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.
When Leaders Do Not Treat Employees Equally
New research by Tse, Lam, Lawrence, and Huang (2013) has discovered what happens when leaders have better relationships with some employees and worse relationships with others. The results are discouraging. When leaders do not treat employees equally, many problems arise, and ultimately job performance may suffer
When a leader forms relationships of different quality among their subordinates, coworkers are more likely to develop contempt for one another. When we think about coworkers who have better relationships with the leader than we do, we may want to “put down” those people, in order to fight off feelings of inferiority. When we consider coworkers who have worse relationships with the leader, we may think those people have been excluded due to a failing on their part. Perhaps they are unworthy and have not met group standards.
The authors also found that not all people react to these workplace disparities in the same ways. Some people, they say, feel the need to frequently compare themselves to others in order to reduce their own insecurities. People of this kind are more likely to compare themselves with coworkers, and therefore more likely to develop contempt in cases where their coworkers have different relationships with the leader.
What happens when these feelings of contempt develop? We tend to perceive that these other employees are not helping us as much at work. This feeling is associated with decreases in job performance.
This study shows the importance of treating all employees equally. Managers and leaders should try to develop positive relationships with all of their employees, or risk seeing a decline in job performance across their organization. When leaders maintain stronger relationships with some employees than with others, both groups are negatively affected. In other words, when some employees are treated unequally, nobody wins.
Idiosyncratic Deals: How work arrangements affect job performance
Typically, when an employee and an employer enter into a work agreement, the employee has pre-defined responsibilities. For instance, an employee must complete tasks a, b, and c during a specified time period in a specific location. A marketing manager, for example, must develop the company’s marketing strategy over two months, while working at an office in San Francisco. However, there are exceptions to this typical work arrangement. An employee may be assigned additional roles or tasks that make a flexible schedule or alternate work location more appropriate. Despite the fact that the employee was originally expected to work eight hours a day from the San Francisco office, the employer agrees to allow this employee to work from any location. These exceptions to employer-employee work arrangements are known as idiosyncratic deals or “i-deals.”
In response to receiving an i-deal, an employee usually is more emotionally committed to the job, and will go above and beyond in trying to help the company. Though this relationship between idiosyncratic deals and work outcomes is relatively well understood, what is less known is exactly why i-deals lead to positive work outcomes. Previous research indicated that part of the reason is due to social exchange theory. According to this theory, when an employee is granted an i-deal, they feel grateful and want to pay back the favor, which they do by performing at an even higher level, as a way of compensating their employer for the benefits they receive from the modified work arrangement. However, in shedding more light on the relationship between i-deals and job performance, the authors of this study found that, in addition to social exchange theory, self-enhancement theory offers another reason why idiosyncratic deals lead to positive work outcomes. According to this theory, when an employer grants an i-deal, the employee feels valued and important; thus, confidence is built and job performance improves. The authors found that this was a better explanation for why i-deals lead to positive work outcomes than the gratitude-based social exchange theory.
Selection Tests and Job Performance
Ideally, when we test prospective employees, we gather valuable information that will help us determine if a candidate is suitable for a given job. But that’s not all. We also create an impression in the candidate’s mind about our company, its culture, and its values. Research has found that candidates’ reactions to selection testing do affect their attitudes. For example, candidates may react anxiously or perceive unjust treatment. These reactions can influence a candidate’s view of an organization, as well as determine whether they would recommend it to others. New research (McCarthy, Van Iddekinge, Lievens, Kung, Sinar, & Campion, 2013) explores the possibility that selections tests could also be influencing subsequent job performance.
The authors conducted four different experiments in a variety of settings. They found that reactions to selection tests did relate to job performance. However, they go on to explain that this connection is nothing to be concerned about. Many of the same personal characteristics that influence reactions to testing also influence job performance, so we’d naturally expect a relationship between the two. Similarly, reactions to testing may also have an effect on test scores, and test scores themselves are (hopefully) related to job performance. Additionally, the major finding of the study was that candidate reactions to testing did not diminish the usefulness of selection tests. That is to say, it makes little difference if some candidates feel discouraged by the testing, while others feel elated. Either way, the selection test will have the same ability to predict performance fairly.
