The Hidden Danger of Narcissistic Leaders
Narcissistic leaders can bring down an organization even when they are trying to build it up. Work by Galvin, Lange, and Ashforth (2015) uses extant organizational research findings to propose a new theory that may explain why this is so. They say that something called narcissistic organizational identification is to blame, and they demonstrate several ways that it happens and discuss how we can make sure this phenomenon doesn’t end up ruining businesses.
THE GOOD: ORGANIZATIONAL IDENTIFICATION
The authors begin with a discussion of organizational identification, which is when employees believe that their organization makes up an important part of their own self-identity. Because of this overlap between self and organization, employees who may be motivated to act toward their own self-interest will also act toward the self-interest of the organization. For example, they may engage in behavior that is likely to help the organization, such as organizational citizenship behavior, which means going above and beyond job requirements.
The authors say that there are four major conditions that lead people to identify with their organization. These antecedents include:
- Sense of control over the organization (which fosters good feelings)
- Feeling of psychological ownership (that the organization is at least partially “mine”)
- Sense that the organization is regarded highly by others (that it’s something worthwhile)
- Others consider you to be fundamental to the organization (creates a sense of connectedness)
THE BAD: NARCISSISTIC ORGANIZATIONAL IDENTIFICATION
In this article, the authors propose a new type of organizational identification. Unlike conventional organizational identification, which is highly desirable, narcissistic organizational identification is just as bad as it sounds. It starts when narcissistic organizational leaders encounter the same four situations listed above. Instead of healthy and productive outcomes, it results in narcissistic organizational leaders considering their own personal identity as paramount to the organization’s identity. In other words, this kind of leader believes that he or she “is” the organization. This is bad, say the authors, because these leaders believe that serving their own interests is just as good as serving the organization’s interests—after all, they “are” the organization. Similarly, they say that narcissistic identification can make leaders feel self-important, grandiose, overly superior, or entitled. It’s not difficult to imagine how that could affect their propensity to behave unethically.
The authors explain that narcissistic organizational identification can encourage leaders to engage in theft or nepotism in an effort to better themselves. Although unethical, it may seem logically sound if they consider that their own success and status is the same exact thing as organizational success and status. And finally, These leaders may also attempt to mold a company so that it reflects their own personal values, because they first consider who “they are” when determining what the organization “should be.” If they are risk taking, they will drive the organization to risk taking.
This article lays groundwork for an emerging area of research that will help us further understand the damage caused by narcissistic leaders. Influential organizational people may want to be on the lookout for narcissistic leaders, especially when exhibiting some of the signs mentioned in this article. It could be a sign of narcissistic organizational identification. This article also helps explain how some of these leaders may appear to be highly committed to their companies at the same time. Just because a CEO works very hard to build or lead an organization, does not mean that the same person will avoid unethical behavior that could damage the organization. This is especially so because the narcissistic leader may believe that acting out of self-interest is doing what’s best for the organization.
Although the authors admit that CEOs and other high level executive are most naturally at risk for narcissistic identification, they say that it could also affect lower level employees who lead a division or team within an organization. The detrimental effects of the narcissistic leader may be affecting workplaces in more places than we might first think. This is another reason why continued research is necessary in this area. In the meantime, be on the lookout for the narcissist in power; he or she may even appear well-intentioned.
Goal Orientation: Helping Team Performance or My Own Performance?
Not all people are motivated by the same things, and goal orientation is one way that psychologists classify what makes people tick. You might think of goal orientation as the basic underlying goal that explains what you do and why you do it. New research (Dietz, van Knippenberg, Hirst, Restubog, 2015) shows how a certain type of goal orientation can only sometimes help performance, depending on the situation.
GOAL ORIENTATION AT WORK
Researchers have classified several types of goal orientation that are relevant to the workplace. Employees with a learning goal orientation are moved to achieve personal mastery, while those with a performance-avoid goal orientation are motivated by a fear of negative evaluations from other people. This study focused on performance-prove goal orientation, which is when people feel the need to prove themselves to other people via achievement or even one-upmanship. Being that this type of motivation increases competition, it’s not surprising that past research has found an association with individual performance. In this study, the authors wanted to know how this dynamic affects teams.
