Workplace Blues: Employees feel stressed, underpaid, and unheard

Publication: American Psychological Association Press release (2013)
Article: APA Survey Finds US Employers Unresponsive to Employee Needs
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Employees reported chronic work stress, low wages, insufficient opportunities for advancement, and workloads that interfere with family life.

Here are some findings from APA’s Well-Being Survey of 1,501 adults:

  • Employees feel stressed (35%)
  • -Further, 64% feel that their companies do not provide sufficient resources to cope with stress

  • Employees feel underpaid (46%)
  • -Also, 43% feel that their non-monetary recognitions are insufficient and that performance evaluations are unfair and useless (57%)

  • Employees feel unheard (47%)
  • -Not only do they feel that their input falls on deaf ears, but they also feel undervalued (49%)

  • Women have it worse than men
  • -Female employees feel more stressed (37% versus 33%) and underpaid (57% versus 52%)

For additional material on how to create a workplace that promotes employee well-being visit

With OCBs and Justice For All (IO Psychology)

Topic: Organizational Justice, Teams, Citizenship Behavior, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2012)
Article: Examining Retaliatory Responses to Justice Violations and Recovery
Attempts in Teams
Authors: J.S. Christian, M.S. Christian, A.S. Garza, A.P.J. Ellis
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Should managers deal fairly with their employees? Well yes, of course, if they are concerned about being nice people or perhaps want to be told the correct location of the
holiday party. But what if managers are only concerned with bottom-line organizational effectiveness, profit, and ruthless getting-ahead in life? For these types, research by
Christian, et al. (2012) has shown that treating employees unfairly can lead to certain negative workplace outcomes.

The authors conducted an experiment with teams of simulated employees and found
that employees who are treated unfairly respond in two harmful ways. The first is that
these employees engage in fewer organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs). This
refers to things that an employee might do to help out at work, but are not technically
considered part of the employee’s job. The second thing that employees do in
response to unfair treatment is give supervisors lower performance ratings.

But worse than that, these retaliatory behaviors may not be confined to the individuals
who were treated unfairly. The authors found that entire teams of employees banded
together and performed fewer OCBs as a response to a teammate’s unfair treatment.
When teammates perceive that someone is getting treated unfairly, they may have an
emotional response of moral outrage that moves them to supportive action.

Another interesting discovery is that these findings do not work equally for all people.
The authors describe “strategic core” employees, or employees whose work is
instrumental for team success, and who encounter more problems and a heavier
workload than the typical employee. When these employees are treated unfairly,
they respond with even fewer OCBs than ordinary employees would under similar
circumstances. Also, teams more drastically reduced their OCBs when a strategic core
employee was wronged.

This research shows the importance of treating employees fairly. But what can
managers do if they have already behaved unfairly toward an employee? Luckily
this study provides a solution. “Recovery” is an attempt to atone for past injustice
by correcting the injustice or showing genuine remorse. Recovery was successful
at raising levels of OCBs as well as improving subsequent performance ratings of
managers. In this situation, the wronged employee’s teammates also increased OCBs
and managerial performance ratings. In other words, don’t underestimate the power of
simply saying “I’m sorry”.

Christian, J.S., Christian, M.S., Garza, A.S., & Ellis, A.P.J. (2012). Examining retaliatory
responses to justice violations and recovery attempts in teams. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 97(6), 1218-1232.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management




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Mixed Messages: Gender Differences in Performance and Promotability Ratings (IO Psychology)

Topic: Gender, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Journal of Management (MAR 2012)
Article: A Meta-Analysis of Gender Group Differences for Measures of Job Performance in Field Studies
Authors: Roth, P. L., Purvis, K. L., & Bobko, P.
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada

In human resource management, we are often concerned with group-based differences in the measurement of performance, satisfaction, and other variables (for legal and ethical reasons). Previous meta-analytic studies (studies that look at data/findings across multiple studies) have examined the role of certain group characteristics, such as ethnicity, on performance, but gender differences have not been studied as frequently. In addition, as the authors of the current article note, previous meta-analyses that have assessed gender differences in performance have generally utilized various proxies for performance (e.g., absenteeism, satisfaction ) rather than actual performance measures (e.g., supervisor ratings). The goal, then, of this meta-analysis, was to examine gender differences on these realistic performance indices in field samples.

