The Secret Recipe for Good Workplace Conflict

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Can Conflict Be Energizing? A Study of Task Conflict, Positive Emotions, and Job Satisfaction
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


The term “Workplace Conflict” sounds ominous. It conjures up images of yelling, screaming, finger pointing and, in rare cases, hunkering down under makeshift table forts and lobbing used Styrofoam cups at rival camps.

But can workplace conflict occasionally be good? New research by Todorova, Bear, and Weingart (2014) has found that, under the right circumstances, frequent workplace conflict can lead to an exchange of valuable information and, eventually, to higher job satisfaction.



Employees who express differing opinions about how work should be done are engaging in “task conflict.”

There are two different ways they can do this. When intense conflict occurs, employees “clash and argue,” and typically spend more time defending their own opinions than listening to the other side. Naturally, this doesn’t often lead to any good outcomes.

But employees can also engage in mild conflict, which is characterized by “debating and expressing.” In this scenario, employees are still arguing, but they are also listening to the other side in an honest attempt to solve the problem. This type of conflict can lead to more positive results.



The current study found that frequent mild task conflict provides employees with new information that will ultimately help them succeed at their jobs. For example, after debating about the best way to file records, a secretary may learn a more efficient way of doing his or her job.

And what happens when people get better at their jobs? The researchers found that they are more likely to feel active, energized, interested and excited. These positive emotions about work lead to higher overall job satisfaction.



The positive effects of frequent mild task conflict are stronger in two different circumstances.

The first is when conflict occurs in an active learning environment, which is when employees experiment, reflect and use feedback in an attempt to discuss results and improve work processes. This learning environment communicates to employees that conflict is meant to be constructive, helping them learn to improve at their jobs. Accordingly, employees respond well and feel good about learning new information.

Secondly, when mild task conflict occurs between people who work in different functions, more novel information is shared and employees respond better. The study found that, when task conflict occurs between people who work in the same job, there is simply not as much new information to be gained.



This article helps leaders understand how to use workplace conflict to the benefit of both their employees and the workplace. Here’s a simple guide to having more productive workplace conflict:

  • Conflict should be task-related and about how to do work, and not interpersonal.
  • Conflict should be kept to mild expressions of debate, and not intense arguing.
  • Conflict works best in a learning environment, which is when employees are actively engaged in discussing and improving work processes.
  • Conflict provides best results when it is between people who have very different organizational functions.

Employee Start Time: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Morning Employees Are Perceived as Better Employees: Employees’ Start Times Influence Supervisor Performance Ratings
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


We have plenty of adages emphasizing the positive implications of starting the day early. Past research seems to suggest that elevated morning activity is seen as an indicator of being responsible, dutiful, and a hard worker.

In a series of three new studies, lead researcher Kai Chi Yam and his colleagues examine whether this pro-morning bias actually exists by examining how employee start time influences supervisor ratings of their job performance.

They also question how the supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity might play into that relationship.



Past empirical research found that employees’ level of morning activity is usually associated with positive traits such as being conscientious and having a solid work ethic.

Conscientious employees are typically rated as higher performers because they tend to display stronger work motivation when compared to employees who are low in conscientiousness.

Across two different samples, Kai Chi Yam and his colleagues found that employees who report later start times are perceived as less conscientious by their supervisors, and this negative stereotype ultimately results in lower performance ratings for those employees.



The authors found that the negative implications for employees who start the work day late largely depend on their supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity.

That is to say that late-starters are rated as low performers due to being perceived as less conscientious only among supervisors who prefer morning activity themselves.

For those supervisors who are more night owls than day larks, the morning bias doesn’t usually translate into negative repercussions.



The current study highlights the potential consequences of using flexible work arrangements, such as starting the work day late.

Given that performance ratings may largely depend on the supervisors’ own chronotype, it is recommended that managers are reminded of potential negative consequences of morning bias, and encouraged to remain objective in their performance evaluations of employees.

The Pitfalls of Inconsistent Leader Behavior

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Supervisor Support: Does Supervisor Support Buffer or Exacerbate the Adverse Effects of Supervisor Undermining?
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Bad boss alert! Let’s say your supervisor was incensed with the results of yesterday’s baseball or football game. As a result, today he’s been condescending, hypercritical, and an all-around sourpuss. Can he make up for it by being extra nice and helpful to you tomorrow?

