Stigma-by-Association: How Follower Characteristics Influence Evaluation of Leaders
Evaluation of leaders is becoming an increasingly important workplace topic. This is especially so, because some research suggests that racial disparities within the US workforce have increased over the last decade, as some minority groups are greatly underrepresented in positions of management. There may be a number of reasons for this, but new research (Hernandez, Avery, Tonidandel, Hebl, Smith, & McKay, 2015) suggest that one reason could be biased appraisals of leaders (i.e. evaluations of performance, value and competence) that occur due to characteristics of individuals in the group. This means that the racial composition of the leader’s group, influences opinions of that leader’s effectiveness.
The authors conducted a series of studies. The first revealed that when there were more African-American employees in a group, the leaders of these groups received lower appraisal ratings from observers. The subsequent studies confirmed that these social contexts do indeed have a significant effect on observer judgments of group leaders’ value and competence. Lower appraisal ratings were recorded on competence, performance, and value when the group composition was primarily made up of African-American employees.
Interestingly however, this bias was not found when the group was made up of entirely African-American employees, where appraisals were then similar to those of leaders of groups without African-Americans. Overall then, the level of observer appraisal ratings followed a U-shaped pattern when considering the total amount of African-American employees within a work group. Highest scores are predicted when the group is entirely African-American or entirely not African-American.
The study also showed that this unfortunate situation could be positively influenced by the presence of internal and external motivators to control personal bias. Internal motivators refer to a personal level of commitment to controlling bias, and external motivators refer more to outside influences that encourage adherence to fairer standards of appraisal. The results from the research highlight the important role that external motivators can make in reducing the impact of prejudiced evaluation of leaders. This was because external motivation could lower prejudice whether or not the individual had high or low internal motivation to control their prejudices.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These results have implications for the employee selection process. Organizations might want to look for employees who display characteristics associated with a predisposition against prejudice. These personality traits include agreeableness and openness to experience.
In the absence of internal motivation to control personal biases, organizations can protect against the detriments of this “stigma-by-association” through developing new organizational norms and structures, for example, through a hospitable diversity culture that promotes racial equality. Organizations can also reduce intergroup biases by developing an organizational identity that employees can buy into, and that transcends the influence of any particular group. Stronger identification with the organization can be facilitated by rewarding and recognizing the individuals whose efforts and performance enhance the organizational identity.
Organizations can also improve fairness by closely scrutinizing the process used for performance assessments and compensation evaluations. These evaluations should concern specific task examples and should not be based on raters’ general impressions of employees.
Workplace Incivility: Why Nice Employees Finish First!
Organizations have seen a drastic increase in the amount of workplace incivility that employees experience on a weekly basis. Way back in in 1998, research revealed that 25% of employees experienced rudeness in the workplace at least once a week. A decade later, nearly 50% of employees reported experiencing incivility in the workplace at least once per week. Incivility is formally defined as “insensitive behavior that displays a lack of regard for others” (Anderson & Pearson, 1999), and is very costly for organizations as it is related to decreased performance and creativity, as well as increased employee turnover.
As the modern workplace becomes increasingly fast-paced, technologically complex, and impersonal, it is difficult—inconvenient even—to foster positive workplace relationships and interactions. While civility research has tended to focus on negative, uncivil behaviors, one research team (Porath, Gerbasi, & Schorch, 2015) is beginning to ask, “Can it pay to be nice?”
DOES WORKPLACE CIVILITY LEAD TO SUCCESS?
Civility consists of a range of behavior that helps to cultivate mutual respect in the workplace. Examples of civil behavior include actively listening to peers, including a coworker in a conversation, and being mindful of others’ opinions or feelings. These are qualities that should be desired and aspired to among coworkers and peers. Yet, the old adage “nice guys finish last” suggests that being civil may be hazardous to one’s career.
A recent two-part study of workplace civility investigated the extent to which behaving civilly was related to positive workplace outcomes including performance, perceptions of leadership ability, and perceptions of approachability.
THE BENEFITS OF WORKPLACE CIVILITY
To examine the actual effects of civil behavior, the researchers collected survey responses from a team of research and development professionals within a biotechnology firm. Each employee was asked to rate all of the other R&D employees on how civil they were, the extent to which they would ask other employees for advice, and whether or not they considered the other employees leaders in the organization. In addition to the survey responses, the human resources department provided the researchers with performance data on employees at the time of the study and one month after the study ended.