Meta-analyzing a total of 61 employee samples (rather than college student samples), the authors concluded that, on the average, there appears to be a great deal of similarity between levels of performance for males and females. Despite this conclusion, the authors also found support for their hypothesis that males generally receive slightly higher promotability ratings. The authors’ conclusions about gender differences in performance and promotability point out a potential management paradox in the following sense: although small, performance differences seem to suggest that females are better performers, yet they appear to be rated slightly lower on promotability compared to males.

Roth et al. suggest a number of future research directions to assist in increasing our understanding of this phenomenon, including studies of other types of job performance (such as work samples) and additional research on the influence of gender on promotability ratings in general (Roth and colleagues only identified eight such studies to include in the current meta-analysis). It will be useful to continue conducting such research in field settings, as the studies included in this meta-analysis did; as such, this may be a prime opportunity for academic-practitioner collaboration in IO psychology.

Roth, P. L., Purvis, K. L., & Bobko, P. (2012). A meta-analysis of gender group differences for measures of job performance in field studies. Journal of Management, 38, 719-739.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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When Normal Performance Isn’t Normal Performance

Topic: Performance, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: The best and the rest: Revisiting the norm of normality of individual
Authors: O’Boyle Jr., E., & Aguinis, H.
Reviewer: Neil Morelli

The gloves are off because O’Boyle and Aguinis have just challenged a perennial assumption of the performance literature. What kind of challenge you say? The authors advocate that the distribution of individual performance does not follow a normal, or Gaussian distribution, but rather a power, or Paretian distribution. On the surface this challenge may seem academic, but if true this conclusion could have serious implications for how performance, and the methods and tools used to assess it, are conceptualized and valued.

We are all too familiar with the inverted U-shaped normal distribution and its inferences that most performers hang out around the mean, while any extreme scores or deviation from this shape indicate bias or error. Instead, O’Boyle and Aguinis embrace extreme scores by arguing that the underlying distribution of performance more closely follows the ski jump-shaped Paretian distribution. In this distribution the tails are fatter and extend farther than the normal distribution, and extreme events are more accurately predicted. A helpful way to think about this distribution is the 80/20 rule common to economics—20% of performers are responsible for 80% of the results.

O’Boyle and Aguinis tested this assumption by collecting performance outcomes from 198 samples that spanned an eclectic mix of researchers, entertainers, politicians, and athletes. They compared chi-square values between models that forced the data to fit to a normal, Gaussian distribution and a power, Paretian distribution. They found that 93% of their samples fit to a Paretian distribution better than a Gaussian distribution; in other words, most of the performance outcomes were generated by a small group of superstar performers.

What does this mean for researchers? The generally accepted practice of removing outliers and defaulting to statistical tests that assume a normal distribution when studying performance outcomes may need to be rethought. Practitioners? Utility analysis, which shows the ROI of performance measurement, can be more accurate by working under this new assumption. Also, measures that track performance or are intended to select high performers may need to be readjusted to account for the “superstar effect.” Overall, the authors suggest that organizations would be well served by properly identifying, managing, compensating, and leveraging their elite performers.

O’Boyle Jr., E., & Aguinis, H. (2012). The best and the rest: Revisiting the norm of
normality of individual performance. Personnel Psychology, 65, 79-119.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

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Performance ratings are dynamic… now how do we rate them?

Topic: Performance Appraisal, Performance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2010)
Article: Understanding performance ratings: Dynamic performance, attributions, and rating purpose.
Authors: Jochen Reb and Gary Greguras
Reviewed By: Allison Gabriel

We all know that performance ratings are critical for employees; they determine promotions, raises, future developmental opportunities, and so forth. What makes ratings difficult lies in the fact that employees’ performance is dynamic and can change quite radically. Think about your own performance: how you perform this week, or even this day, may not be the same as it was a month ago. This presents quite the dilemma for raters (aka, supervisors): how do you combine multiple, changing aspects of work performance to get an accurate rating?

