The Strange Story Behind Situational Judgment Tests: What Do They Really Measure?


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: How “Situational” Is Judgment in Situational Judgment Tests?
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Situational judgment tests are often used during employee selection. They present the job applicant with a series of situations that may be encountered on the job. For example, one situation might include an anecdote about a co-worker encouraging you to steal. For each situation, several different responses are listed. Applicants simply choose the response that seems most appropriate. Because these tests are (hopefully) designed by I-O psychologists or other highly trained experts, certain answers are designed to reflect behavior that is consistent with good job performance. The more the applicant choses these “good” answers, the more certain we are that the applicant will succeed on the job if hired.

 

The theory behind situational judgment tests is that applicants who score well are better equipped with knowledge that is very specific to the job. It’s not that the high scoring applicant is necessarily smarter, or has greater social tact. Instead, we believe that the high-scoring applicant has a certain kind of knowledge or skill that is useful for succeeding at the very specific situations that will be encountered on the job. However, new research (Krumm et al., 2015) showed that our assumptions about situational judgment tests may be wrong.

 

SITUATIONAL JUDGMENT TESTS: WHAT’S REALLY GOING ON

The researchers presented scenarios from real situational judgment tests, and investigated what would happen if they left out the situational anecdote and simply offered the behavioral responses. They wanted to know if people could identify the best answer without even knowing the question. As an example, here’s one that I just made up off the top of my head for my fictional new company:

 

Which would you do?

  1. Calmly reassure my boss that I would continue to work hard for the company and not let my disappointment interfere with my effectiveness on the job.
  2. Firmly grab my boss by his shoulders and scream in his face, reminding him that I am the very best employee and will absolutely not tolerate being marginalized in any conceivable way.
  3. Lay down on the floor in the fetal position and start crying.

 

So, which is it? If you want to work for my company, you’d need to have chosen ‘A’. I’m guessing that you knew that, even without the paragraph-long situational scenario asking you how you’d respond after your boss informs you that there will be no holiday bonus this year. Although this example sounds silly, it’s not that different from what the researchers were able to discover.

 

The researchers conducted several studies using real situational judgment tests. They found that in 43-71% of all scenarios (across different studies), it did not matter if the applicants were given the situational scenarios or not. They had an equal chance of getting the item correct whether or not the items were presented with the situational scenarios or by themselves.

 

What does this mean? The authors explain that many items from these situational judgment tests are not measuring knowledge that is specific to the job, but are instead measuring broader knowledge or abilities that might work on any job, such as social-skills or intelligence. The authors did find two scenarios in which applicants benefited from having the situational scenarios instead of just the behavioral answers. The first is when the items measured skills or abilities that specifically related to the job in question, and the second is when the behavioral options or answers included actions that were very specific to the given scenario, and not just generally good or bad behavior.

 

ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS

This research shows that around half of all items on situational judgment tests are not measuring knowledge or skills that are needed for a specific job context. Instead, these rogue items seem to be measuring broader traits applicable to many jobs. Why does this matter?

 

Organizations typically invest time and money into developing a situational judgment test that reveals which employees are best suited to a specific job. They usually convene a panel of subject-matter experts (SMEs) to rigorously develop the scenarios and behavioral possibilities for these tests. If the organization is content with measuring broad general traits useful for employees, they may be able to use generic “off-the-shelf” tests that have already been developed, instead of investing the resources into developing a situational judgment test for the specific job. The authors say that this may be the case for entry-level or other low-complexity jobs.

 

Another alternative is to design a test that is specific to a job and simply omit the situational scenarios, providing the behavioral responses alone (like in my example above). This could also save the organization time and money, because the developmental process would be shorter.

 

Finally, if organizations really want to have a situational judgment test tailor-made for a job, they can do themselves a favor and make sure that the questions really are specific to the job. Make sure that the items measure job-specific information, and make sure that the behavioral response options are very specific to the scenario. This will ensure that the situational judgment test is measuring what it intends to measure.