TEAM IDENTIFICATION AND PERFORMANCE
The authors studied sales professionals and students, and found that having a high performance goal orientation is only sometimes beneficial to performance; it actually depends on the extent to which people on a team see themselves as being “one” with their team. This strong sense of cohesiveness, or “team identification”, changes what happens when employees feel the need to achieve and beat the competition. When team identification is strong, people may see the team as an extension of themselves, and their need to compete inspires them to help their team compete against other teams. If team identification is weak, people who need to compete will see team members as competition, and may compete against them. This can be detrimental to overall team performance.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The authors separately investigated team performance and individual performance of people on those teams. When it came to team performance, a high degree of team identification was associated with better performance when people had a performance goal orientation. In other words, with strong team cohesiveness, people who feel the need to compete will help direct the team to compete against other teams. This improves team performance.
Results were very different when it came to individual level performance. People who had a performance goal orientation performed better when team identification was low. In other words, with low team cohesiveness, people who need to compete will compete against fellow team members. This improves their own personal performance.
This study shows that performance goal orientation (or “need to achieve”) is only sometimes beneficial. People with performance goal orientation need to compete, but the level of team cohesiveness and camaraderie will determine how these people choose to compete. When team cohesiveness is strong, efforts are directed at improving the team; when team cohesiveness is weak, efforts are directed at improving the self.
There are important managerial implications here. In the business world, and specifically in high-competition industries like sales, employees are often selected for their high-achieving inner drive. While this might be good for individual performance, modern organizations are increasingly relying on teams to get work done. In the absence of team cohesiveness, these competitive employees will look out for themselves by competing against other team members. Organizational leaders may have to consider if this is truly what they want, especially if team goals are compromised.
On the other hand, when team cohesiveness is high, competitive employees will use their “inner fire” to bolster team performance in competition with other teams. Clearly, there is an advantage to team cohesiveness. This is something organizational leaders and managers might want to remember when they attempt to improve team performance.
How to Survive Toxic Work Relationships by Thriving
How can we possibly survive toxic work relationships? After all, the workplace is replete with human interaction and relationships: employees actively communicate with coworkers and supervisors in both one-on-one and team settings to complete tasks and projects. However, not all workplace relationships are positive; some are downright de-energizing. A relationship is characterized as de-energizing when it is both negative and draining, and this type of relationship can have serious implications for employees.
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF DE-ENERGIZING RELATIONSHIPS
When employees engage in de-energizing interactions they use up valuable cognitive and emotional resources that may in turn affect their work-related activity. Individuals may dread interacting with a de-energizing coworker, ruminate about the interaction, and carry over these negative reactions into other work tasks and interactions. In addition, employees may spend excessive amounts of time thinking about their de-energizing relationships, which may lessen their cognitive processing abilities, such as ability to recall or comprehend information.
Even more concerning is the recent finding that de-energizing work relationships are also related to lower job performance (Gerbasi, Porath, Parker, Spreitzer, & Cross, 2015). Employees in the information technology (IT) department of a global engineering firm were asked to report the number of energizing and de-energizing relationships they had within their department. The results of the study show that employees who report more de-energizing relationships had poorer work performance than employees with fewer de-energizing relationships. Thus, de-energizing relationships may negatively affect employees’ job performance.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that all de-energizing work relationships can be remedied, which means employees may have to find mechanisms to reduce the negative effects brought on by de-energizing relationships.
THRIVING AT WORK
Thriving is a relatively new psychological idea that is characterized as something that people do to “navigate and change their work contexts to promote their own development” (Spreitzer, 2005, p. 537). Individuals who are thriving maintain their own personal energy stores that may be used to help counteract the deleterious effects of draining relationships. To test this relationship, the researchers conducted a second study involving 535 senior associates and principals at a management consulting firm.
Consistent with the findings from their first study, the researchers found that employees who reported a higher number of de-energizing relationships were less likely to ‘meet or exceed expectations’ on their performance evaluations. In addition, when employees’ levels of thriving increased, so did the probability that they would ‘exceed expectations’ on their performance evaluations. These findings suggest that de-energizing relationships can harm performance while thriving may be related to improved performance.