The authors caution that these findings should not give an organization the go-ahead to completely disregard a candidate’s attitude. It is logical to expect that many benefits occur when candidates feel they are treated fairly. A company’s reputation is, in part, determined by word of mouth, and a sense of fair play may result in favorable attitudes toward the organization that are subsequently communicated to others (Hausknecht, Day, & Thomas, 2004).
This study is important, because it demonstrates that organizations need not make positive or negative feelings of candidates a primary objective when designing selection tests. Simply build a fair test that follows best practices. No matter how the candidates feel, we can be confident that a properly designed selection test is gathering the valuable information needed to hire the right employee for the job.
Relationship Between Situational Demands and Job Performance
When attending a dinner party, you would not show up an hour late, remark that the food was cold, and blithely inform the hostess that she appears to be carrying an extra 10-20 pounds since you last saw her. Well, most wouldn’t. Most people are aware of what is expected of them at a dinner party. At some point they learned the manners and etiquette required, and they perform accordingly. Most are able to learn the situational demands of different environments and apply them appropriately. So, how does this relate to job performance?
Jansen et al studied 67 men and 57 women. Participants were run through a process that mimicked the selection process for a new job. Organizational skills, consideration of others, persuasiveness, analytical skills, presentation skills, assertiveness, and creativity were measured. Afterwards, participants completed a situational assessment questionnaire.
The researchers found that performance during the simulated selection process was linked to a candidate’s ability to assess the situational demands of the process. In short, they knew what was expected of them. Those who didn’t do well often didn’t understand what behavior was needed of them, while those who excelled were able to accurately determine what was wanted. This suggests an under-examined element (i.e., the awareness of situational demands) that may come into play during the hiring process.
However, not only was the ability to gauge expectations and situational demands related to performance at a selection process for a new job, but it was also related to job performance at the candidate’s current employer. In short, poor job performance may be due to an employee’s inability to determine from normal context what exactly is expected of them.
Workplace Discrimination Against Non-Native Speakers
When employees appear destined for top-level management but are never actually chosen, they are said to suffer from the “glass ceiling effect”. Traditionally, research has documented a glass ceiling effect for women, but other groups are similarly discriminated against. Although research has shown that people speaking with a foreign accent are subject to discrimination, little is known about why this occurs. New research by Huang, Frideger, and Pearce (2013) seeks to explain why.
The researchers used results of a lab experiment, as well as real-world data from an entrepreneurial funding competition, and found that non-native speakers did indeed face workplace discrimination. They were rated as less suitable for a managerial position in a hiring simulation, and they were less likely to receive funding in an entrepreneurial competition. But that’s not all. The researchers tested several different possible reasons for why this workplace discrimination occurred. Surprisingly, perceived communication ability or collaboration ability were not to blame. Additionally, outright racism against people from a different country did not statistically explain the discrimination. So what was the culprit? The researchers found that non-native speakers are seen as having less political skill than native speakers. In other words, interviewers question their ability to effectively influence others, navigate tricky interpersonal situations, and use language to build relationships and work with others.
What can non-native speakers do to overcome workplace discrimination based on this misperception? The researchers suggest that job interviewees might highlight their political skill by providing specific examples of past experiences, as well as seeking other ways to signal that they are politically skilled. This may work better, they say, than trying to change an accent, which is typically difficult to do. For interviewers and hiring managers, this research provides another example of how biased thinking can unfortunately lead to workplace discrimination when we aren’t being careful.
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.
Practice makes perfect: The harder you practice, the better you play
Let’s imagine that you are learning a new skill, and in honor of the end of summer, let’s say that skill is sunbathing. Assuming that you want to be an expert sunbather, your path to greatness will depend on the type of practice that you do. If you spend 15 minutes by the pool with heavy cloud coverage, your practice intensity would not be as high as someone baking for six hours under direct sunlight during a day that is nearly 100 degrees. Which person, the former or the latter, will be Mr. or Mrs. Hawaiian Tropic? If you said the latter, as in the person who puts in six hours of intense and difficult practice, then you’d be correct. This observation – that the intensity and difficulty of practice relate to performance – was empirically supported by a study by researchers from the University of Oklahoma, though their subjects were learning how to play a video game instead of sunbathing.