Aging Workforce: Employees Who Are Healthy and in Control Stay Working


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Individual and Work Factors Related to Perceived Work Ability and Labor Force Outcomes
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted

 

In our currently aging workforce, one in five workers are now age 55 or older. Given this changing demographic, it is important to identify the factors that lead to early departure from the workforce. One of the critical factors is perceived work ability, or the balance between personal resources and work characteristics. In order to prevent premature departure of the workforce, this study (McGonagle, Fisher, Barnes-Farrell, & Grosch, 2015) identified what leads to perceived work ability, and what happens when employees experience it.

 

JOB DEMANDS-RESOURCES MODEL

The authors explain that perceived work ability is when employees think that they have the ability to continue their jobs. One way to understand this is through the Job Demands-Resources model. According to this model, individuals must balance job demands with job resources. Job demands can include anything that requires physical or mental effort, such as time pressure. Job resources are factors that promote work engagement, such as autonomy or supportive supervisors. Individuals may also employ personal resources, such as personality characteristics or health, to combat the demands of work.

After weighing all of these pros and cons associated with the job, people decide if situations or events are threatening or harmless. If the situations or events are consistently threatening or straining, then the individual will be more likely to discontinue his or her job.

 

PUSH AND PULL FACTORS

Workers considering retirement weigh “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors are the “negative aspects of the work environment that may push one out of the workforce (e.g. a stressful work environment, low levels of supervisor support)”. Pull factors are the positive aspects of the work environment that pull one towards remaining at work. Based on the individual’s perceived work ability, which is determined by job demands and resources, individuals will be pushed out of or pulled into work.

 

WHAT CAUSES PERCEIVED WORK ABILITY?

Using three different samples of data, the authors found evidence that workers’ personal resources, specifically self-reported health and sense of control, were the strongest precursors to perceived work ability in a range of occupations. In manufacturing organizations, the personal resources of health status and sense of control as well as the job demands of environmental conditions, physical demands, and working in difficult body positions were significant predictors of perceived work ability. After controlling for other variables, the researchers found that perceived work ability contributed to absenteeism, retirement, and disability leave. Interestingly, the authors did not find a relationship between age and work ability, whereas many other researchers have found that older workers report lower work ability.

 

WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?

The study found evidence that perceived work ability is an important psychological mechanism that can determine whether a worker will remain in or withdraw from the workforce. An individual’s personal resources, specifically health and sense of control, contribute to perceived work ability, which in turn can explain why some employees have increased absenteeism, increased disability leave, or choose to retire earlier. Therefore, organizations should promote healthy practices and try to boost personal psychological resources in order to keep aging workers in their jobs. This can include increasing employees’ sense of self-control, lowering job demands, and ensuring safe environmental conditions.

Unethical Employees May Have Been Socially-Ostracized at Work


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Excluded and Behaving Unethically: Social Exclusion, Physiological Responses, and Unethical Behavior
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Unethical employees can plague a workplace, costing companies money as well as their reputations. But organizations don’t always have fool-proof ways to combat unethical behavior. New research by Kouchaki and Wareham (2015) has identified one type of workplace activity that may lead employees to increase unethical behavior. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they were able to measure physiological changes in certain employees that may have caused them to act unethically. So what is the culprit? What makes certain employees act unethically?

 

THE ROLE OF SOCIAL EXCLUSION ON UNETHICAL EMPLOYEES

First, the authors point out that unethical behavior occurs when someone has defied the standards of society in general, as oppose to workplace deviance, which is when employees defy standards specific to a particular place of work. They say that people can usually stop themselves from behaving unethically, because unethical behavior typically makes a person feel anxiety or guilt. These feelings may signal the perpetrator that his or her actions are morally unjust, and the behavior might stop. The real problem occurs when the perpetrator can attribute the feelings of anxiety to some other outside cause. In this situation, the person will not readily consider the moral dilemma at hand, and may continue acting unethically.

