Can your personality effect how well you adapt to changes in the workplace?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology ( Jan, 2014)
Article: Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

The business world is always evolving, from technology to everyday work requirements. So being able to adapt to changes in the workplace quickly is incredibly valuable for employers.

Evolutionary theory has put forward certain personality traits as better predictors of effective adaptation in various areas of our lives. But the difficulty in evolving within the organizational environment lies in the fact that adaptation in a work setting isn’t about adjusting to a stable environment, but to one that is constantly changing.

A new study on “Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation” examines what kind of person was better able to handle novel work challenges and an environment of constant change.


Reactive and Proactive Adjustments to Change

Adaptive performance at work is basically about how one tackles unforeseen changes and shifting demands. Researchers found that emotional stability and ambition were the traits that had the greatest positive influence on an employees’ ability to adapt effectively.

Personality traits also seemed to influence the strategies that employees use in dealing with change. People tend to display either a reactive or proactive style: A reactive style is highly responsive to the demands of the situation, whereas a proactive style concerns the individual taking initiative at the outset and seeking opportunities for improving things.


Are Some Better Equipped to Handle Change Than Others?

The study found ambition to be associated with proactive strategies. Ambitious individuals seem to fare better when it comes to adaptive performance because they take more initiative and embrace change to a greater extent than others, making the necessary adjustments to continue meeting their goals. Ambitious people see changing with the circumstances as a way to climb the corporate ladder and get ahead.

Emotional stability (which involves keeping your cool even when things are in state of flux) is more closely related to reactive strategies. This trait indicates a person’s ability to remain steadfast in the face of challenges or changes, dealing with whatever curve-balls have been thrown at them in a rational and emotionally appropriate way.


The Role of Job Level in Adjusting to Change

Being able to adapt effectively is not solely dependent on one’s personality, but also the situation and circumstances. An example of this used in the research was the connection between job level and adaptive performance.

Managers generally tend to show more proactive styles, perhaps because they have more opportunities to take various initiatives as a result of being managers. Regular employees showed more reactive styles to change, perhaps due to their limited control over situations in the workplace.


Other Applications of the Research

Why is understanding the connection between personality and the ability to adapt to changes in the workplace important? Because knowing how specific personality traits affect the way people adapt when confronted with change could help organizations become more efficient in hiring the right person for certain jobs. But on a deeper level, outside of the work context, this kind of research could also help solve some of the most pressing social adaptation issues we face.

Why Try to “Fit” In at Work? The Importance of Work Engagement and Person-Job Fit

Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior 84 (2014) 142–152.
Article: Does work engagement increase person-job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity
Reviewed by: Lauren Zimmerman

Today’s workplace can be precarious, with the increasing prevalence of organizational restructuring and downsizing leading to tougher competition for jobs. As a result, ensuring each employees’ person-job fit has become crucial to organizations as they strive to hire and retain top performing employees and avoid turnover.

But this begs the question, how can organizations and their employees improve person-job fit? The answer lies not solely in the hands of organizations, but also in the hands of the employees themselves.



In the new study, “Does work engagement increase person-job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity,” researchers examined the influence of employees’ work engagement on their person-job fit. They focused on personal job crafting, which involves employees actively changing the physical (i.e. task) and interpersonal attributes of their work.

Specifically, the authors were interested in how engaged employees alter their job tasks in order to enhance their demands-abilities fit, the match between employees’ job demands and their abilities to meet them.

The authors were also interested in examining the ways in which engaged employees change interpersonal characteristics of their jobs in order to achieve needs-supplies fit, which reflects the alignment between an employee’s job needs and the resources required to fulfill those needs.

Lastly, the authors explored the influence of job insecurity on employees’ work engagement, and the changes in the physical and interpersonal characteristics of their jobs.



The study revealed that highly engaged employees were considerably more likely to change their person-job fit than less engaged employees.

In particular, highly engaged employees altered the physical characteristics of their jobs to attain optimal demands-abilities fit, and modified the interpersonal features of their jobs to enhance their needs-supplies fit.

Moreover, highly engaged employees were also more likely to change the interpersonal aspects of their jobs when they perceived that their job environments were insecure, in order to ease the feelings of uncertainty about their jobs.



These results indicate that organizations should seek to hire and retain highly engaged employees. Not only because they are more dedicated and involved in their jobs, but also because they will likely enhance their own person-job fit, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention.