The results from the study revealed that individuals who rated employees as civil were more likely to seek out the civil employee for work advice, and were more likely to perceive the civil employee as a leader. In addition, when an individual was perceived as civil by other coworkers, he or she exhibited higher performance than uncivil employees. In sum, when employees engage in civil behavior they are seen as someone who is approachable for advice, seen as a leader in the organization, and also demonstrate high performance.
WHY DOES CIVILITY YIELD BENEFITS?
After researchers determined that civil employees reap both social and performance benefits, they conducted a second study to understand why civil behavior leads to positive outcomes. In this study, 181 college students enrolled in a management course were asked to read a scenario about an employee who was either civil, uncivil, or neutral, and then give ratings of that employee.
The results of the study showed that civil employees were perceived as warmer and more competent than uncivil or neutral employees. Further analyses demonstrate that civil individuals evoke perceptions that they are warm and competent, thus leading to perceptions of the individual as a leader and as an outlet for work advice.
Thus, civility extends beyond work behavior; civility increases the perception of an individual as warm and competent, and these perceptions may boost civil employees’ authority and effectiveness at work.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Because civility can foster positive workplace relationships and may result in higher performance, organizations can benefit by making civility a priority. The researchers suggest that civility could be an important factor in hiring new employees, selecting employees into work teams, or identifying and promoting influential individuals. Although civility research is in its infancy, the initial results indicate that engaging in civil behavior can yield benefits for entire networks of individuals and the organization as a whole.
Though hiring civil employees is an effective way to promote civil behavior in an organization, managers can also encourage current employees to become more civil. In fact, workplace training that targets civil behavior may help improve workplace relationships and interactions. Thus, civility training allows employees to practice active listening, delivering positive feedback, and perspective-taking, which may make them more effective employees and leaders.
How to Inspire Workplace Innovation: Increase Self-Efficacy
Workplace innovation can be somewhat elusive, so what are the secrets to encouraging creative thinking and innovation within the workplace? A study by Ng and Lucianetti (2015) explored what factors influence individual innovative behavior. Previous research has not given sufficient attention to employees’ “sense of agency” in determining innovation. Sense of agency means the innate desire and intention to affect outcomes by one’s own actions. The study under review sought to address this issue.
EFFICACY AND INNOVATION
Innovative behavior is comprised not only by generating new ideas, but also by spreading those ideas through the organization, and working to apply those ideas. This study focused on creative self-efficacy, persuasion self-efficacy and change self-efficacy and their impact on innovative behavior. Creative self-efficacy is the extent to which employees believe in their ability to come up with new ideas. Persuasion self-efficacy refers to employees ‘ level of confidence in their ability to translate ideas and get buy-in from others, and finally, change efficacy deals with employees’ ability to deal with work demands despite challenges and changes within that environment.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The findings suggest that as employees feel increasingly confident in the three areas of self-efficacy (creative, persuasion, and change), there is a corresponding increase in innovative behavior. This emphasizes the link between employees’ cognitive beliefs about their own abilities and their subsequent behavior. Peer respect was also found to aid innovative behavior, as employees are more likely to share and contribute when they feel their ideas and efforts are respected. This goes a long way in reducing the anxieties and fears that stifle innovation.
In addition, the study found that employees’ sense of organizational trustworthiness was a contributing factor to facilitating innovation. Another key finding was the extent to which a sense of collectivism may not facilitate innovative behavior, despite efforts targeting growth in self-efficacy. This may be due to the fact that collectivist-minded people value social cohesion, which innovation may disrupt.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study shows that belief in one’s own creative ability is critical in fostering innovation. In terms of training, the focus should be on increasing all three types of self-efficacy. This will help impact the various aspects of innovative behavior: idea generation, persuasion and implementation. Managers should seek to create an environment that welcomes new ideas in order to reduce the anxiety and fear associated with contributing.
Also, individuals with a collectivist orientation are usually valued in organizations, but this personality orientation could hinder innovative performance. However, there are various ways of promoting collective innovative behavior, such as linking reward systems to team performance.