However, the most interesting finding came from individuals with both high numbers of de-energizing relationships and high levels of thriving. Individuals who experienced multiple de-energizing relationships and reported high levels of thriving had a greater probability of meeting or exceeding expectations on their performance evaluations than individuals who had multiple de-energizing relationships but reported low levels of thriving. As a result, the study shows that thriving may help to buffer against de-energizing relationships so that performance does not suffer. Thriving individuals may be more resilient than non-thrivers, allowing them to endure repeated interactions with de-energizing coworkers.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Given the negative consequences associated with de-energizing relationships, organizations should aim to improve workplace relationships among coworkers. But this task may prove to be challenging, and might require multiple interventions. For example, the authors suggest that organizations can implement 360-degree feedback processes to identify possible problems. In addition, employees who cannot avoid de-energizing relationships can try to limit these interactions, develop their level of thriving, and engage in energy management exercises throughout the workday. Finally, organizations can train and coach employees to engage in positive, collaborative behavior rather than de-energizing behavior. Coaching employees on conflict management, problem solving, and communication strategies may eliminate behavior that is perceived as de-energizing, and as a result, improve work relationships.
Effective Negotiation: When Does Expressing Sadness Work?
People are always claiming to know what factors contribute to effective negotiation, but a new study shows that expressing sadness can work in certain situations. The authors begin with a really interesting anecdote to illustrate:
“At the peak of the Cuban missile crisis, Robert F. Kennedy, a close aide to U.S.President John F. Kennedy, talked with Soviet ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Dobrynin. In this critical exchange, Robert Kennedy acted quite emotional by expressing sadness dramatically. He “was almost crying.” “I haven’t seen my children for days now,” he said almost breaking down in tears, in a sad way, “and the President hasn’t seen his either….I don’t know how much longer we can hold out against our generals,” according to the Soviet account (Allison, 1971; Divine, 1988; Khrushchev, 1970, p. 51). In response to the sadness conveyed by Robert Kennedy, Soviet Premier Khrushchev thought that “We could see that we had to reorient our position swiftly” and he “sent the Americans a note saying we agreed to remove our missiles and bombers” (Khrushchev, 1970, p. 51). Although many factors influenced Khrushchev’s decision, this anecdote suggests that expressions of sadness may be effective in securing acquiescence in conflict and negotiation.” (Sinaceur, Kopelman, Vasiljevic, Haag, 2015, p. 1).
As scientists are oftentimes inspired, but never satisfied with anecdotal evidence, the authors conducted three different experiments to investigate whether expressing sadness leads to more favorable negotiation outcomes. The experiments used simulated negotiation situations with easily measurable outcomes. One part was given training on how to act during the exercise, sometimes being told to show sadness, sometimes told to repress emotion, and in one experiment, told to show anger.
WHEN IS SADNESS EFFECTIVE IN NEGOTIATIONS?
Results show that expressing sadness was effective in gaining more favorable negotiation outcomes, but only if one of four conditions is met. In these specific four scenarios, the listener who was exposed to sadness was moved to feel more concern for the person expressing the sadness, and therefore made more concessions to that person during negotiation. These are the four situations in which sadness works:
- The person expressing sadness is perceived to have a low amount of power. People who are powerful don’t seem to need our commiseration as much as people who are more helpless.
- The listener knows that there will be future interactions with the person expressing sadness. It’s more likely that people will invest in interpersonal relationship-building through commiseration when there is a good chance of working with that person in the future. It’s easier to be cold and indifferent to someone when you don’t have to ever see them again.
- The listener believes that the relationship is collaborative. The interpersonal relationship aspects seem more important when collaboration (instead of competition) is supposed to be taking place.
- The listener believes that it is inappropriate to blame others. Sadness, say the authors, conveys the sense that nobody is to blame for the current situation, and sadness is the only thing left to do. When the listener agrees with this, the expression of sadness gains more sympathy.
The researchers say that sadness can be more useful than anger. The first three situations were specifically chosen because research shows that anger does not work in those situations. In the fourth situation, sadness was pitted against anger, and results show that sadness was more effective. It’s easy to think that displays of anger are useful during negotiations, if only for the intimidation factor. This study shows otherwise; sadness—which might be avoided because it is perceived as showing weakness—is actually more effective in multiple different scenarios.
This study shows that sadness can be effective in gaining more favorable negotiation outcomes. However, one of four situational conditions must be present for this to work. These four situations also happen to be times when anger does not work, providing a major advantage to the emotion of sadness. Does this mean that we should all “fake-sad” during negotiations? Should we teach ourselves to cry on demand? The authors caution against this tactic, arguing that it presents very real ethical concerns. However, if sadness is one of the things that we feel, repressing it to appear “tough” might be a poor strategy. By harnessing the natural concern that human beings feel toward each other, displays of sadness might not only be the natural thing to do, but also the effective thing to do.