Through changes in both task and interpersonal features, these engaged employees are motivated to redesign aspects of their jobs to achieve optimal workplace fit. Therefore, it may be wise for organizations to provide employees with opportunities and resources to alter features of their work, so that they may tailor their work environment to feel that they “fit” in better.

How Organizations Can Fast-Track Transitioning Leaders

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Show and Tell: How Supervisors Facilitate Leader Development Among Transitioning Leaders
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

New job roles can be a daunting prospect for anyone. There are contrasts with old responsibilities, new expectations, and all sorts of surprises that pop up along the way. Adjusting quickly to the demands of a new position is important for productivity. But how can organizations fast-track transitioning leaders to help them gain the knowledge and skills they need?

In “Show and Tell: How Supervisors Facilitate Leader Development Among Transitioning Leaders,” authors L. Dragoni, H. Park, J. Soltis and S. Forte-Trammell suggest that supervisors can play a key role in leadership development.

The study points towards the need for supervisors and mentors to not only tell transitioning employees how to lead effectively, but to show them how effective leadership looks in practice. This increases the chance of a smooth transition, and frees individuals up to focus on leading others.


“Telling” deals with effectively communicating the knowledge-based components of the job, which include areas of responsibility, reporting channels and the like.

By giving transitioning leaders this necessary information up front, you can reduce the potential for future mistakes and free them up to focus on other important aspects of the job.

The study suggests that leaving them to figure these things out on their own, through trial and error, will impact their overall job efficiency in the initial stages, as well as the quality of their leadership over others.


The study also suggests that the “showing” aspect of helping to develop new leaders is critical in their success.

Employees who have been lucky enough to work with a great leader may require less “show and tell.” When new leaders who have had this benefit in the past are paired with supervisors who don’t put in the proper time and effort in training, they bounce back better than those who haven’t ever worked with great leaders.

But don’t be despondent if the person you’re training has not had this benefit of working with a great leader before. The research shows that these employees often see the greatest gains from working with a “show and tell” supervisor.


In conclusion, training that provides both showing and telling gives transitioning leaders the greatest chance for success. Showing without telling leaves the new leader navigating the occasionally rough waters of organizational structures and processes alone. Telling without showing often leaves the new leader struggling to figure out appropriate behavioral responses to organizational situations.

If you’re involved in training and developing leaders for a new role, the big take-away is that you need to spend time telling them the ins and outs of the job and showing them effective leadership in context. Be the leader you want them to be, and give them a head start by telling them inside information that will help them navigate their new job role. It will save everyone time, and allow them to focus their attention on the people they’re leading.

Employee Voice: How to Find People who will Speak Up

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2013
Article: Doing Right Versus Getting Ahead: The Effects of Duty and Achievement Orientations on Employees’ Voice
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Organizations need corrective feedback when policies or practices are not working effectively. This feedback often comes from employees who notice something amiss, and have the guts to bring it to the attention of their employers.

I/O psychologists call this “employee voice.” New research (Tangirala, Kamdar, Venkataramani, & Parke, 2013) has helped employers understand how to maximize employee voice and encourage useful corrective feedback. Of course, not all employees are equally likely to speak up when problems arise in the workplace.

The researchers found that employees with a duty orientation– or those who put organizational goals above all else– are more likely to speak up when something is wrong. These people feel a moral responsibility to speak up, and consider it part of their job. They will often speak up even though bringing up unpopular or troubling information could expose them to backlash and personal harm. Employees with an achievement orientation– or those who place personal success above all else– are less likely to endanger themselves by speaking up. To these employees, speaking up when problems arise is not part of their job description. They are less likely to risk the personal harm that speaking up may cause them. So, if employers want people who aren’t afraid to rock the boat with corrective feedback, does this mean that they should only hire duty-oriented employees? Not necessarily.

The authors found that achievement-oriented employees were more likely to speak up when they felt a sense of psychological safety and perceived that they wouldn’t get in trouble for bringing difficult information to the forefront.

Also, duty-oriented employees don’t always speak up, although they are more likely to do so when they believe that they are capable of competently speaking up and making themselves heard. In practice, this research supports the notion of hiring more duty-oriented employees, which may also be known as “team players.”

Organizations can encourage “speaking up” among their current employees by doing two things. First, make sure employees have the confidence and ability to make themselves heard when they have something important to say. This can be done through coaching or training. Second, make sure the workplace climate encourages people to raise all concerns, even those that sound troubling.

In the end, if employees are too scared to say what needs to be said in order to fix problems in the workplace, the whole organization may suffer.

