness, or in order to avoid the unpleasantness that the employees associate with work.



The authors also found another downside to fearing death. Mortality cues are reminders of death that can pop up anywhere in daily life. Some jobs have more mortality cues than others. For example, an ER nurse might have recently seen a patient die, or an actuary might have to calculate mortality expectancies. Because these reminders of death are inherent in many jobs, it is important to understand how people react to them. In this study, the authors found that mortality cues are related to an increase in burnout among employees, but the association was especially strong when employees already had high levels of death anxiety. Working in a job that reminds employees of death is hard enough for ordinary people. When these employees enter with a pre-existing fear of death, it goes from bad to worse!



We want employees who don’t suffer from burnout, who are productive and engaged in their work, and who don’t have unnecessary absences. What can we do? First, this study has important implications for selection. If employees can be screened for death anxiety, the workplace will be better because of it. This is especially true when jobs contain mortality cues, or reminders of death. But what happens when employees who are already on the job suffer burnout or absenteeism due to their death anxiety? In this case, an organization can still provide employees with coping strategies or counseling programs that may be useful in helping them combat their fears. This is an emerging area of research, and future studies will provide further guidance to employers in making sure that fear of death doesn’t negatively impact the workplace.