When your boss behaves in a way that makes your job difficult (like being overly critical or short-tempered), it’s called supervisor undermining, which can negatively impact employee health and well-being. After a good night’s sleep, the boss feels bad about the inappropriate behavior and poor management, and tries to make it up to you by providing extra assistance at a later time.

New research by Nahum-Shani, Lim, Henderson, and Vinokur (2014) has found two situations in which Inconsistent Leader Behavior can work well, and two others in which this approach can backfire and make things even worse.



When supervisors undermine their employees and then try to make up for it by being extra helpful, the inconsistent behavior creates uncertainty for the employees.

Three bad things can happen as a result. First, employees will lack a coherent picture of how well they are doing at their job, which can be confusing and/or frustrating. Second, employees will lose a sense of control over their work environment. And third, employees will have doubts about the quality of their relationship with their supervisor.

But the current study shows that, if the employees can overcome these three obstacles, the supervisor’s strategy can actually work.



The researchers found that two types of employees can overcome the challenges associated with supervisor inconsistency: Those with high self-esteem and those who perceive a high “quality of work life.” High quality work life occurs when the resources, relationships, and outcomes of their work satisfy the employee’s needs.

The study found that when high self-esteem and high quality of work life employees were exposed to inconsistent leader behavior, they used coping skills to mitigate its harmful effects. When supervisors tried to rectify poor behavior with considerate behavior, these employees benefited from the turnaround, experiencing better health and fewer job strains.

On the other hand, employees who had low self-esteem or experienced poor quality of work life didn’t have the coping skills to deal with inconsistent leader behavior. With this group, bosses who tried to rectify poor behavior with considerate behavior actually created more problems by being inconsistent. These employees experienced worse health and more job strains.



Oftentimes managers are trained to provide careful attention and consideration to their employees, especially when they know they have previously messed up.

But this study warns against this one-size-fits-all approach, suggesting the strategy only works if employees can handle the negative effects of inconsistent supervision. If they can’t handle it, managers are only making things worse.

New research like this is helping I-O psychologists determine how to maximize the benefits to all employees by recognizing that employees are unique and don’t all respond the same way.

Will Being an Average Performer Prevent Employee Victimization?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Is it Better to be Average? High and Low Performance as Predictors of Employee Victimization
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

There has been a surge of interest in research on employee victimization in the last few years, both because the phenomenon is on the rise and because of the negative effects it has on both a personal and organizational level. Employee victimization has many causes and takes many forms, from aggressive incivility and bullying to general mistreatment.

Although previous studies investigated the situational and personal factors that precipitate victimization, little research has been focused on the behaviors that may lead to someone getting targeted.



The research paper under review looked at the extent to which high and low performers may experience victimization because of their performance. Attention was paid to the factors that influence different performance levels, which in turn leads co-workers to punish the victims in different way. The researchers also examined whether this victimization would affected later performance, and in what way. Their findings showed that those people that were on either end of the performance spectrum outside norms for their group were more likely to be victimized. When employees perform well, they may be perceived as a threat and make others look bad, and so they’re mistreated. But when one under-performs and fails to contribute to overall group performance, they too will likely be victimized.



The research also highlighted the different forms that employee victimization may take. With low performers, the treatment they get will be more overt “in-your-face” aggression, such as being yelled or sworn at. This may be because of co-workers feeling resentment against freeloaders, and their frustration at the effect their colleague’s lack of contribution has on overall team performance.

High achievers are more likely to experience covert and subversive forms of victimization, such as being ignored, resources being withheld and co-worker sabotage. This may be because of feelings of envy or inferiority, as well as the fact that high performers may highlight other member’s shortcomings. An important factor that was noted, which affected certain outcomes, was the victim’s feelings of entitlement or benevolence. With low performers this had little effect, but when high performers had a sense of entitlement– such as disregarding others and being self-serving in goal attainment– more overt forms of aggression were more prevalent. Those high performers who were more team-oriented and benevolent in their actions didn’t experience these blatant forms of aggression.