Organizational Attachment: An Outcome of Social Satisfaction and Relationships

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (November, 2013)
Article: Positive and negative workplace relationships, social satisfaction, and organizational attachment.
Reviewed by: Andrea Hetrick

Previous studies on organizational attachment have looked at the role of positive relationships on the attitudes of employees. But, for the most part, they have ignored the impact negative relationships can have.

To examine the influence of negative relationships, authors Venkataramani, Labianca, & Grosser (2012) conducted a study on employees in a midsize manufacturing company and a product development firm.

In these samples, they found that both negative and positive connections impact workplace relationship satisfaction. This level of satisfaction, in turn, influenced employee feelings of attachment to the organization. The article also found that positive networks became increasingly important to worker satisfaction when negative relationships were more central.

The relationships found in this study existed regardless of the employee’s age, gender, part-time or full-time status, education, ethnicity, years worked at the company, location, or number of required work ties. Additionally, the emotions employees often experienced did not affect the findings in the study, and neither did whether or not a leadership position was held.

To maintain employee satisfaction, the study suggests that companies should encourage positive employee relationships and lessen negative ones. Doing so can ensure that employees will stick around, as satisfaction leads to higher job satisfaction and feelings of commitment.

To aid employee satisfaction, the authors suggest managers should:

  1. Support informal get-togethers among co-workers.
  2. Proactively resolve employee differences early on to decrease the occurrence of negative exchanges in workgroups.
  3. Form a climate of open communication to promote trust and relationship building.
  4. Adjust the workflow and communication arrangements in workgroups so that workers with negative relationships do not work together.

The authors also propose ways for employees to increase their own satisfaction levels:

  1. Work on fostering positive connections as opposed to socially withdrawing when negative relationships exist.
  2. Stop negative relationships when they begin to form, and before they affect promotion and other growth-related opportunities.
  3. Use negative relationships as feedback to bring about personal change.

How Power Distance Agreement Improves Performance in the Workplace

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2013
Article: Leader–Team Congruence in Power Distance Values and Team Effectiveness: The Mediating Role of Procedural Justice Climate
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Research in I-O psychology suggests that, when leaders and their employees share similar attitudes about how work should be done, it creates positive outcomes in the workplace.

A recent study by Cole, Carter, and Zhang (2013) has found that agreement on the appropriate amount of power distance– the disparity in control between employees and their supervisors– can play an especially significant role in workplace harmony, leading to improved performance.

When people expect leaders to assume complete authority and make all decisions, the company’s culture is said to be high on the power distance index. When those leaders are expected to make decisions democratically, using employee input, and employees are assumed to be on equal footing, the culture is said to be low on the power distance index.

As part of the study, researchers examined the extent to which leaders and their employees agreed on power distance expectations. When this agreement was higher, two positive outcomes were usually found: Team performance improved, as did organizational citizen behaviors (when employees go beyond their formal job descriptions to benefit the organization).

But why did this happen? The authors found that, when leaders and employees had similar expectations regarding power distance, there was agreement as to who should be making the decisions. For example, when high power distance was expected, all parties agreed that the leader should be making decisions unilaterally.

This type of agreement leads to a perception of procedural justice, or the feeling that employees are being treated fairly. In our example, the employees do not expect to make decisions, and perceive it as fair when they are not asked to do so. Procedural justice was ultimately associated with higher job performance and organizational citizenship behaviors.

The authors concluded that organizations should find ways to discover the power distance expectations of leaders and their employees. When agreement is low, the organization can then take steps to help correct the mismatch and train leaders to better suit their followers. Ultimately, this knowledge of team members’ preferences can be an important step towards improving overall team performance.

Problem Solving at Work: It’s Not What You Know, but WHO You Know

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (September, 2013)
Article: The Relational Antecedents of Voice Targeted at Different Leaders
Reviewed by: Cynthia Maupin

When it comes to problem solving at work, it doesn’t necessarily matter what you know as much as who you know.

Employees who work directly with products or customers have first-hand experience with some of their company’s biggest issues. But many don’t have the influence or resources to solve those problems without assistance from organizational leaders. Who they turn to for help is often more about their relationships with the various leaders than on the person’s position, or company protocol.

A recent study examined the role supervisors have on problem solving at work, both within and between organizations. The authors found that employees who have strong relationships with their direct supervisor feel more comfortable communicating issues with them, which ultimately promotes positive organizational change.

