Death Anxiety is Related to Burnout and Other Organizational Problems
The typical workplace has many different personality types: Happy employees, charismatic employees, ambitious employees, egotistical employees, and many others. But have you ever thought much about employees who fear death? It’s not the kind of personality trait that you’d think has relevance in the workplace, but new research by Sliter, Sinclair, Yuan, and Mohr (2014) has shown that death anxiety has important implications on employee success.
WHAT IS DEATH ANXIETY?
Death anxiety refers to how much a person fears death. It is considered a personality trait, which means that people basically maintain the same level of it over time. A little bit of death anxiety is probably good, because it might prevent someone from doing something risky or dangerous. The problem happens when people have too much death anxiety. This is when it can get in the way of normal behavior, especially at work.
DEATH ANXIETY AND THE WORKPLACE
In the current study, the authors found that death anxiety has several negative outcomes in the workplace. Employees who have higher levels of death anxiety had higher levels of burnout, higher levels of absenteeism, and lower levels of work engagement (meaning they were not as dedicated to their jobs).
Why do all of these bad things happen? The authors hypothesize that people who worry about death more often will have fewer emotional resources to deal with other problems at work. According to many researchers, this lack of resources is how job burnout begins. This also helps explain why employees who fear death are not as dedicated to their jobs. It’s difficult to be absorbed in your work when your mind is preoccupied with something else. Finally, when employees fear death and experience burnout at work, it eventually leads to missing work entirely. This can be because of illness, or in order to avoid the unpleasantness that the employees associate with work.
The authors also found another downside to fearing death. Mortality cues are reminders of death that can pop up anywhere in daily life. Some jobs have more mortality cues than others. For example, an ER nurse might have recently seen a patient die, or an actuary might have to calculate mortality expectancies. Because these reminders of death are inherent in many jobs, it is important to understand how people react to them. In this study, the authors found that mortality cues are related to an increase in burnout among employees, but the association was especially strong when employees already had high levels of death anxiety. Working in a job that reminds employees of death is hard enough for ordinary people. When these employees enter with a pre-existing fear of death, it goes from bad to worse!
STOPPING DEATH ANXIETY IN ITS TRACKS
We want employees who don’t suffer from burnout, who are productive and engaged in their work, and who don’t have unnecessary absences. What can we do? First, this study has important implications for selection. If employees can be screened for death anxiety, the workplace will be better because of it. This is especially true when jobs contain mortality cues, or reminders of death. But what happens when employees who are already on the job suffer burnout or absenteeism due to their death anxiety? In this case, an organization can still provide employees with coping strategies or counseling programs that may be useful in helping them combat their fears. This is an emerging area of research, and future studies will provide further guidance to employers in making sure that fear of death doesn’t negatively impact the workplace.
Avoiding Adverse Impact: Selection Procedures That Increase Organizational Diversity
Using cognitive tests as part of an employee selection process will generally help more than various other methods (such as interviews) to ensure the selection of better performing individuals. There are some methods that are slightly better predictors of performance, but cognitive tests have proven to be a mainstay.
Unfortunately, the use of such tests can lead to discriminatory hiring practices against minority groups, who often score below their white counterparts due to a variety of factors.
Different strategies have been proposed to counteract this adverse impact in selection procedures in order to ensure a fairer hiring process and encourage greater diversity within the workplace. The research reviewed here investigated one such strategy.
Adverse Impact is a means of measuring this type of discrimination. It is calculated by dividing the selection ratio from the lower scoring group of applicants (a minority group) by the selection ratio of the higher scoring comparison group (historically, more privileged groups).
Adverse Impact towards the minority group has occurred if the result of these calculations is less than 4/5ths. This is a way of guarding against discriminatory selection practices and ensuring a more diverse and representative workforce.
When cognitive tests are used for selection procedures, it is perceived that the organization now has to make a trade-off between selection criteria related to work performance and selecting for diversity by adhering to the Adverse Impact ratio.
One strategy for overcoming Adverse Impact is to weigh cognitive and non-cognitive tests differently. The researchers investigated the use of this weighting strategy on cognitive sub-tests, which represented the second-order stratum of cognitive ability.
Second-order cognitive abilities are not specific individual abilities, but rather a broader constellation of related abilities, yet still more refined than a measure of general cognitive ability (known as g). For example, measuring acquired knowledge in reading and writing (stratum II) would include relationships across vocabulary, reading comprehension, and analogy tests.
The researchers hypothesized that, although general cognitive ability may be a fairly good predictor of later performance, the stratum II abilities may be better predictors when a job requires that specific ability. By using a sophisticated weighing technique with varying values for specific abilities related to a job, the researchers found that this method could improve minority hiring, but not at the expense of selection quality if a test of general cognitive ability was used.
BIG PICTURE TAKE-AWAYS
This research is particularly interesting for managers and recruiters because it provides a clear way forward in decreasing the possible Adverse Impact of company selection procedures, which helps to create a more diverse workforce.