Manager Personality Can Lead to Organization-Wide Performance
Is personality related to job performance? This classic I-O psychology question is still debated today, and thanks to the latest research, clearer answers are emerging. A new study (Oh, Kim, & Iddekinge, 2015) shows that the manager personality is related to important organization-wide outcomes. This finding has clear implications for selection of organizational leaders.
Past studies considered the relationship between personality and job performance at the individual level. For example, a study might investigate if outgoing or extraverted people perform better at their jobs. These studies only advance the field so far, say the current authors, because job performance is typically measured with supervisor ratings. Even when associations are found—say that extraverted people have better performance—there is room for organizational leaders to be skeptical: Even if extraverted people receive better ratings, will that really impact my company’s bottom line and make us more successful? An astute I-O psychologist would present a utility analysis showing the predicted financial gain for hiring each extraverted employee, but this might still be dismissed as confusing and overly speculative.
ORGANIZATIONAL LEVEL PERSONALITY MEASUREMENT
This current study does better than simple individual level-analysis, and instead measures many managers within the same organizations. This allows the researchers to ascertain two important facts. The first is the average level of a personality trait that the organization’s managers have, and the second is an estimate of the typical range (or “variance”) of that personality trait in managers within the organization. Once these two metrics are evaluated, researchers can determine if organizations with certain types of employees do better than others. For example, do “extraverted organizations” fare better than “introverted organizations”?
The researchers surveyed 6,709 managers in 71 different companies. Results indicate that when organizations had managers with high levels of emotional stability, extraversion, and conscientiousness, their organizations had higher levels of managerial job satisfaction and had higher levels of labor productivity (measured by revenue per employee).
When the average levels of personality traits were considered along with the variance or “typical spread” of the personality trait, several interesting findings were reported. Organizations with higher emotional stability had higher levels of job satisfaction, labor productivity, and financial performance (measured by return on equity), and this effect was even more pronounced when there was less variance among managers (in other words, managers were more similar on emotional stability).
Additionally, higher extraversion was associated with higher financial performance, and this effect was also more pronounced when managers were more similar on extraversion.
Openness to experience and agreeableness were related to labor productivity and financial performance, respectively, and these effects were more pronounced when there was more variance, in other words managers were more spread out on the respective personality trait.
This study shows that personality is related to organizational level success, specifically when managers are emotionally stable, extraverted, and conscientious. Results generally show that homogeneity is preferable, in other words results were better when managers had similar levels of the personality trait. This means, say the authors, that organizations might want to consider selecting employees who have these traits, and also try to create a singular organizational profile, which might encourage desired employees to initially join the company and subsequently stay as long as possible.
This study also advances the general theory and plausibility of selecting employees based on personality type. The evidence in this study may be more convincing than studies that investigate individuals and focus on performance ratings. By using aggregated organizational-level personality traits and connecting them with the most tangible measures of organizational success, the current authors make personality-based selection a more alluring proposition.
Which Type of Personality Leads to Workplace Safety?
Workplace safety is a major concern for organizations. Accidents involving employees can jeopardize the safety of everyone at work, and be enormously costly for employers, in terms of lawsuits, insurance, and lost productivity. Research has long extolled the virtues of creating a safety climate, which means setting organizational policy to reflect the fact that safe behavior is important, expected, and will be rewarded. But there is another way to make sure that employees engage in safe practices on the job. We can hire “safer” people in the first place. The authors of the current study (Beus, Dhanani, & McCord, 2015) wanted to identify the personality traits that are associated with safe behavior.
PERSONALITY AND SAFE BEHAVIOR
In this study, the authors didn’t just consider workplace accidents as an outcome. It’s because accidents can be caused by a variety of factors that are beyond an employee’s control. For example, perhaps a machine was built with a fatal flaw that only became known after an accident. Or perhaps an employee was following the proper protocol leading up to an accident, but the people who designed the training made an error. For this reason, it makes more sense to study the safe or unsafe behavior itself, in addition to the outcomes. Which people were more likely to engage in workplace behavior that is defined as safe, and stay away from behavior that is considered unsafe?
The authors conducted a meta-analysis, which means compiling results from many different previous studies. The logic here is that results are more reflective of the truth when they are averaged across many different scenarios. They first ascertained the relationship between safety behavior and the “big five” broad personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.
