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.
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.
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.
Taking control back: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor
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.
COPING WITH 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?
PERSONALITY & PERFORMANCE
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.
THE BIG-PICTURE TAKEAWAY
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.
Can your personality effect how well you adapt to changes in the workplace?
The business world is always evolving, from technology to everyday work requirements. So being able to adapt to changes in the workplace quickly is incredibly valuable for employers.
Evolutionary theory has put forward certain personality traits as better predictors of effective adaptation in various areas of our lives. But the difficulty in evolving within the organizational environment lies in the fact that adaptation in a work setting isn’t about adjusting to a stable environment, but to one that is constantly changing.
A new study on “Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation” examines what kind of person was better able to handle novel work challenges and an environment of constant change.
Reactive and Proactive Adjustments to Change
Adaptive performance at work is basically about how one tackles unforeseen changes and shifting demands. Researchers found that emotional stability and ambition were the traits that had the greatest positive influence on an employees’ ability to adapt effectively.
Personality traits also seemed to influence the strategies that employees use in dealing with change. People tend to display either a reactive or proactive style: A reactive style is highly responsive to the demands of the situation, whereas a proactive style concerns the individual taking initiative at the outset and seeking opportunities for improving things.
Are Some Better Equipped to Handle Change Than Others?
The study found ambition to be associated with proactive strategies. Ambitious individuals seem to fare better when it comes to adaptive performance because they take more initiative and embrace change to a greater extent than others, making the necessary adjustments to continue meeting their goals. Ambitious people see changing with the circumstances as a way to climb the corporate ladder and get ahead.
Emotional stability (which involves keeping your cool even when things are in state of flux) is more closely related to reactive strategies. This trait indicates a person’s ability to remain steadfast in the face of challenges or changes, dealing with whatever curve-balls have been thrown at them in a rational and emotionally appropriate way.
The Role of Job Level in Adjusting to Change
Being able to adapt effectively is not solely dependent on one’s personality, but also the situation and circumstances. An example of this used in the research was the connection between job level and adaptive performance.
Managers generally tend to show more proactive styles, perhaps because they have more opportunities to take various initiatives as a result of being managers. Regular employees showed more reactive styles to change, perhaps due to their limited control over situations in the workplace.
Other Applications of the Research
Why is understanding the connection between personality and the ability to adapt to changes in the workplace important? Because knowing how specific personality traits affect the way people adapt when confronted with change could help organizations become more efficient in hiring the right person for certain jobs. But on a deeper level, outside of the work context, this kind of research could also help solve some of the most pressing social adaptation issues we face.
Why Try to “Fit” In at Work? The Importance of Work Engagement and Person-Job Fit
Today’s workplace can be precarious, with the increasing prevalence of organizational restructuring and downsizing leading to tougher competition for jobs. As a result, ensuring each employees’ person-job fit has become crucial to organizations as they strive to hire and retain top performing employees and avoid turnover.
But this begs the question, how can organizations and their employees improve person-job fit? The answer lies not solely in the hands of organizations, but also in the hands of the employees themselves.
THE ROLE OF JOB CRAFTING
THE ROLE OF JOB CRAFTING
In the new study, “Does work engagement increase person-job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity,” researchers examined the influence of employees’ work engagement on their person-job fit. They focused on personal job crafting, which involves employees actively changing the physical (i.e. task) and interpersonal attributes of their work.
Specifically, the authors were interested in how engaged employees alter their job tasks in order to enhance their demands-abilities fit, the match between employees’ job demands and their abilities to meet them.
The authors were also interested in examining the ways in which engaged employees change interpersonal characteristics of their jobs in order to achieve needs-supplies fit, which reflects the alignment between an employee’s job needs and the resources required to fulfill those needs.
Lastly, the authors explored the influence of job insecurity on employees’ work engagement, and the changes in the physical and interpersonal characteristics of their jobs.
PERSON-JOB FIT FINDINGS
The study revealed that highly engaged employees were considerably more likely to change their person-job fit than less engaged employees.
In particular, highly engaged employees altered the physical characteristics of their jobs to attain optimal demands-abilities fit, and modified the interpersonal features of their jobs to enhance their needs-supplies fit.
Moreover, highly engaged employees were also more likely to change the interpersonal aspects of their jobs when they perceived that their job environments were insecure, in order to ease the feelings of uncertainty about their jobs.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These results indicate that organizations should seek to hire and retain highly engaged employees. Not only because they are more dedicated and involved in their jobs, but also because they will likely enhance their own person-job fit, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention.
Through changes in both task and interpersonal features, these engaged employees are motivated to redesign aspects of their jobs to achieve optimal workplace fit. Therefore, it may be wise for organizations to provide employees with opportunities and resources to alter features of their work, so that they may tailor their work environment to feel that they “fit” in better.
Employee Voice: How to Find People who will Speak Up
Organizations need corrective feedback when policies or practices are not working effectively. This feedback often comes from employees who notice something amiss, and have the guts to bring it to the attention of their employers.