These initial results aren’t necessarily a reason to accept average performance in the workplace. But they are particularly useful in being able to better predict victimization, which may help improve risk assessments and targeted prevention strategies.

Despite their limitations, these findings also highlight the need to look at how performance appraisals and incentives are given as well as how high and low performers may be dealt with to reduce victimization.

Employee victimization has the potential to seriously affect teamwork co-operation and productivity, and is therefore a critical issue to address at the organizational level.

How to Create Successful Work Teams

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Members’ Needs, Intragroup Conflict, and Group Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Teamwork plays an essential role in the success of many organizations. But what factors determine whether work teams will succeed or fail?

This question is an important one for I-O psychologists, and research by Chun and Choi (2014) has provided new insights into how managers can form successful work teams by considering the role members’ needs and intragroup conflict play in overall group performance.



Previous research has examined how different personalities interact to influence team success, but this study primarily considered the needs of employees. Needs are defined as the basic things that a person strives for.

The researchers explored three types of needs– the need for achievement (i.e. when employees have a desire to accomplish goals), the need for affiliation (when employees desire quality personal relationships), and the need for power (when employees desire to control people).

The researchers studied how these three types of needs can ultimately lead to team success or failure.



When team members had a high need for achievement, there was more task-related conflict, meaning healthy debate about how to solve work-related problems. These teams ultimately had higher performance. Interestingly, these results were even better when team members had similar amounts of need for achievement.

When team members had a strong need for affiliation, less relationship conflict occurred. When they were also able to communicate effectively, even less relationship conflict occurred. Unlike task conflict, the study deemed relationship conflict (refering to interpersonal squabbles that are not related to solving problems) as bad. In this study, relationship conflict was typically associated with lower team performance.

Finally, when team members had a need for power, more status conflict occurred. The study showed that status conflict is also bad, and happens when people fight for the right to control others. However, this effect was alleviated when group members had varying levels of need for power. In other words, when some people desired power and others didn’t, there was not as much conflict. Also, researchers found that teams that communicated better had less status conflict.



So what do these findings ultimately mean? It means that managers are capable of creating successful teams simply by paying special attention to the types of people they place on a team.

Teams composed of members with a need for achievement are especially well suited to successfully solving problems in a diplomatic way, especially when they have similar levels of this need.

Teams with members who need affiliation and communicate well are better at avoiding the interpersonal issues that sometimes hinder team performance.

And teams that have power hungry members can be expected to compete for control, but this can be mitigated by including some people who do not need as much power, and by helping to improve team communication.

Make It Rain: How bad weather could be good for work productivity

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Rainmakers: Why bad weather means good production
Reviewed by: Anjali Banerjee

Have you ever woken up to the sound of rain and thunder outside your window, with the decisive thought that it would be a lazy day?

Although inclement weather might not necessarily be the best thing for putting you in a great mood in the morning, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests that those thunderstorms just might enable you to get more work done.



Recent research has determined that bad weather actually increases work productivity when compared to days with good weather.

The article suggests that this is because good weather can cause distractions, while bad weather forces our attention onto work projects.

Without distractions such daydreaming about playing tennis or going out on the lake to take advantage of the beautiful weather, more work generally gets accomplished.



The researchers studied employees at a Japanese bank and online surveys, and then compared their findings with archival data on the weather for the area.

They found that, when people perceive the weather to be bad, they think of fewer non-work activities to do, and they find these activities less attractive than when the weather is good. Most intriguingly, they found that bad weather often results in enhanced speed, accuracy and productivity among workers, with an average of a 1.3% decrease in productivity on bright, sunny days.

At first this might not sound like an incredible impact on workplace efficiency. But, over time and across an organization, endless days of good weather could translate into big bucks lost while employees daydream about a relaxing day at the beach.



Since there is little that we can do to control the weather, how can we apply these findings to our organizations?

As this study suggests that good weather provides distractions and lessens work productivity, we can attempt to offset this effect by providing breaks on good weather days. If possible, structuring work projects to take these effects into account could help take advantage of the increased productivity created by bad weather and avoid the negative influences of good weather.