Leveraging Human Capital: Are Your Employees Getting Enough Sleep?
Human capital refers to specific employee characteristics that can make a business successful. Traditionally, industrial-organizational psychologists have used the acronym “KSAO”, which stands for knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics, to classify an employee’s work-related capabilities. When these KSAOs are useful for an organization’s overall economic outcomes, they are considered human capital.
Organizations often use sophisticated selection systems, or elaborate training programs to make sure that their employees have the right type of human capital that can make them economically successful. But just because the employees have the “right stuff”, does not mean that business outcomes are determined. Organizations also must find ways to harness the power of their human capital and get the most out of it. For example, if an organization pushes employees to work harder, it might think that it is spending more of its human capital—getting more bang for its buck.
HUMAN CAPITAL LEVERAGING STRATEGIES
Researchers are aware of the tendency for organizations to try to squeeze more out of its employees, and ostensibly get more out of its human capital. They call these efforts human capital leveraging strategies. But do they work? An organization that pushes its employees to the extreme may be leveraging human capital, but is this really an effective strategy that will lead to better business outcomes? Researchers (Barnes, Jiang, & Lepak, 2015) have released a new model based on existing research studies that predicts what happens when organizations try to squeeze a little more out of their employees.
ARE EMPLOYEES GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP?
The authors discuss five different strategies that businesses use to get the most out of their human capital. While they agree that these strategies may initially enhance team performance and provide an initial boost in productivity, they caution that these same strategies may lead employees to get less sleep (in terms of time), and worse sleep (in terms of quality) at night. Sleeping problems are associated with many negative workplace outcomes, such as bad moods, “cyberloafing”, decreased productivity, and more unethical behavior.
These are the five strategies that may eventually lead to disrupting employee sleep:
- Extended shifts: With longer shifts, organizations get more labor out of their preexisting workforce. Longer shifts also mean less time off the job, and fewer hours to sleep. Long hours may also more readily contribute to irrecoverable exhaustion.
- Night shifts: When companies keep working through the night, they add to the hours of money making. Yet night shifts are notorious for disrupting circadian rhythms and employee sleep.
- Schedule instability: Organizations may rotate employee through different time shifts, especially if there are some shifts at undesirable times. These changes may help maximize working hours for the organization, but the changes can wreak havoc on employee sleep patterns.
- Norm for work over sleep: An organization might communicate the message that they value when their employees work long hours and forgo sleep. For example, an employee might be praised for work emails sent at 1am. Sleep will be compromised under these conditions.
- Norm for constant connectivity: Organizations might urge employees to be constantly connected to their work email or smartphone. Sleep will be compromised when work intrudes on an employee’s time off.
The authors expect all five of the above techniques to lead to short-term productivity. This is not surprising. After all, each of these techniques leads to employees working more hours and sacrificing their personal time. Any organization that works employees harder with disregard for their health and well-being will probably notice a quick uptick in business success. But in the long run, this strategy is doomed to fail. Human capital is just as much “human” as it is “capital”. Organizations that do not consider how their policies affect the health and well-being of their employees will not be able to get the most out of these employees in the long run. If your policies are making your employees sleep deprived, you can expect long-term failure.
Goal Orientation: Helping Team Performance or My Own Performance?
Not all people are motivated by the same things, and goal orientation is one way that psychologists classify what makes people tick. You might think of goal orientation as the basic underlying goal that explains what you do and why you do it. New research (Dietz, van Knippenberg, Hirst, Restubog, 2015) shows how a certain type of goal orientation can only sometimes help performance, depending on the situation.
GOAL ORIENTATION AT WORK
Researchers have classified several types of goal orientation that are relevant to the workplace. Employees with a learning goal orientation are moved to achieve personal mastery, while those with a performance-avoid goal orientation are motivated by a fear of negative evaluations from other people. This study focused on performance-prove goal orientation, which is when people feel the need to prove themselves to other people via achievement or even one-upmanship. Being that this type of motivation increases competition, it’s not surprising that past research has found an association with individual performance. In this study, the authors wanted to know how this dynamic affects teams.