In the current study, the authors conducted two studies and found that employees who were socially-ostracized or excluded exhibited a heightened sense of arousal (such as increased anxiety). When these employees were about to act unethically, they could easily attribute the anxiety to their troubling social situation, and not the fact that they were about to do something unethical. This seemed to lead these employees to increase their unethical behavior.

 

WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO ABOUT IT?

This research is important for several reasons. First, it provides organizations with a better understanding of when unethical behavior can occur. By showing that excluded employees increased their unethical behavior, the study provides organizations with a way to combat the unethical behavior. Leaders can make an effort to help all employees feel like they are part of the team, through their words and their actions. Besides for increasing interpersonal fairness toward potentially excluded employees, this study shows that it will also help the organization as a whole, by likely decreasing unethical behavior.

The authors also note that the specific finding of this study, namely that excluding employees may lead them to increase unethical behavior, can turn into a vicious cycle. When these employees are known to commit unethical behavior, their coworkers may exclude or ostracize them even more. This is a warning call to organizations to try to stop this cycle by mitigating exclusionary behavior in the workplace.

Another contribution of this study, note the authors, is that it highlights the role of emotional or physiological influences on decision making. We like to think of decision making as a completely rational process. But research shows that this is not always the case. In this study, physiological changes in a person’s body were at least partially to blame for unethical behavior. Interestingly, these physiological changes had nothing to do with the unethical behavior itself, and instead emanated from a completely non-related outside source. Organizational leaders need to be aware of this dynamic when trying to explain or influence workplace behavior.

How Emotional Expression Affects Workplace Attitudes and Opinions


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The Persuasive Power of Emotions: Effects of Emotional Expressions on Attitude Formation and Change
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

 

Whether we like it or not, emotions can be a powerful force when it comes to making workplace decisions. This tendency can be exploited when an argument is framed in emotional terms in order to persuade listeners. While this fact has been recognized for centuries, recent research has been investigating how emotional expression can shape or change others’ attitudes. For example, think of a disgruntled colleague expressing anger at a new policy change within the organization. Would this display of strong emotion affect your attitude and opinions? Recent research (Van Kleef, van der Berg & Heerdink, 2014) explored how emotional expressions influence attitude formation, and helped determine under which circumstances this could happen.

 

WHAT IS SOCIAL INFORMATION THEORY?

The researchers examined whether expressing emotions contributes to or undermines successful persuasion. In addressing this question, they adopted the “social-functional” theory approach to emotions. This theory explains that other peoples’ emotional expressions can provide social information that can in turn influence thinking, attitudes, and behavior. The theory also explains that the effects of these emotional expressions depend on the observer’s motivation and ability to process the information that they are receiving from the expressions.

 

RESULTS OF THE STUDY

Through a series of experiments, participants were shown to “borrow” the emotions of other people (or other sources of information) when forming their own attitudes. For example, when others framed given information (such as a TV show being cancelled) in a negative way with sad expressions, the participants reported negative attitudes towards the information. The same type of influence was also true when information (such as the introduction of kite-surfing into the Olympics) was framed in a positive manner. Some evidence also showed that both newly formed attitudes and previously held opinions can be influenced by others’ emotional expressions. This suggests that the expression of strong emotion isn’t only important in attitude formation, but also in attitude change. These results were similar whether written, pictorial, film or emoticon sources of emotion were used. Findings were further strengthened by showing how the effects of the study were mitigated when participants’ cognitive load (or amount of mental distraction) was either really high or really low.

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

The results suggest that interpersonal emotional strategies may be another tool with which to influence others. The findings have interesting implications for managers who deal with people, their attitudes, and subsequent behaviors. The study indicates that capitalizing on effective use of emotional expression could be very useful in the workplace. For example, managers can use emotions to help promote organizational or cultural change. This and previous research highlight how a leader’s emotional expression can help shape employee attitudes about organizational issues. The results also highlight how leaders may unwittingly shape organizational culture and beliefs through their non-verbal communication.