Workplace diversity has been shown to have multiple benefits in terms of organizational outcomes. But you can also rest assured that using such weighted methods won’t decrease the quality of hires if the abilities are shown to relate to the job.
Is It Lonely At the Top? The Victimization of High Performers
High Performers are defined as the group of talented employees that increase both team and organizational performance.
Previous research has suggested that individuals high on cognitive ability are more likely to experience workplace victimization, and High Performers might be the target of interpersonal harm.
The current study by Eugune Kim and Theresa Glomb extends this line of research by examining the extent to which High Performers are victimized due to group members’ envy, and whether work group identification can reduce this potential negative consequence of high performance.
TASK PERFORMANCE AND VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH PERFORMERS
Compared to average workplace performers, High Performers tend to enjoy more financial and social resources, and they receive more attention in their work groups and organizations. As a result, they are often at the risk of being victimized by other organizational members.
The researchers conducted two separate studies– one with staff members at a large university in the United States, and the other with employees from three organizations in South Korea. In both samples, High Performers were found to be victimized more than low performers.
THE ROLE OF ENVY
As a result of being constantly compared to High Performers, the study found that other group members’ self-evaluation might suffer.
They also discovered that such feelings of inferiority may motivate group members to victimize high performers, with the intention of reducing their advantages in the workplace.
In short, the researchers found that envy usually explained why high performers were more likely to be victimized.
HOW WORK GROUP IDENTIFICATION CAN HELP
The researchers also found that work group identification can reduce High Performer victimization in the workplace.
When group members identify themselves with the group and have strong bonds with one another, they don’t tend to develop feelings of envy and/or don’t let their feelings of envy translate into victimization.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
The current study highlights the importance of promoting work group identification, such as engaging in team building activities or social gatherings to reduce envy towards high performers.
High performers might also consider downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.
Are Defiant Employees Causing their Bosses to be Abusive?
Both managers and employees sometimes act inappropriately in the workplace. For example, managers can excessively yell at, ridicule, or make fun of those working for them. We’ll refer to this as abusive supervision.
Similarly, employees can deliberately break rules and ignore norms, harming the organization they work for in the process. We’ll refer to this as organizational defiance.
Researchers have always believed that abusive supervision and organizational defiance often seem to occur in the same workplaces. But which one is the cause, and which one is the result?
The traditional belief is that abusive supervision leads to organizational defiance. Basically, if the boss treats employees poorly, they ultimately retaliate against the organization.
Although many psychology studies have a hard time determining which is the cause and which is the effect, theory can step in and help shed light on the answer. When employees experience abusive supervision and feel like they’re being taken advantage of, they may feel a need to punish the organization in order to restore balance.
Alternatively, when dealing with abusive supervisors, employees may have to focus so much of their attention on the abuse that they have trouble devoting attention toward controlling their impulses. This can lead to acting in ways that are inappropriate.
In the current study, the authors examined the possibility that, when employees act out, it causes supervisors to become abusive.
When supervisors need to deal with employee misbehavior, they lose some of their own ability to practice self- control. This may lead managers to have reactions that have otherwise been inhibited. Also, in response to employee defiance, managers may feel the need to “save face” or project an aura of authority, which could lead to acting in a more authoritarian or controlling manner.
Finally, sometimes employees who act out may be inadvertently sending cues to their managers, inviting them to join in the same norm-violating behavior.
THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The current study used an advanced data-collection method to show that organizational defiance by employees causes abusive supervision by managers, which is the reverse of what previous researchers had assumed.
But, like many aspects of human behavior, it’s not quite so simple. The researchers also showed that abusive supervision can sometimes cause employee defiance. This was especially true when the employees did not have a lot of self-control, and when they intended to leave the organization. Under these circumstances, employees who face abusive leadership are unable to refrain from bad behavior, and they have little incentive for doing so, since they plan to leave the company anyway.
The authors also showed that, if abusive supervision and employee defiance are capable of causing each other, a vicious cycle emerges where both negative aspects can feed off of each other and escalate into an unpleasant work environment for everybody.
STOPPING THE VICIOUS CYCLE
So how can organizational leaders create a workplace that curbs inappropriate behavior from both managers and employees? The results of this article indicate that simply firing offenders may not be the right answer, since firing abusive managers won’t help if their behavior was caused by defiant employees.
What organizations can do is stress the importance of standards for employee conduct, insisting that abusive management is no excuse to retaliate against the organization. This can help slow the vicious cycle.
Also, employees and managers can be selected specifically for their capacity for self-control. This helps to make sure a bad situation does not escalate, and that both employees and managers can always respond to others in a level-headed manner.
Teamwork- How Team Personality Influences Individual Behaviors
In most work places, teamwork is a common feature that can have many benefits for organizational productivity and competitiveness.