TEAM IDENTIFICATION AND PERFORMANCE
The authors studied sales professionals and students, and found that having a high performance goal orientation is only sometimes beneficial to performance; it actually depends on the extent to which people on a team see themselves as being “one” with their team. This strong sense of cohesiveness, or “team identification”, changes what happens when employees feel the need to achieve and beat the competition. When team identification is strong, people may see the team as an extension of themselves, and their need to compete inspires them to help their team compete against other teams. If team identification is weak, people who need to compete will see team members as competition, and may compete against them. This can be detrimental to overall team performance.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The authors separately investigated team performance and individual performance of people on those teams. When it came to team performance, a high degree of team identification was associated with better performance when people had a performance goal orientation. In other words, with strong team cohesiveness, people who feel the need to compete will help direct the team to compete against other teams. This improves team performance.
Results were very different when it came to individual level performance. People who had a performance goal orientation performed better when team identification was low. In other words, with low team cohesiveness, people who need to compete will compete against fellow team members. This improves their own personal performance.
This study shows that performance goal orientation (or “need to achieve”) is only sometimes beneficial. People with performance goal orientation need to compete, but the level of team cohesiveness and camaraderie will determine how these people choose to compete. When team cohesiveness is strong, efforts are directed at improving the team; when team cohesiveness is weak, efforts are directed at improving the self.
There are important managerial implications here. In the business world, and specifically in high-competition industries like sales, employees are often selected for their high-achieving inner drive. While this might be good for individual performance, modern organizations are increasingly relying on teams to get work done. In the absence of team cohesiveness, these competitive employees will look out for themselves by competing against other team members. Organizational leaders may have to consider if this is truly what they want, especially if team goals are compromised.
On the other hand, when team cohesiveness is high, competitive employees will use their “inner fire” to bolster team performance in competition with other teams. Clearly, there is an advantage to team cohesiveness. This is something organizational leaders and managers might want to remember when they attempt to improve team performance.
Workforce Diversity: Does Diversity Training Improve Creativity?
Workforce diversity has become a major organizational issue for most companies in the 21st century, and with good reason; we’ve come a long way from the mono-cultural workplaces that dominated the business world just a few short decades ago. Organizations of all sizes tell us in corporate press releases and social media posts that, within their company, “Diversity drives innovation and creativity!” However, research tells us that’s not necessarily a given.
To benefit from diversity, many companies already employ “active diversity management” techniques such as diversity training to get the most value out of their teams’ diversity. However, even these methods are far from universally effective. A team of researchers from The Netherlands and Germany set out to better understand the conditions in which diversity training will benefit work teams the most.
VALUE OF NATIONALITY DIVERSITY
The root of the conflict is that research has shown that diversity can both help and hurt the creativity and performance of work teams. On one hand, the different thinking styles, beliefs, and ideas that are naturally present in diverse work teams can help to stimulate creativity by providing different perspectives on projects. It’s certainly not hard to imagine how a wider array of differing perspectives could be beneficial to creativity.
Conversely, humans are naturally prone to subconsciously categorize people. If team members view each other based on their preconceived notions of their nationalities, it can totally negate the benefits of diversity, and potentially even negatively impact creativity.
In response to this, around 70% of companies have already instituted some form of diversity training, in an attempt to ensure that the diversity within their teams adds value. Even with this training, though, it’s sometimes still not enough to ensure a positive result.
UNDER WHAT CONDITIONS DOES DIVERSITY TRAINING HELP OR HARM TEAMS?
The researchers (Homan, Buengeler, Eckhoff, van Ginkel, & Voelpel, 2015) looked to address the issue of when diversity training is actually beneficial to team creativity. Interestingly, they found that diversity training had the most positive impact on the teams that needed it the most; those with high diversity and low preexisting positive beliefs about diversity.
However, the study also found that in teams that were less diverse, creativity was actually reduced when there were low positive diversity beliefs. So, when team members didn’t believe diversity to be beneficial, and there is little diversity present, diversity training had a negative impact on performance.
The researchers also found minimal impact either way from diversity training on teams that already had a positive opinion of the value of diversity.
First and foremost, this research further supports the notion that there is value in an internationally diverse workforce. In high-diversity teams there is potential for increased creativity—or at worst, no significant change—given proper diversity training. In addition, low diversity teams who didn’t believe diversity would benefit them actually showed reduced performance following diversity training.