Honest Feedback Can Affect the Behavior of Supervisors


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Speaking Truth to Power: The Effect of Candid Feedback on How Individuals with Power Allocate Resources
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

 

How powerful is feedback in the workplace? Did you know that it can affect the behavior of those in charge? In organizations, there are those who allocate resources and those who must accept what is allocated to them, be it office space, work assignments, or money. Past research paints a rather negative view of how those in charge (or “power-holders”) balance their self-interest with the interests of their subordinates. Previous research also seemed to show that those on the receiving end have little ability to affect outcomes.

However, there is some research that explains that certain factors can rein in an unbridled abuse of power. For example, feedback given from the subordinate to the power-holder may influence people with power to be more attentive to the interests of others. In this study (Oc, Bashshur, & Moore, 2014), researchers set up a series of cleverly devised studies where “subordinates” (really a computer program) gave feedback to power-holders (the actual participants), and then explored the behavioral effects.

 

RESULTS OF THE STUDY: TYPE OF FEEDBACK MATTERS

The researchers were particularly interested in the way that the power-holders allocated resources after receiving feedback from their “subordinates.” The two types of feedback in the study were candid feedback and compliant feedback. Candid feedback meant that the power-holder received honest and fair criticism when subordinates were not happy with what was allotted to them. Compliant feedback meant positive feedback regardless of the equality of the allocations. The researchers then explored behavioral trends which showed that when subordinates provided candid feedback about prior allocations of resources, power-holders acted markedly different to them in response, compared to how they treated the compliant subordinates. The candid feedback from subordinates seemed to influence the power-holders to restrain their inclinations toward self-interest, and they eventually distributed the resources more fairly over time. This type of feedback also seemed to activate a sense of moral self-control which helped keep power-holders relatively even-handed in their allocations rather than merely indulging in their self-interests.

Results also showed that in light of more negative feedback, the power-holders were more likely to feel guilty and as a result decrease the proportion of resources that they took for themselves. The reverse was true in situations where subordinates gave compliant feedback. In these situations, the power-holders didn’t seem to regulate their behavior. Over time, they tended to make allocations that only met their self-interests.

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

These results highlight how subordinates do have some measure of personal control over how they are treated in the workplace. By speaking up rather than remaining silent, they can help ensure a fair distribution of resources. The results also show that by not allowing genuine feedback, or if subordinates give only compliant feedback, then those in power may be more likely to act in their own self-interest. This could negatively impact organizational outcomes. Organizations and those in leadership positions should seek to create platforms where individuals can give honest feedback and do not fear reprisals. This could be done through a mediator, or by using anonymous feedback methods.

How Unethical Customers Cost Organizations Twice

 

Unethical customers can cost organizations lots of money. For example, customers can steal, cheat, scam, defraud, hoodwink, or make up an overly dramatic story about how the soup of the day was far too salty so that they get a small discount. New research (Greenbaum, Quade, Mawritz, Kim, & Crosby, 2014) shows that there may be hidden costs to organizations that allow customers to consistently get away with these offenses. Specifically, it’s the employees who suffer.

 
ETHICS VIOLATIONS LEAD TO EMOTIONAL EXHAUSTION

The authors conducted two separate studies and found that customer ethical violations led to employees becoming emotionally exhausted. This is based on the idea that people have a certain amount of internal resources to spend, and when these resources run out, people begin to suffer from emotional exhaustion.

What about unethical customers makes internal resources run low? Specifically, the authors note that we feel an inherent need to live in a law-abiding and just society. When these ideals are threatened, it bothers us, and we become stressed-out. This explains why employees who consistently observe unethical behavior become emotionally exhausted.

In the study, this finding held up even though the authors were only considering unethical behavior targeting the organization, like the stealing that we’ve mentioned. They were not considering unethical behavior targeted against employees, as research has already established that employees can suffer from direct mistreatment. The current study shows that even crimes which occur against others may be disturbing to employees.