Reb and Greguras sought to explore this concept in two separate studies looking at how overall performance (e.g., above average, average, or below average), performance trend (e.g., increasing performance, decreasing performance), and performance variability (e.g., consistent versus inconsistent performance) impact rater perceptions of employee ability, effort, and locus of control (whether internal or external causes are to blame for employee performance). To make matters even more detailed, the authors also wanted to see if different dynamic factors impacted feedback given for administrative (e.g., promotions) or developmental (e.g., training suggestions) feedback purposes. While this seems like quite a bit, the fact of the matter is that it represents what managers need to do regularly!

By having a sample of undergrads and a sample of managers fill out ratings of “employees,” results showed that dynamic factors of performance trend and performance consistency impacted perceptions of employee ability and effort. This means that two employees could have the same level of performance overall, but the one who is more consistent, or the one who is viewed as having more of an increasing trend of performance, would come out on top. Also, developmental feedback was more influenced by trend and variability, while administrative feedback was influenced more by mean performance.

The authors do acknowledge that the results seem grim; after all that, it seems like there is no way a supervisor can make a clean rating! But, the good news is that supervisors can direct their focus on certain aspects of dynamic employee performance depending upon what their goal is. Are you trying to find people who would be good for a new developmental program? Look at performance trend. Are you giving out promotions? Look at the overall performance mean… and keep your eye on the dynamic curve balls of employee performance.

Reb, J., & Greguras, G. (2010). Understanding performance ratings: Dynamic performance, attributions, and rating purpose. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 213-220.

Customer Satisfaction Surveys: A Measure of Race and Gender. A Measure of Performance? Not So Much

Topic: Fairness, Diversity, Performance Appraisal

Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: An examination of whether and how
racial and gender biases influence customer satisfaction

Authors: D. R. Hekman, K. Aquino, B. P.
Owens, T. R. Mitchell, P. Schilpzand, & K. Leavitt

Reviewed By: Katie Bachman

There’s this great
line in the 1980 movie,
9 to 5
, when Jane Fonda says to Dabney Coleman: “You’re a sexist,
egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot” and he replies: “So I have a few
faults; who doesn’t?” Keep that in mind when you think about the Average Joe on
the street, filling out a survey. Untrained raters don’t rate accurately—that’s
why they need training! Customer satisfaction surveys are the epitome of using
untrained raters to measure employee performance.

For organizations
attempting to become more customer service-oriented, customer satisfaction
surveys seem like a good way to measure performance. You might get an accurate
rating if you’re White and male, but minorities and women can be hurt by these
types of ratings. Bias seeps into the rating process, which is a big time legal
no-no, particularly if such ratings are used as criteria for promotion and
compensation. In three separate studies—two in the field and one in the
lab—researchers determined that women and minorities were consistently rated
lower on customer satisfaction, even when performance was the same. Obviously,
this relationship was even stronger when the rater held negative attitudes
toward these groups. Additionally, the negative ratings given to minority and
female employees also affect customer ratings of the organization. It’s not
enough that customers like your employees a little less for being non-White or
female, they also like your company a little less.

Why is this happening?
Anonymity probably has something to do with it. Surveys almost never ask
customer raters to identify themselves so people feel freer to let their
attitudes affect their judgments. Also, there’s a lack of standards and
training for most of these surveys. Raters without training may rely on their
gut reactions more so than individuals trained to focus on observed behavior.

So what does this mean
for an organization? Customer satisfaction surveys need to be taken with a
grain of salt and probably not used for employment decisions. Customers will rate identical work
as less satisfactory if a woman or minority performs it (no word in this
article about the double whammy: female minorities). If you are going to use
them, customer satisfaction surveys should be tailored to ask for behavioral
episodes, not gut reactions and should only be used in conjunction with other,
less biased measures of employee performance.