The research also begins to answer the question of when companies should utilize diversity training. The biggest impact occurs in teams that need it the most; those that are high-diversity, and don’t believe that diversity will benefit them. These conditions are certainly not uncommon to find in modern international work teams, so it’s reassuring for professionals to see research supporting the value of diversity training in these situations.
It’s clear that further research is still needed on how to maximize the value added by diversity within teams. However, this research reinforces the notion that there is value to be added, and that different conditions demand different approaches when it comes to diversity training.
How to Survive Toxic Work Relationships by Thriving
How can we possibly survive toxic work relationships? After all, the workplace is replete with human interaction and relationships: employees actively communicate with coworkers and supervisors in both one-on-one and team settings to complete tasks and projects. However, not all workplace relationships are positive; some are downright de-energizing. A relationship is characterized as de-energizing when it is both negative and draining, and this type of relationship can have serious implications for employees.
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF DE-ENERGIZING RELATIONSHIPS
When employees engage in de-energizing interactions they use up valuable cognitive and emotional resources that may in turn affect their work-related activity. Individuals may dread interacting with a de-energizing coworker, ruminate about the interaction, and carry over these negative reactions into other work tasks and interactions. In addition, employees may spend excessive amounts of time thinking about their de-energizing relationships, which may lessen their cognitive processing abilities, such as ability to recall or comprehend information.
Even more concerning is the recent finding that de-energizing work relationships are also related to lower job performance (Gerbasi, Porath, Parker, Spreitzer, & Cross, 2015). Employees in the information technology (IT) department of a global engineering firm were asked to report the number of energizing and de-energizing relationships they had within their department. The results of the study show that employees who report more de-energizing relationships had poorer work performance than employees with fewer de-energizing relationships. Thus, de-energizing relationships may negatively affect employees’ job performance.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that all de-energizing work relationships can be remedied, which means employees may have to find mechanisms to reduce the negative effects brought on by de-energizing relationships.
THRIVING AT WORK
Thriving is a relatively new psychological idea that is characterized as something that people do to “navigate and change their work contexts to promote their own development” (Spreitzer, 2005, p. 537). Individuals who are thriving maintain their own personal energy stores that may be used to help counteract the deleterious effects of draining relationships. To test this relationship, the researchers conducted a second study involving 535 senior associates and principals at a management consulting firm.
Consistent with the findings from their first study, the researchers found that employees who reported a higher number of de-energizing relationships were less likely to ‘meet or exceed expectations’ on their performance evaluations. In addition, when employees’ levels of thriving increased, so did the probability that they would ‘exceed expectations’ on their performance evaluations. These findings suggest that de-energizing relationships can harm performance while thriving may be related to improved performance.
However, the most interesting finding came from individuals with both high numbers of de-energizing relationships and high levels of thriving. Individuals who experienced multiple de-energizing relationships and reported high levels of thriving had a greater probability of meeting or exceeding expectations on their performance evaluations than individuals who had multiple de-energizing relationships but reported low levels of thriving. As a result, the study shows that thriving may help to buffer against de-energizing relationships so that performance does not suffer. Thriving individuals may be more resilient than non-thrivers, allowing them to endure repeated interactions with de-energizing coworkers.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Given the negative consequences associated with de-energizing relationships, organizations should aim to improve workplace relationships among coworkers. But this task may prove to be challenging, and might require multiple interventions. For example, the authors suggest that organizations can implement 360-degree feedback processes to identify possible problems. In addition, employees who cannot avoid de-energizing relationships can try to limit these interactions, develop their level of thriving, and engage in energy management exercises throughout the workday. Finally, organizations can train and coach employees to engage in positive, collaborative behavior rather than de-energizing behavior. Coaching employees on conflict management, problem solving, and communication strategies may eliminate behavior that is perceived as de-energizing, and as a result, improve work relationships.
Effective Negotiation: When Does Expressing Sadness Work?