In this study, when the subjects were learning how to play a video game, those who chose difficult practice sessions tended to play the video game at a higher level than those who chose easier practice sessions. Further, these Sooners also gave us insight into who was likely to select difficult types of practices: those who were smart, had prior video-game experience, were self-confident, and were told that making errors is an essential part of learning were more likely to choose to engage in difficult types of practice. Some of these factors are out of our control, but not all. These findings give us greater insight into how to help in-person and virtual learners out there get the most out of their practice – and therefore, performance. Now, where are my sunglasses….
Emotional Labor: The True Cost of Service with a Smile
Talk about demanding work! In addition to their typical job duties, like waiting on tables, making sales, or assisting customers, customer service professionals must also perform emotional labor. When employees smile cheerfully at the end of a grueling shift, they are performing something called surface acting, which is a type of emotional labor. Research has shown that emotional labor can lead to psychological strain and fatigue. The current study (Beal, Trougakos, Weiss, & Dalal, 2013) has made advancements in this area of research by scrutinizing a new variable, called “affect spin”.
The authors define “affect spin” as the extent to which people experience a variety of different emotions throughout the day. For example, some people might fluctuate between two or three emotional states throughout the day, while others fluctuate between six or seven. Why does this matter? The authors conducted a study of restaurant servers in multiple restaurants, and found that levels of “affect spin” influence the degree to which the servers experienced psychological strain and other negative outcomes due to the emotional labor they performed.
When individuals experience many different emotions during the day (high “affect spin”), they also tend to react more strongly to emotionally charged events. Indeed, the study found that these servers experienced more psychological strain as a result of their surface acting. Additionally, people who experience many different emotions may find it harder to predict how they will feel at any given time. This unpredictability makes them exert more effort in forcing themselves to display the “right” emotions on the job. The study also found that people high on “affect spin” experienced more fatigue as a result of their emotional labor.
However, the authors also found that people with high levels of “affect spin” may also have the ability to experience higher levels of psychological strain without it leading to fatigue. This is because they may have more experience with feeling “stressed out”, and therefore handle it better. In other words, being high on “affect spin” has its advantages in addition to its disadvantages.
So yes, servers and other customer service professionals are at risk for psychological strain and fatigue due to the emotional labor required of them. However, thanks to this study, we better understand that not all individuals respond to those job demands in the same way, and why. Although this sheds light on who may be best cut out to do customer service work, as always (say this with a smile), more work is necessary.
Effective Decision-Making: Why are Some Leaders Better at it than Others?
This study examined the effective decision-making of 103 military leaders. The authors hoped to discover what mental techniques made some leaders more successful decision makers than others.
In the military, soldiers are exposed to unpredictable and ever-changing situations. One day, they may be meeting with the village elders in Afghanistan to discuss ways in which the US and NATO can help the village. The next day, these same soldiers could be in combat and have to shoot people who look and act in ways very similar to the village elders they met the day before. Given the constantly changing demands of war, soldiers must have the capacity to accurately assess the demands of each situation and act accordingly.
A soldier in negotiations need to be compromising and thoughtful. When in battle, they must aggressively attack the enemy before being injured or killed themselves. If a soldier does not assess each situation anew, but instead acts the same way every time, the consequences could be disastrous. When in negotiations, a soldier who just verbally attacks their negotiating partner is unlikely to get the desired outcome. Similarly, the soldier who acts in a compromising manner on the battlefield and considers the needs of the enemy is unlikely to fare well.
Given the importance of this topic, the authors looked at leader self-complexity – which refers to the ability to act in a manner that is appropriate for the situation – and decision-making. Results indicated that soldiers who who were able to assess the demands of a situation on a case-by-case basis ultimately made better decisions. In complex circumstances and environments, the ability to see the uniqueness of each situation leads to the best decisions.