D. R., Aquino, K., Owens, B. P., Mitchell, T. R., Schilpzand, P., &
Leavitt, K. (2010). An examination of whether and how racial and gender biases
influence customer satisfaction. Academy of Management Journal, 53, 238-264

Performance Appraisals and How They Go Wrong

Topic: Performance Appraisals
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (May, 2010)
Article: The roles of rater goals and ratee performance levels in the distortion of performance ratings.
Authors: X. M. Wang, K. F. E. Wong, J. Y. Y. Kwong
Reviewed By: Rachel Marsh

Performance appraisals play a critical role in an employee’s work experience.  But considering that appraisals are performed by supervisors who might have ulterior motives, it’s worth exploring how these motives affect performance appraisals?

The motives addressed in the current article include harmony, fairness, and motivating goals, all of which affect an employee’s performance ratings irrespective of actual performance. The harmony goal states that managers will inflate ratings of low performers to prevent conflict in the workplace.  The fairness goal states that performance ratings will be lowered for high performers and raised for low performers when employees being rated are in the same work group or at the same job grade.  The motivating goal states that
managers will deflate ratings for high performers to motivate them to work harder and managers will inflate ratings for low performers to motivate them to work harder due to the disparity between actual performance and the performance rating.

The study suggests performance appraisals are not only impacted by actual performance, but underlying motives of the rater or manager also impact the appraisal.  Raters asked to focus on a specific rating goal disregarded the previous goal the rater had in

The results of the article suggest that prior to the performance appraisal process managers must receive training regarding possible ulterior motives in the process.  Companies must factor in these underlying motives when considering performance appraisal results.

X. M. Wang, K. F. E. Wong, & J. Y. Y. Kwong. (2010). The roles of rater
goals  and ratee performance levels
in the distortion of performance ratings. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95,

Is it Fair to Include “Citizenship” in Performance Appraisals?

Topic: Citizenship Behavior, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (DEC 2009)
Article: Organizational citizenship behavior in performance evaluations: Distributive justice or injustice
Authors: S.K., Johnson, C.L. Holladay, & M.A. Quinones
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs) are volitional work behaviors that go above and beyond the call of duty and are intended to benefit the organization and/or its members.  Though OCBs are not  formally required of employees (e.g., don’t show up in the job description), they are highly valued by organizations. Thus, supervisors (and peers) often consider employees’ OCBs in formal performance appraisals.  But, how do employees feel about this?  In other words, since OCBs are not absolutely required of employees, do employees find this practice fair?

Johnson, Holladay, and Quinones (2009) investigated the extent to which employees consider including OCBs in formal performance appraisals fair. The authors conducted two separate experiments, one employing a sample of 78 employees from diverse organizations and industries and the other employing a large sample of undergraduate students.  In general, the findings of both studies were similar.

Overall, employees reported that it is fairer to include OCBs in performance appraisals than to not include them. Importantly, employees felt that it is most fair to include OCBs in performance appraisals when they constitute about 30 – 50% of the total performance rating (While the remaining represents Core Task Behaviors).

Johnson et al. also found that while females generally preferred higher weightings of OCBs (between 25 and 50%) men found a 20 – 30% weighting of OCBs to be most fair. Johnson et al. speculated that the findings for gender represent differences in the typical gender roles of males and females. For example, they suggested that in general, females are expected to engage in more helping behaviors (i.e., OCBs) than men at work and they want their performance ratings to account for this.

Whether this is true or not (and we welcome your personal insight on this matter!), it is clear that employees  consider OCBs to be an important and rate-able portion of their job performance. Ultimately, employees do find it fair to include OCBs in performance appraisals, but the extent to which OCBs makeup the total performance appraisal depends largely on gender.

Johnson, S.K., Holladay, C.L., & Quinones, M.A. (2009). Organizational citizenship behavior in performance evaluations: Distributive justice or injustice. Journal of Business and Psychology, 24, 409-418.