The researchers even suggested that, ultimately, it might be advantageous to select locations for the organization that have frequent bad weather. Whether that’s practical or not is for you to decide.

The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation, Caffeine and Self-Control

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: Mary Selden

Many of us can’t imagine going a day without our caffeine of choice—coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda, or any number of others. A recent study cited in this article claims that 90% of Americans ingest some form of caffeine daily in order to overcome the effects of sleep loss. But did you know that caffeine could also help you maintain better self-control?



When our mental resources are depleted, we have a harder time regulating our behavior. This is often what happens with sleep deprivation, which can decrease our ability to control impulses and overcome temptation.

As our resources for self-control are depleted from lack of sleep, we become more susceptible to negative social influence— such as being less able to resist someone who tries to persuade us to do unethical things, such as deceiving others.



The authors claim that caffeine can actually boost our natural resources in these situations, helping us to better control our actions and refrain from unethical behavior, even when someone is attempting to influence us.

The study found that, when participants were tired, they were more likely to succumb to unethical suggestions from others. But, after consuming caffeine, the participants had more resources to resist social influence (that is, the researcher telling them to deceive the other participants) because the caffeine alleviated some of the effects of sleep deprivation.



These findings are particularly applicable in work settings, where sleep deprivation in employees could make them less able to resist unethical temptations from others at work.

But, while helpful in some regards, caffeinated beverages also have some disadvantages. Caffeine is a diuretic, can increase anxiety and heart rate, and can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue when you stop consuming it.

It’s not a cure-all solution for resisting unethical suggestions, either: The study found that well-rested individuals had much greater self-control than those who were tired, even when the sleep-deprived individuals ingested caffeine. Well-rested individuals didn’t experience the same benefits as sleep-deprived individuals who ingested caffeine, because it affected them less. So they were ultimately able to resist unethical behavior equally well, whether there was social pressure or not.

But if rest is lacking, caffeine may give people the extra boost they need in order to get back some of the self-control they’ve lost from being exhausted.

Taking control back: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor: The Joint Roles of Conscientiousness and Coping Strategies
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Abusive supervision is a serious issue, and much more prevalent than you might realize.

A lot of research has been done on this topic– partly because it is on the increase, but also because of its devastating effects on morale and productivity.

In looking at personality and the choice of coping strategies, new research reveals insights that can help employees maintain performance while surviving an abusive supervisor.



The transactional stress model details a 2-step process in individuals confronted with a stressful event: First, they decide how this event impacts their general well-being; secondly, they decide if something can be done to minimize negative effects, choosing an appropriate coping strategy to deal with the situation.

So what coping strategy would you employ in dealing with the stress caused by an abusive supervisor? Either you would directly address the issue and take initiative to solve your problem (i.e. active coping strategies), or you may prefer avoiding the issue until the worst passes (i.e. avoidance strategies).

The question is, is one of these strategies better than the other, or is there more complexity involved in effectively handling such a situation?



A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests personality has a more significant effect on performance than the choice of coping strategy when dealing with an abusive supervisor. However, the research does suggest that avoidance strategies will negatively affect employee performance in the long run.

That being said, researchers found that conscientiousness (one of the Big 5 personality traits) influences how well you work under such circumstances, no matter you choose to deal with it. In this case, conscientiousness refers to how people control themselves, preferring planned behavior over more spontaneous expressions.

The work performance of employees who ranked high on conscientiousness and used various coping strategies wasn’t affected nearly as much as those who were low on conscientiousness and using various strategies. This highlights the major role conscientiousness plays in helping people maintain their performance, even when choosing different ways of coping with an abusive supervisor.



This research can be useful for an organization’s selection criteria, as it seems that certain kinds of people are naturally more adept at maintaining their performance in the face of stressful work environments and demanding superiors.

But, on a more personal level, those employees struggling with an abusive supervisor may want to stop avoiding the issue, as the study shows that their work performance will inevitably suffer.

Leadership Self-Efficacy: The Key to Leaders’ Reactions to Challenging Experiences

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Fired up or burned out? How developmental challenge differentially impacts leader behavior
Reviewed by: Mary Selden

Many researchers believe that leadership is a skill learned through experience—specifically, through overcoming challenging experiences.