The study also found that the strength of workplace communication depends on how close the employee’s direct supervisor is with his or her boss. If employees are comfortable with their direct supervisor, but perceive the supervisor’s relationship with their boss as weak, they tend to share less with their supervisor, because they don’t believe them to have the influence needed to initiate meaningful organizational changes.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the study found that, with the flattening of organizational hierarchies, more employees are comfortable with going to their boss’s boss in order to get things done, especially if the employee’s relationship with their direct supervisor was poor.

In other words, the opportunity to communicate with more than one level of leadership within an organization gives employees a better chance to solve critical problems. Why is this important?

For frontline employees: Your position within a company and the relationships you make are valuable to the organization’s ultimate success. You can utilize your relationships– not only with your supervisor, but also your supervisor’s boss if necessary– in order to get important problems solved.

For first-level supervisors: You need to build strong relationships with both your subordinates and your own supervisor in order to properly manage your leadership resources.

For second level supervisors: Having a strong relationship with the supervisors you manage will enable employees to trust their ability to solve problems. But if employees are continually coming to you instead of their direct supervisor with their issues, it may indicate problems with that supervisor’s management style.

Long story short, better relationships build better, stronger organizations. So start investing in those you work with to solve workplace problems more efficiently and effectively.

An Easy Recipe for Improving Team Performance on Creative Tasks

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (Nov 2013)
Article: Examining the Asymmetrical Effects of Goal Faultlines in Groups: A Categorization-Elaboration Approach
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Leaders and I-O Psychologists are always trying to discover new ways to improve team performance. New research by Ellis, Mai, and Chrisitan (2013), has found an interesting new way to do this for creative tasks. When team members have different approaches to achieving goals, team performance may improve.

This research is rooted in goal setting theory (Locke & Latham, 1990), which asserts that people who set specific and challenging goals will outperform people who merely “try their best”. Results of the current study also support this classic I-O Psychology theory, but in this case, the researchers went one step further. They also analyzed teams which had two members who set specific, challenging goals, and two other members who were trying their best.

What happened? When the teams were asked to perform creative tasks, these mixed teams outperformed everybody. When the teams performed routine tasks, the mixed teams were not very effective. The authors explain that creative work is best accomplished when team members are able to build on top of each other’s ideas. When one team member has a novel suggestion, someone else will have to “reframe” the idea and offer a practical way of applying it to the problem at hand. This process is easiest to do when team members are approaching problems differently, which is the case when they are using different approaches to achieve goals. When work is more routine, team members will not benefit from having different approaches.

This research is practically important because it provides an easy recipe for improving team performance on creative tasks. Although creativity is naturally strengthened through diversity, the “diversity of perspective” that is suggested here may work better than “social category diversity”, which the authors note can unfortunately sometimes lead to negative outcomes.

Diversity Cues on Recruitment Websites: How to Stand Out to Jobseekers

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (Jan 2012)
Article: Diversity Cues on Recruitment Websites: Investigating the Effects on Job Seekers’ Information Processing
Reviewed by: Samia Shaikh

In a complex and competitive business world, many organizations seek to recruit a diverse workforce. This diverse workforce is often sought through the use of the Internet, as most modern day jobseekers turn to company websites to learn about organizations and their opportunities. But with so many websites available to jobseekers, how can an organization present itself online in order to make sure minority individuals remember it?

So far, research has shown that individuals who thoroughly evaluate information presented to them will have strong attitudes that can be predictive of behavior. In recruiting, the content or attributes of the recruitment information (e.g., the attractiveness of a website) is related to how thoroughly an individual will process the information. In the case of a recruitment website, thorough information processing can be demonstrated through lengthier website viewing time, as well as the amount of website information recalled. Additionally, research has indicated that racial minorities will likely be more concerned with an organization’s diversity climate, or how accepting and inclusive an organization is of minorities.

In the study by Walker and colleagues, the researchers tried to understand how diversity cues on recruitment websites affect how Black and White viewers process the information presented. They found that diversity cues induced organizational attraction for Blacks; this attraction motivated them to evaluate the recruitment website further. Interestingly enough, diversity cues also lead White viewers to evaluate the website more, though this was not due to organizational attraction. More research is needed to clarify this finding. The presence of diversity cues also helped both Black and White website viewers to remember the recruitment information they viewed.

The findings suggest that adding images of diverse employees and diversity initiative information to recruitment websites may initiate more attentive information processing in both minority and non-minority jobseekers. More attentive information processing may help jobseekers to develop strong attitudes, and if jobseekers develop strong attitudes towards an organization they perceive as positive, then this could lead them to apply for openings.

Mindfulness in the Workplace

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (March 2013)
Article: Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

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.