 
HARMFUL OUTCOMES OF UNETHICAL CUSTOMERS

Eventually, when unethical customers lead employees to emotional exhaustion, three specific negative outcomes occur. First, affected employees have higher levels of work-family conflict, which means that it becomes more difficult for them to balance the competing demands between their work life and family life. Second, employees have more negative relationships with their coworkers, and third, employees begin to neglect job responsibilities. All of these three things are known to be harmful to employees and can eventually affect the bottom line of the organizations that they work for. Due to this, unethical customers who steal or cheat end up costing companies twice: The value of the theft, as well as the value of the compromised employee who has to witness the theft.

 
HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN STOP THE PROBLEM

So how can organizations, which typically have little control over customer behavior, cut down on the harmful effects of unethical customers? The authors make two recommendations. First, organizations may need to revisit the mantra of “the customer is always right.” While customer service is undeniably important, organizations may not want to allow their customers to get away with anything. Similarly, employees may be given more leeway when it comes to dealing with and punishing ethical violations that they observe. The authors note that observing unethical behavior is really only stressful when you are unable to do anything about it.

The second recommendation made by the authors is that even when employees witness unethical customer behavior, social support (such as increased encouragement) can help mitigate the consequences. Because the unethical behavior first led to emotional exhaustion and loss of personal resources, social support from the organization or from coworkers can help replenish these resources. Employees in jobs in which we’d expect lots of unethical customer behavior to occur may benefit the most from enhanced social support.

Intelligence Testing: Is It Always the Smartest Thing to Do?


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between General Mental Ability and Nontask Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Smart employees tend to be better at doing their jobs. This is considered one of the most important findings in the history of I-O research. Meta-analysis, which is a method of compiling results from many different researchers and studies, has shown that intelligence (or general mental ability) is associated with better job performance for basically any job. But there are other important components that make organizations successful besides narrowly-defined task performance (parts of a job that are in the job description). New research (Gonzalez-Mulé, Mount, & Oh, 2014) investigates whether intelligence can also predict other measures of workplace success.

 

OTHER WAYS OF MEASURING JOB SUCCESS

The authors conducted a meta-analysis to determine if intelligence is related to two major measures that are important to organizations: Counterproductive work behavior (CWB), and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). These terms sound fancy but they are actually quite simple. CWBs mean anything that employees do that breaks organizational norms or expectations. This behavior can be directed at a coworker (i.e. bullying or harassment) or at the organization (i.e. stealing from the employer, unnecessary absences). OCBs refer to anything that employees do that are not formally recognized in their job description, for example helping out a coworker or suggesting a new way of doing things that can help the organization save resources.

 

RESULTS OF THE STUDY

The meta-analysis found that intelligence was associated with more OCBs, meaning that smarter employees also went beyond their job descriptions more frequently. The authors explain that smarter people are typically better at seeing the big picture, for example they may understand that helping a coworker has benefits for the organization in the long run. Also, smarter employees may sometimes have greater capacity to help out others. They may be the only ones who are capable of devising a solution to a problem that eventually helps out the organization.

However, when it came to CWBs, there was no real relationship with intelligence. The authors had predicted that smarter employees would engage in less bad behavior because they are more readily capable of seeing the dangerous outcomes, such as harming the company or harming themselves by getting caught. But the data didn’t support this conclusion.

 

WHAT ABOUT PERSONALITY TESTING?

The authors also compared intelligence testing with personality testing to see which was generally more useful for predicting success on the job. As predicted, intelligence testing predicted better than personality testing when the outcome was task performance, or the parts of a job that are listed in a job description. When using the other outcomes of job success (OCBs and CWBs), the authors found a different story. First, when it came to OCBs (going above and beyond job descriptions) intelligence and personality were about equally useful in predicting which employees will go above and beyond. When it came to CWBs (the bad behavior), personality was actually a better predictor than intelligence.