Studies show that challenging leaders is beneficial, because it causes them to demonstrate more engagement, skill, motivation, and transformational leadership behaviors.

However, the fact is that leaders occasionally respond negatively to challenges. But this outcome is rarely studied within the usual theories of leader development.



According to the authors of a new study on how developmental challenge differentially impacts leader behavior, Leadership Self-Efficacy helps determine whether leaders will respond to challenges positively or negatively.

When leaders believe that they are capable of responding to challenges– that is, when they have high Leadership Self-Efficacy– they tend to cope successfully. This, in turn, promotes more engagement and effective behaviors, such as those associated with transformational leadership.

On the other hand, leaders who have low Leadership Self-Efficacy, and don’t believe that they can respond effectively to challenges, exhibit more signs of emotional exhaustion, avoidance, and disengagement. These are the behaviors typically associated with laissez-faire leadership.



The authors of the study tested their hypotheses on junior and mid-level managers from a Fortune 500 financial services company over the course of four months.

They found that challenging jobs related to both engagement and exhaustion. When leaders were engaged, they reported a greater number of transformational leadership behaviors. But when leaders were emotionally exhausted, they reported a greater number of laissez-faire leadership behaviors.

Leadership Self-Efficacy didn’t seem to play a role when the challenges were met constructively. However, those with low Leadership Self-Efficacy who responded negatively to challenging situations were much more likely to report greater emotional exhaustion and a numerous laissez-faire leadership behaviors.



The results of this study suggest that challenging assignments are useful as leader development tools, particularly for leaders who have high Leadership Self-Efficacy.

But there is also an inherent risk: Leaders who are unsure of their abilities may not benefit from tackling challenging assignments. Instead, the challenge may lead to emotional exhaustion and more laissez-faire behaviors—results which could negatively affect the organization by leading to poor performance, burnout, high turnover, and other problems.

However, providing coaching or mentoring programs designed to improve leaders’ self-efficacy may help low-Leadership Self-Efficacy leaders gain the coping skills they need in order to grow from challenging experiences.

The Impact of Envy on High Performers in the Workplace

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Victimization of high performers: The roles of envy and work group identification
Reviewed by: Angela A. Beiler

High performers– that is, employees who work harder and accomplish more than the average– are typically highly valued by employers. Unfortunately, this advanced performance level can cause overachievers to be noticed and even targeted for bullying by their peers, who may be envious of the attention or rewards they’re given.

Such victimization can result in decreased performance, or increased turnover, in an organization as high performers that feel targeted move on to other employment opportunities.

In a pair of new studies, researchers decided to gain a better understanding of this relationship. Their goals were to see if high-performing employees do experience victimization by their peers, the causes of this counterproductive relationship, and factors that could possibly minimize instances of workplace victimization.



First, the researchers tested to see if high levels of employee performance are related to victimization. A sample group of 4,874 participants from 339 different work groups were given surveys regarding their work performance and victimization.

This study found that individuals who had higher levels of work performance did report increased victimization. Accepting that victimization of high performers is an issue, the next step was to determine why this relationship exists and identify potential contextual situations that may minimize victimization.

In order to do this, the researchers ran a second, more intensive study with 217 members of 67 work groups in a South Korean company.



For the second study, employee performance was measured in terms of supervisor ratings, employee identification with their group, and co-worker envy toward each member of the group, as well as self-reports of victimization.
This second study revealed additional information about high performer victimization that supported findings from the first study, as there was a direct connection between employees whose performance was rated highly by supervisors and victimization by co-workers. They found that co-worker envy accounted for this relationship, as high performance led to higher levels of envy, which in turn related to victimization.

This would make sense, as co-workers may be jealous of high-performing colleagues, triggering negative actions toward their colleagues.



So the crucial question is, what actions can an organization take to minimize bullying of high performers?

Fortunately, work group identification was found to act as a buffer, weakening the relationship between high employee performance and victimization. Therefore, employers can take action by encouraging employees to identify as a member of their individual work groups or teams.

By taking the time to build strong group identification, members may feel like the contributions of the high performer reflect well on the group as a whole, rather than just the individual. In short, emphasizing the ways that individual victories benefit the whole team is key.