People are always claiming to know what factors contribute to effective negotiation, but a new study shows that expressing sadness can work in certain situations. The authors begin with a really interesting anecdote to illustrate:
“At the peak of the Cuban missile crisis, Robert F. Kennedy, a close aide to U.S.President John F. Kennedy, talked with Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin. In this critical exchange, Robert Kennedy acted quite emotional by expressing sadness dramatically. He “was almost crying.” “I haven’t seen my children for days now,” he said almost breaking down in tears, in a sad way, “and the President hasn’t seen his either….I don’t know how much longer we can hold out against our generals,” according to the Soviet account (Allison, 1971; Divine, 1988; Khrushchev, 1970, p. 51). In response to the sadness conveyed by Robert Kennedy, Soviet Premier Khrushchev thought that “We could see that we had to reorient our position swiftly” and he “sent the Americans a note saying we agreed to remove our missiles and bombers” (Khrushchev, 1970, p. 51). Although many factors influenced Khrushchev’s decision, this anecdote suggests that expressions of sadness may be effective in securing acquiescence in conflict and negotiation.” (Sinaceur, Kopelman, Vasiljevic, Haag, 2015, p. 1).
As scientists are oftentimes inspired, but never satisfied with anecdotal evidence, the authors conducted three different experiments to investigate whether expressing sadness leads to more favorable negotiation outcomes. The experiments used simulated negotiation situations with easily measurable outcomes. One part was given training on how to act during the exercise, sometimes being told to show sadness, sometimes told to repress emotion, and in one experiment, told to show anger.
WHEN IS SADNESS EFFECTIVE IN NEGOTIATIONS?
Results show that expressing sadness was effective in gaining more favorable negotiation outcomes, but only if one of four conditions is met. In these specific four scenarios, the listener who was exposed to sadness was moved to feel more concern for the person expressing the sadness, and therefore made more concessions to that person during negotiation. These are the four situations in which sadness works:
- The person expressing sadness is perceived to have a low amount of power. People who are powerful don’t seem to need our commiseration as much as people who are more helpless.
- The listener knows that there will be future interactions with the person expressing sadness. It’s more likely that people will invest in interpersonal relationship-building through commiseration when there is a good chance of working with that person in the future. It’s easier to be cold and indifferent to someone when you don’t have to ever see them again.
- The listener believes that the relationship is collaborative. The interpersonal relationship aspects seem more important when collaboration (instead of competition) is supposed to be taking place.
- The listener believes that it is inappropriate to blame others. Sadness, say the authors, conveys the sense that nobody is to blame for the current situation, and sadness is the only thing left to do. When the listener agrees with this, the expression of sadness gains more sympathy.
The researchers say that sadness can be more useful than anger. The first three situations were specifically chosen because research shows that anger does not work in those situations. In the fourth situation, sadness was pitted against anger, and results show that sadness was more effective. It’s easy to think that displays of anger are useful during negotiations, if only for the intimidation factor. This study shows otherwise; sadness—which might be avoided because it is perceived as showing weakness—is actually more effective in multiple different scenarios.
This study shows that sadness can be effective in gaining more favorable negotiation outcomes. However, one of four situational conditions must be present for this to work. These four situations also happen to be times when anger does not work, providing a major advantage to the emotion of sadness. Does this mean that we should all “fake-sad” during negotiations? Should we teach ourselves to cry on demand? The authors caution against this tactic, arguing that it presents very real ethical concerns. However, if sadness is one of the things that we feel, repressing it to appear “tough” might be a poor strategy. By harnessing the natural concern that human beings feel toward each other, displays of sadness might not only be the natural thing to do, but also the effective thing to do.
Organizational Newcomers: Conflict Can Lead to Worse Performance
Organizational newcomers are those employees who are “just off the boat” and are still trying to figure out how work is done at their new organization. Sure, HR-led orientations may be useful for some things, but there are certainly job-related specifics that require more detailed information from people already doing the job. A newcomer’s ability to acquire this information may be the difference between good and bad job performance. New research (Nifadkar & Bauer, 2015) helps us understand what can go wrong in this process.
RELATIONSHIP CONFLICT AND INFORMATION SEEKING
The research was conducted longitudinally (over several different occasions) and found several relationships that explain the process of how new employees seek and receive information that is valuable to learning how to do their job. The first finding is that interpersonal or “relationship” conflict with coworkers can lead new employees to avoid asking these coworkers for the valuable information they need. The authors explain that the feeling of conflict leads to social anxiety, which makes asking for help seem risky. It makes sense, right? If I think you might put me down or yell at me, I’d probably be less likely to ask you for help.