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR THE ORGANIZATION

This study supports the idea that the best predictor of job success is general intelligence, specifically because it has the ability to predict good old fashioned task-performance. It pays to hire smart employees. But that’s not the entire story. The conclusions here also indicate that intelligence isn’t the be-all and end-all of how to hire employees. Organizations should also have the foresight to care about extra effort and misbehavior at work. If you want employees who strive to make the workplace better for everyone, intelligence testing may still help, but it is not any better than personality testing. But if you want employees who don’t misbehave, personality testing may be the way to go.

Sleep Deprived Employees Engage in More Unethical Workplace Behavior


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Building a Self-Regulatory Model of Sleep Deprivation and Deception: The Role of Caffeine and Social Influence
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

When employees engage in unethical behavior, organizations suffer. For example, employee theft or dishonesty can hurt organizations both internally and in terms of public reputation. New research (Welsh, Ellis, Christian, & Mai, 2014) has identified several key links in understanding the dynamics that lead to employee deception, which is a type of unethical behavior.

 

SLEEP DEPRIVATION LEADS TO EMPLOYEE DECEPTION

The authors based their research on past findings that show that sleep deprived employees are more likely to engage in unethical behavior (Christian & Ellis, 2011). When faced with an unethical opportunity, people need to use a certain amount of self-control to prevent themselves from doing the unethical thing. Researchers call this self-regulation, and people have a certain “reserve” of resources that they can use to self-regulate themselves. When people are sleep-deprived, the brain undergoes physiological changes that deplete the resources available to self-regulate. When this happens, a person may no longer have the ability to stand up to temptation, and it becomes more likely that they will actually behave unethically.

 

THE ROLE OF CAFFEINE AND SOCIAL INFLUENCE

In the current study, the researchers found that tired employees who also consumed caffeine were less likely to have depleted self-regulation resources. In other words, the lack of sleep did not affect them as much, and they were more likely to maintain the ability to control themselves and stand up to the temptation to behave unethically. As we all know too well, caffeine has the ability to temper some of the effects of sleep deprivation.

A second major finding was that when people’s fatigue lowered their ability to self-regulate, it didn’t always lead to unethical behavior. The authors found a condition that made it more likely that unethical behavior would result. The condition is called social influence, which refers to the influence that people receive from other people, kind of like peer-pressure. One of the pitfalls of having a decreased ability to self-regulate, is that you can be more susceptible to the suggestions of other people who are themselves acting unethically.

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

The major takeaway from this article is that sleep deprivation among employees is bad for organizations. Besides for some of the more obvious problems that we might expect (i.e. lower productivity, more mistakes or accidents) sleep deprivation can actually cause employees to act unethically. As the authors mention, employees are now being asked to work an increasingly greater number of hours during the week, making sleep deprivation a greater challenge in the workplace.

The easiest solution is to encourage employees to get enough sleep, and to structure work schedules and workloads to support that goal. But that’s not always an easy thing to do. What else can organizations do?

Specifically, this article provides two ways that organizations can lower the amount of deceptive behavior that their employees engage in, even if they are sleep deprived. First, caffeine was shown to help. There may be something to supplying your office with a fresh pot of morning coffee. However, as the authors point out, this doesn’t mean that caffeine is the perfect solution. Technically considered a drug, caffeine does have harmful side effects such as increased anxiety and heart-rate. So don’t go overboard.

Second, organizations should realize the role of social influence. Even when sleep deprived employees lose the ability to stop themselves from unethical behavior, it doesn’t mean that unethical behavior will result. In this circumstance, peer-pressure to behave unethically is the real enemy. If organizations work to create an environment where employees behave ethically, and strive to hire more ethically inclined individuals, then even the occasional sleep-deprived employee won’t be too much of a problem.