I/O psychologists call this “employee voice.” New research (Tangirala, Kamdar, Venkataramani, & Parke, 2013) has helped employers understand how to maximize employee voice and encourage useful corrective feedback. Of course, not all employees are equally likely to speak up when problems arise in the workplace.
The researchers found that employees with a duty orientation– or those who put organizational goals above all else– are more likely to speak up when something is wrong. These people feel a moral responsibility to speak up, and consider it part of their job. They will often speak up even though bringing up unpopular or troubling information could expose them to backlash and personal harm. Employees with an achievement orientation– or those who place personal success above all else– are less likely to endanger themselves by speaking up. To these employees, speaking up when problems arise is not part of their job description. They are less likely to risk the personal harm that speaking up may cause them. So, if employers want people who aren’t afraid to rock the boat with corrective feedback, does this mean that they should only hire duty-oriented employees? Not necessarily.
The authors found that achievement-oriented employees were more likely to speak up when they felt a sense of psychological safety and perceived that they wouldn’t get in trouble for bringing difficult information to the forefront.
Also, duty-oriented employees don’t always speak up, although they are more likely to do so when they believe that they are capable of competently speaking up and making themselves heard. In practice, this research supports the notion of hiring more duty-oriented employees, which may also be known as “team players.”
Organizations can encourage “speaking up” among their current employees by doing two things. First, make sure employees have the confidence and ability to make themselves heard when they have something important to say. This can be done through coaching or training. Second, make sure the workplace climate encourages people to raise all concerns, even those that sound troubling.
In the end, if employees are too scared to say what needs to be said in order to fix problems in the workplace, the whole organization may suffer.
How Gender and Personality Contribute to the Wage Gap
Do you have a soft heart, take an interest in the well-being of others, or have a tendency to sympathize with the hardships of your friends? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it could be adversely affecting your income. It turns out that the old expression “nice guys finish last” may have some truth to it.
Through a series of four studies, Timothy Judge of Notre Dame, Beth Livingston of Cornell, & Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario found that agreeable individuals and women had lower incomes than disagreeable individuals and men. This relationship between agreeableness and wages was more pronounced among men. Evidence further supported that there is social backlash against agreeable men. Disagreeable men had greater incomes than agreeable men, and highly agreeable men suffered even more.
When it came to women, the income discrepancy between disagreeable and agreeable individuals was smaller. It appears that gender is the primary factor affecting women, with agreeableness being merely another dynamic in the well-documented wage gap that currently exists between the salaries of men and women.
However, don’t take these results as carte blanche for rudeness at the office. It is important to note that further research will be needed to determine exactly why this connection between disagreeableness and higher wages occurs. One possibility is that less agreeable individuals are simply more able to pursue career opportunities, due to having fewer social or familial ties. Until then, we will simply have to gather more data and keep our eyes open for unexpected or unjustified inequities of opportunity and salary.
Genuine Leadership: How sincerity is the key to successful organizational leadership
By now surely everyone knows that the key to successful organizational leadership is sincerity. Genuine Leadership — that is, leadership by individuals who make an effort to be open and honest in their dealings — has become the gold standard for successful team building and a basic expectation for professional advancement. No one wants to work for someone who is cold or aloof. Master networkers and business leaders earn their titles by being authentic and real. However, there’s a fine line between being genuine, on the one hand, and over-sharing or talking about yourself in a self-deprecating manner, on the other. If you ever hope to be seen as a credible source, you want people to be able to trust in you and take you seriously. That means you must be able to walk a tightrope between the two extremes. Not an easy task. Fortunately, the authors, Rosh and Offerman (2013), have explored this issue and bring us new information regarding leadership psychology that provides some helpful tips and advice on how to balance along that line.
- ‘Build a Foundation of Self Knowledge’- Take a good, hard look at yourself and reflect on how your experiences have enabled you to become the person you are today. Ask for some feedback. Think about which stories portray you in the best light or show healthy growth, and which ones you might want to keep to yourself.
- ‘Consider Relevance to the Task’- Share anecdotes related to the task at hand. Don’t simply make small talk in an effort to ingratiate yourself to others. Genuine leadership is about building a strong, functional team, not about shoring up personal insecurities by becoming everyone’s pal.
- ‘Keep Revelations Genuine’- This one is simple: Don’t make anything up. Successful organizational leadership is based on trust. Need I say more?
- ‘Understand the Organizational and Cultural Context’ – Be aware of cultural norms, and consider how others from different countries, companies, or functions will react to what you’re saying. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and sensitivity. It isn’t mere political correctness to respect the feelings and experiences of others.
- ‘Delay or Avoid Very Personal Disclosures’- Ummm… Not everyone has to know that you fell flat on your face in the elevator this morning, or that your skirt is being held together by some strong masking tape and a couple of push pins you found in the supply closet. Those kinds of stories should be reserved for friends, after the work day is done.