People who had higher amounts of extraversion and neuroticism had higher levels of unsafe behavior. The authors say that extraverted people have a need to “get ahead” and achieve higher status, and may compromise safety in order to accomplish this. They say that neurotic people have a propensity to be consumed with worry and anxiety, and they may become distracted as a result. They also are more likely to let anger lead to impulsive and irrational choices, which can easily be problematic when safety protocols need to be followed carefully.
On the other hand, people with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness had less unsafe behavior. The authors say that agreeable people are more cooperative and more easily see the need to benefit the team as a whole. For this reason, they refrain from unsafe behavior which may compromise the safety and productivity of the entire organization. Conscientious people are naturally meticulous about following rules, and also understand that compromises in safety will not improve the organization’s likelihood to achieve in the long run. That makes them more likely to avoid risky or unsafe behavior.
Openness to experience is the need to be adventurous and individualistic. Interestingly, it was not found to be related to unsafe behavior. This was the case despite the authors’ prediction that it would lead to more unsafe behavior.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This study shows that certain types of people are safer than others. If that’s the case, organizations can design selection systems to identify these safe people and hire them instead of the unsafe people. In short, four of the five major personality traits seem to predict safety-related behavior. In direct comparison, it was agreeableness and conscientiousness that had the strongest ability to predict (these are the safe people), whereas extraversion and neuroticism had a somewhat weaker ability to predict (these are the unsafe people). That being said, organizations should primarily look for people who are conscientious and agreeable if they want to cut down on workplace accidents. In addition, avoiding extraverted or neurotic people may also help a little bit.
Another finding from this study was that the effects of a safety climate (or the organizational practices) were more influential in predicting behavior than the personality traits, although the personality traits did still matter. This means that organizations are not resigned to firing all of their unsafe employees and starting over. By showing that the organization values safe behavior through training, feedback, and rewards, an organization establishes a safety climate, which is actually the biggest predictor of a safe workplace.
How to Design a Resume That Will Get You Hired
When writing your resume, you probably thought about how potential employers might perceive you. Many articles and books give advice regarding what to include and how to design a resume, but many of those authors don’t actually agree on what method works best. A recent exploratory study discovered what personality traits people attribute to different parts of your resume, and how hirable they might make you appear.
RESUMES, PERSONALITY, AND HIRABILITY
This probably comes as no surprise, but past research suggests that people viewing your resume will make personal judgments about you based on what they see on your resume. In addition, parts of your resume are related to individual differences, like extraversion or conscientiousness. However, there is little research that has been conducted to understand what aspects of your resume lead to certain judgments.
THE FIRST STUDY
In this paper, Burns et al. (2014) attempted to extend the previous research to better understand specific resume cues and how they are perceived. They actually conducted two related studies. In the first, they had participants view resume cues (e.g., GPA, job titles, extracurricular activities) and link them with personality adjectives (e.g., hardworking, creative). Participants also rated each cue regarding its importance in determining hirability. Not surprisingly, the majority of the cues that participants rated as being important to hirability came from the experience section of the resume. Participants also seemed to easily link cues to personality traits, especially conscientiousness.
THE SECOND STUDY
In the second study, the researchers had actual HR professionals evaluate real resumes and give their impressions regarding the applicants’ personality and hirability. The HR professionals had low levels of agreement about hiring recommendations. The applicants’ self-ratings of personality only contributed slightly to the hiring recommendations, but the HR professionals’ ratings of the applicants’ personalities was a major contributor to the hiring recommendations. In other words, what the HR professionals thought about the applicants’ personalities was very influential in their hiring recommendations.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR JOB SEEKERS
The researchers gave several important recommendations for job seekers based on the results of these studies. First, job seekers should provide detailed information about their education and be sure to include honors and awards. Second, job seekers should use a school email address (or other formal email address) instead of a personal email address, and they shouldn’t use any unusual fonts or formats. Third, job seekers should put their educational information before their past job information, and include any information about leadership roles or ways they financially benefited an organization. Finally, it seems to be good to include extracurricular or volunteer experiences. Following these tips will make sure that your resume gives you the best chance to land the new job.
Intelligence Testing: Is It Always the Smartest Thing to Do?
Smart employees tend to be better at doing their jobs. This is considered one of the most important findings in the history of I-O research. Meta-analysis, which is a method of compiling results from many different researchers and studies, has shown that intelligence (or general mental ability) is associated with better job performance for basically any job. But there are other important components that make organizations successful besides narrowly-defined task performance (parts of a job that are in the job description). New research (Gonzalez-Mulé, Mount, & Oh, 2014) investigates whether intelligence can also predict other measures of workplace success.