When poor relationships with coworkers make seeking information from them more difficult, newcomers instead turn to their supervisors to seek the much needed information. According to the theory used by the authors (“belongingness theory”) people have a natural desire to establish good relationships or feel like they belong. If employees feel distant from co-workers, they may feel more drawn to supervisors, and therefore identify these supervisors as a good source of obtaining information.
LACK OF INFORMATION LEADS TO POOR PERFORMANCE
The authors also found that when newcomers have bad relationships with coworkers, the newcomers end up seeking less information and eventually obtain an inadequate amount of information. This is despite the fact that they may be drawn to seek this information from supervisors. It seems there is no true replacement for the type or quantity of information that can come from people working alongside of you. Results show that the overall lack of seeking and getting information led these newcomers to worse task-performance at their jobs, as measured by supervisors and by self-evaluations.
This study shows that organizational newcomers are negatively affected by conflict with coworkers. When conflict occurs, newcomers seek less information and get less information. Ultimately their job performance suffers because of it. For this reason, say the authors, organizations may want to pay special attention to finding ways to shield newcomers from conflict. While we can’t expect relationship conflict to be eliminated entirely, we need to recognize how damaging it can be to employees who are still finding their way in the organization.
Also, say the authors, organizations need to make sure that coworkers are involved in the socialization of newcomers. Corporate organization-wide orientations have their place as far as explaining certain company policies, but there seems to be an element of job information that is uniquely gained from coworkers. This knowledge, if passed along to newcomers, can result in better job performance. Finally, when newcomers avoided their coworkers, they instead sought information from supervisors. If conflict is occurring in the workplace, managers and leaders should recognize the added role of information provider that they need to take on. This might lessen the harmful effects of relationship conflict, and help newcomers adjust and learn.
Good Moods Encourage Speaking Up at Work
We can probably agree that speaking up at work is a good idea when employees have constructive things to say. They might have insight into how something can be done more efficiently or an idea that leads to better results. Researchers in this study (Liu, Tangirala, Lam, Chen, Jia, Huang, 2015) focused on this type of speaking up—the kind that involves making productive suggestions—as opposed to criticism. Interestingly, they found that good moods go a long way in determining whether someone will speak up at work.
WHEN THE LISTENER IS IN A GOOD MOOD
The two part study consisted of a scenario-based lab experiment (“what would you do…”) and a real-world evaluation of employees and their tendencies. Results show that when the listener or “target” is in a good mood, people were more likely to speak up. This is because of psychological safety, meaning the speaker felt safe in making a suggestion. When the listener is not in a good mood, psychological safety is lower. In this case, the speaker may fear rejection, being ignored, or being made fun of, and is more likely to choose to remain silent.
The authors also found that the effects of mood are more pronounced in two situations. The first is when the relationship between the speaker and the listener is poor. If it were a good relationship, the speaker might always feel safe in making suggestions. When the relationship is bad, people rely more on moods to guide their behavior, as the moods will signal whether or not now is a good and safe time to speak up.
The second factor that made people rely more on the moods of the listener is when the speaker had a lower social status than the listener. When someone has a higher social status, co-workers are even more afraid of potential ridicule, retaliation, and other harmful outcomes if the comment is not welcome or seen as threatening. This is because the ridicule or retaliation is coming from someone who is regarded as important or who controls resources that might affect the speaker. That’s when people rely on the listener’s mood to an even greater extent.
When organizations desire improvement, especially for creative processes, they can benefit from employees speaking up. Oftentimes it’s the employees who are directly involved with the work who are best able to suggest process improvements. Nevertheless, this research reminds us that employees don’t just speak up because they are the “speaking up kind”, or are “bold and not afraid to be heard”. Instead, managers need to be aware of the subtle situational factors that can lead toward either encouraging or discouraging speaking up. Sometimes, as in this study, very subtle factors can lead to very different outcomes in the workplace. It might make us want to think twice about strolling around the office in a very bad mood.