Employee Sleepiness is Harmful for the Workplace


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Sleepiness at Work: A Review and Framework of How the Physiology of Sleepiness Impacts the Workplace
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Sleepiness is what happens when people feel a strong biological urge to sleep. Unlike fatigue, which usually occurs when becoming exhausted by hard work, sleepiness has several different causes. These causes include poor sleep quantity (not getting enough sleep), poor sleep quality (waking up often while trying to sleep or not achieving a deep level of sleep), a disruption to the circadian rhythm (a person’s natural sleep cycle), or through drugs or disorders that affect the central nervous system. A new review by Mullins, Cortina, Drake, and Dalal (2014) shows why organizations should care about employee sleepiness.

 

WHAT CAUSES SLEEPINESS?

The authors mention two major work-related factors that can eventually lead to sleepiness for employees. Job demands are elements of the job that require effort. When these job demands are excessively high, employees may experience reduced quality of sleep and reduced quantity of sleep. For example, employees may be under enormous pressure to make a deadline or to complete a project. This might lead employees to work later and have less time for sleep, or to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.

The second major work-related factor that can lead to sleepiness is irregular work-schedules. We’d probably consider a normal work-schedule to be “nine-to-five” for five days a week, or something similar to that. But some employees work nights, weekends, or long shifts that may last 24 hours at a time. These schedules can wreak havoc on the body’s circadian rhythm, or natural sleep cycle. This can cause employees to receive an inadequate amount of sleep or an inadequate quality of sleep.

 

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN EMPLOYEES GET SLEEPY?

Employees who experience sleepiness experience two major physiological changes. They become worse at information processing, and their feelings are affected. Information processing is the “brain power” that employees need to get their jobs done. When sleepiness occurs, people can’t think as fast, can’t remember as well, can’t learn as effectively, and can’t pay attention as long. Concerning feelings, employees who are experiencing sleepiness will experience less positive emotion and more negative emotion. Additionally, they will have poor emotion recognition and processing, meaning they might incorrectly interpret the mood of a fellow employee or fail to handle an emotional situation sensitively and tactfully. It’s easy to see how these deficiencies can cause negative outcomes at work.

 

HOW DOES SLEEPINESS AFFECT THE WORKPLACE?

The authors note several examples of research supported outcomes of workplace sleepiness. First, sleepy workers are less productive. They react more slowly, make more mistakes, and forget to do things. Second, sleepy employees have worse adaptive performance. This means that they will not be able to figure out how to handle changing situations and novel challenges, things which are becoming increasingly common in the modern workplace. Additionally, they will have trouble multi-tasking or quickly switching between different tasks, also common elements of the modern workplace.

Next, sleepy workers have worse contextual performance. Contextual behavior is anything done to help improve the work environment, and can include praiseworthy interpersonal behavior or simply going above and beyond job requirements. When employees are suffering from sleepiness, they are more likely to mismanage or misinterpret an interpersonal exchange, which can lead to poor communication or arguments. Also, sleepy employees tend to experience a greater range of feelings, including exposure to more negative feelings. It’s easy to see why someone in that state will have trouble contributing to the work environment in a positive, healthy manner.

Finally, sleepy employees are more accident prone, engage in more deviant behavior such as absenteeism, and exhibit more withdrawal behavior, which is when employees try to avoid things that they consider unpleasant. These too have the potential to greatly impact workplaces and organizations in a negative way.

 

WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?

Hopefully by now you are convinced that employee sleepiness is highly detrimental in the workplace. But how can you prevent it? One strength of this article is that they identified several things that can eventually lead to sleepiness, including job demands and irregular work schedules. Asking employees to do an increasingly heavier load of work may seem to have short-term benefits for the organization. However, if the employee experiences sleepiness as a result, the ultimate effect could be negative for the employee and the organization. Similarly, organizations who are forced to use shift work or other irregular schedules should seek out ways to ensure that scheduling allows employees to maximize their ability to get adequate sleep.

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.

 

GENERAL INTELLIGENCE VERSUS SPECIFIC ABILITIES

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 RESEARCH FINDINGS

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.

 

IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

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.