Slamming the Door on Performance Reviews

Topic: Assessment, Organizational Performance, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Wall Street journal
ArticleGet rid of the performance review. 
Author: S.A. Culbert
Feature by: Benjamin Granger

Annual pay and performance reviews are rarely fun (We can all attest to that!).  But it remains a common practice in many organizations.  Surely there’s a good reason why we have to go through this sometimes painful process (“my review is today, I can’t wait to hear about all my weaknesses!”).  Although performance appraisals (PAs) are usually intended to help with pay and promotion decisions as well as help employees develop, some experts find PAs to be downright silly!

In a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, Samuel Culbert provides several reasons why organizations should toss performance reviews out.  Culbert argues that in practice, performance reviews often do NOT accomplish what they purport to accomplish.  PAs are supposed to lead to employee and organizational improvement but often result in quite the opposite.  But, why?  Culbert suggests that:

1). PAs foster the power gap between supervisors and subordinates.  Ideally supervisors and subordinates are teammates who work together to meet a common goal.  PAs make this unlikely.

2). PAs are not objective.  Even when supervisors gather data from 360s, reviews are based on personal judgments.

3). PAs are likely to lead to employee behaviors that are intended to please the
supervisor (ingratiation) and not necessarily behaviors that lead to improved performance.

4). PAs don’t really determine pay, market forces do.  At best, PAs are stories that are used to justify employee pay.

In addition to his assault on performance reviews, Culbert offers a possible alternative: “two-side,reciprocally accountable, performance previews”. While the performance review focuses on “what went wrong in the past”, the performance preview keeps the supervisor and subordinate focused on the future.  

The tone of a preview is how the supervisor and the subordinates can work together as teammates in the future.  Both parties are accountable in the preview.

The conversation in a preview is not one-sided like the review (employee as the receiver).  Additionally, the preview is more likely than the review to lead to trusting relationships between the supervisor and his/her subordinates which is a necessary first step to employee and organizational improvement. 


Culbert, S.A. (2008). Get rid of the performance review. Wall Street Journal. 

If I’m Bad, Then So Are You!

Topic: Feedback, Job Performance, Performance Appraisal
Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment
Article: The influence of a manager’s own performance appraisal on the evaluation of others.
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

Have you ever received a poor performance appraisal from a supervisor?  (Let’s hope not too many!)  If you have, were you surprised?  (Hey, I’m a pretty good employee! What gives!?).  Researchers and managers alike have been interested in uncovering the factors that influence performance appraisals
(besides actual performance).

Latham and colleagues were interested in how a supervisor’s own performance appraisal affects the feedback that he or she subsequently gives to his/her employees (Yep, your supervisors get appraised too. There is justice in the world!).

The authors wanted to know: If supervisors get poor performance appraisals, will they be more likely to
give poor performance appraisals to their subordinates?  And alternatively, if supervisors receive positive performance appraisals, will they then rate their employees higher?

To find out if this does in fact occur (seems reasonable, right?), Latham et al. conducted four independent studies utilizing different methodologies (e.g., case study, laboratory simulation study, and two field studies). The results of all four studies confirmed that supervisors tend to rate their subordinates lower when they previously received negative performance appraisals.

Moreover, the authors were able to rule out mood as the reason for their findings.  In other words, it is not simply that managers are in a bad mood when they appraise their subordinates’ performance.  They further explained that when managers make judgments or ratings of others, they often use how they were rated as a benchmark.  They also suggested even experienced managers can fall prey to this bias.

This information suggests that organizations should be concerned with educating managers about this
potential bias.  As organizations and researchers continue to identify and address the issues surrounding inaccurate performance appraisals, they can better interpret and utilize the information gathered from them.  (And don’t feel too bad about you poor appraisal. Maybe your boss got a bad one

Latham, G. P., Budworth, M-H., Yanar, B., & Whyte, G. (2008). The influence of a manager’s own performance appraisal on the evaluation of others. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 16(3), 220-228.