But not all group dynamics are helpful or add value, so a fair bit of research has been done on the behaviors that produce desired outcomes. Much of it has looked at how someone’s personality affects whether they would be helpful or not. But few researchers have looked at the impact “team personality” has on individual actions.
The team of researchers behind a new study on teamwork and cooperation sought to examine the extent to which group dynamics ultimately influence individual behaviors.
TEAM PERSONALITY AND GROUP NORMS
Group norms are the accepted, unofficial standards that members of a group follow, which help to evaluate the behavior of individuals. These norms help individual group members identify which behaviors would be permissible within a certain situation and which would not.
Some groups have norms that promote greater interdependence, and therefore appreciate helping behaviors more that groups which don’t adopt these norms. In general, groups with co-operative norms have higher performance and satisfaction.
This study investigated the influence Team Personality (i.e. those characteristics that define a group) would have on encouraging these norms and its subsequent impact on individual helping behaviors.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXTROVERSION & AGREEABLENESS
Researchers were interested in examining two primary traits at the group level– extroversion and agreeableness.
Agreeableness is essentially about cooperation with others, while extroversion concerns the sociability of the individual. Given the social characteristics of individuals with these traits, teams that are characterized by such individuals tend to show greater cohesion and work-load sharing, but less friction.
The researchers believed that a group with a large number of individuals who ranked high on extroversion and agreeableness would have high levels of cooperative group norms, which is a strong predictor for an increase in individual helping behaviors.
THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY
Researchers found that the level of extroversion within a group’s team personality impacted the adoption of cooperative norms, even when there was quiet a difference in extroversion levels amongst individual members.
A high level of extroversion implies a greater degree of assertiveness and influencing of others to accept certain norms. So, even if there are only a few team members who rank high on extroversion, they’re still influential. The norms accepted within this group then influence individual helping behaviors.
Agreeableness was different. Only where there was little difference on agreeableness between team members would it quickly facilitate the adoption of co-operative norms. If there was a lot of difference between team members, then the emergence of co-operative norms was often hampered.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
Cooperative norms and high levels of helping behaviors can greatly enhance a team’s output. This study showed that team personality does affect these aspects.
The results have implications for managers wanting to facilitate the change of group norms, as well as those bringing a new individual on to a team.
In short, understanding both the team personality and the individual personality are important for finding a good fit, and also important for influencing helping behavior outcomes.
How Well-Connected Leaders Help Foster Creativity
In recent years organizations have increasingly come to recognize the importance of fostering innovation and creativity. The problem is, how?
New research suggests that the key might be dependent on the size of team leaders’ social networks. By working with leaders who have substantial social networks within the organization, employees are granted access to more resources, ideas, and strategies to utilize in creative ways.
STUDYING WELL-CONNECTED LEADERS
The new study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, examined 214 employees working in public technology and environmental services. The research focused on the impact of the social networks of the leaders and employees involved, as well as instances of radical creativity.
The study found that it’s important that leaders be connected to the members of their team, but equally important that they be well-connected outside the team as well.
Leaders with expansive connections beyond the scope of the immediate work team provide access to a broader variety of resources, including new perspectives and ideas which the leader can then pass on to their team.
WHY A WIDE SOCIAL NETWORK MATTERS
The importance of having a wide social network as a team leader hinges on the value of providing a broad-view strategy for employees. The more people a team leader knows, the more connected they become to Big Picture concepts rather than focusing solely on the current thoughts within a team.
Of course, it’s not enough for the leader to merely make new connections. They also need to focus on sharing the insights and strategies these connections provide. By sharing diverse perspectives, team leaders can help battle the creative stagnancy that often happens with teams over time.
This research suggests that employee social networks can also be instrumental if they serve as liaison to individuals outside the team, especially when their leaders are less integral to the team or are not stepping up to the plate. But the interplay between employee and leader social networks needs to be better explored in the future in order to fully understand the different impacts of each.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
The important info organizational leaders can glean from this research is that creativity is fostered by connectivity to others in the organization.
Access to additional outside perspectives help to provide unique resources and ideas that could lead to innovative creative development.
This research also supports the notion of a connected organization wherein ideas are shared freely between leaders in order to stimulate the creativity of the entire company.
The Secret Recipe for Good Workplace Conflict
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.
TYPES OF WORKPLACE CONFLICT
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.
HOW MILD WORKPLACE CONFLICT LEADS TO INFORMATION
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.
GOOD WORKPLACE CONFLICT
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?
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.
EMPLOYEE START TIME AND JOB PERFORMANCE
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 ROLE OF THE SUPERVISOR’S PREFERENCE
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.
IMPLICATIONS OF THESE FINDINGS
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
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.
INCONSISTENT LEADER BEHAVIOR
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.
EMPLOYEES WHO CAN OVERCOME INCONSISTENT LEADER BEHAVIOR
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?
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 VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH & LOW PERFORMERS
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.
DIFFERENCES IN EMPLOYEE VICTIMIZATION TACTICS
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.
THE BIG TAKEAWAYS
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.