Intelligence Testing: CWB vs. OCB
The authors conducted a meta-analysis to determine if intelligence is related to two major measures that are important to organizations:
- Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) is anything that employees do that breaks organizational norms or expectations. This behavior can be directed at a coworker (i.e. bullying or harassment) or at the organization (i.e. stealing from the employer or unnecessary absences).
- Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) refers to anything that employees do that is not formally recognized in their job description. For example, helping out a coworker or suggesting a new way of doing things that can help the organization save resources.
The Results: Intelligence Associated More with OCBs
The meta-analysis found that intelligence was associated with more OCBs, meaning that smarter employees also went beyond their job descriptions more frequently. The authors explain that smarter people are typically better at seeing the big picture, for example they may understand that helping a coworker has benefits for the organization in the long run. Also, smarter employees may sometimes have greater capacity to help out others. They may be the only ones who are capable of devising a solution to a problem that eventually helps out the organization.
However, when it came to CWBs, there was no real relationship with intelligence. The authors had predicted that smarter employees would engage in less bad behavior because they are more readily capable of seeing the dangerous outcomes such as harming the company or harming themselves by getting caught. But the data didn’t support this conclusion.
Intelligence Testing vs. Personality Testing
The authors also compared intelligence testing with personality testing to see which was generally more useful for predicting success on the job. As predicted, intelligence testing predicted better than personality testing when the outcome was task performance, or the parts of a job that are listed in a job description. When using the other outcomes of job success (OCBs and CWBs), the authors found a different story. First, when it came to organizational citizenship behavior, intelligence and personality were about equally useful in predicting which employees will go above and beyond. When it came to counterproductive work behavior, personality was actually a better predictor than intelligence.
What Does This Mean for Organizations?
This study supports the idea that the best predictor of job success is general intelligence, specifically because it has the ability to predict good old fashioned task-performance. It pays to hire smart employees, but that’s not the entire story. The conclusions here also indicate that intelligence isn’t the be-all and end-all of how to hire employees. Organizations should also have the foresight to care about extra effort and misbehavior at work. If you want employees who strive to make the workplace better for everyone, intelligence testing may still help, but it is not any better than personality testing. But if you want employees who don’t misbehave, personality testing may be the way to go.
Proactive Employees Need Political Skills to Succeed
Employers assume that proactive employees are important for job success. Indeed past research shows that proactive employees, those who take initiative and champion change, perform better and earn more. However, proactive employees typically push the envelope, control their environment, and bring unexpected changes which may be viewed as threatening and distracting by others. A new study by Sun and van Emmerik (2014) introduces political skill as a factor that may reduce such concerns.
THE IMPORTANCE OF POLITICAL SKILLS
Politically skillful individuals are good at understanding others and their social environment, monitoring their behavior to influence others, and developing alliances to access resources. They also create good impressions because they are perceived as sincere in what they say and do. According to the researchers, proactive employees need political skills to express their change-oriented patterns in a more socially sensitive and acceptable way. This way, supervisors don’t think that they are challenging the status quo or imposing control based on a hunch.
To test their assertion, the researchers surveyed full time employees and their supervisors from 12 companies in various industries in China. Employees reported their political skills while their supervisors rated the employees on their task performance, helping, and learning behaviors. Results showed that highly proactive employees were rated lower by their supervisors, as long as employees’ political skills were low. However, when employees had high levels of political skill, there was no relationship between proactivity and supervisor ratings. When employees were not politically skilled, it seems that their proactivity was a detriment to themselves.
BIG PICTURE FOR EMPLOYEES AND ORGANIZATIONS
This new study shows that without high levels of political skill, proactive employees run the risk of being negatively evaluated in terms of performance by their supervisors. Proactive employees who are politically skillful are likely to frame work-related changes as serving the needs of others and garner supervisor support by appearing sincere and influential. This study highlights the importance of developing political skill to be able to identify organizational needs and adopt a socially sensitive approach in bringing change. By having the right amount of political skill, employees can avoid the potential negative influence of their proactive tendencies. From the perspective of employers, proactive employees might seem important, but if these employees aren’t politically savvy as well, employers might find themselves appreciating them less than they expected.
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.