Overflowing Stress: How Personal Stress Leads to Stress on the Job


Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: Life spillovers: The spillover of fear of home foreclosure to the workplace
Reviewed by: Kayla Weaver

 

Stressful events that occur outside of the workplace can negatively affect work outcomes such as employee stress, job commitment, and turnover intentions. This phenomenon is called negative spillover, because employees are not always able to “check” their personal stress and worries “at the door” when switching from their home environment to their work environment.

Most research has focused on the spillover between an employee’s family role and work role. However, employees can also be affected by non-family experiences that occur in their personal lives outside of work (e.g., housing crises, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, etc.). Examples of negative spillover include being irritable, distracted, or tired at work because of problems at home. These personal experiences can result in work outcomes that negatively impact both employees and organizations.

 

PERSONAL STRESS AND NEGATIVE WORK OUTCOMES

A recent study of 2,135 employees (Ragins, Lyness, Williams, & Winkel, 2014) examined how stressful events that were not related to work (i.e., the fear of home foreclosure) affected home-to-work spillover, and how that eventually influenced employees to experience physical symptoms of stress.

The results showed that employees who were fearful of losing their home to foreclosure had higher levels of negative home-to-work spillover (e.g., were more distracted, irritable, or tired at work) because of home stress. Further, some employees were more likely to feel negative home-to-work spillover than others when experiencing personal stressors. Employees who reported having children or other dependents at home or who had a spouse that was laid of from employment within the last year experienced higher levels of negative work-to-home spillover than those who did not experience these events. This means that employees who must provide for other family members experience higher levels of spillover when their personal lives are stressful.

 

STRESS AFFECTS EMPLOYEE HEALTH

Negative home-to-work spillover can also have serious effects on employees’ health. In fact, as employees’ home-to-work spillover increased, so did their reports of physical symptoms of stress. That is, employees who had high levels of spillover were more likely to experience physical symptoms of stress at work than employees with low levels of spillover. The physical symptoms of stress included having an upset stomach, hand tremors, heart palpations, and chest pains.

So, how do these physical symptoms of stress affect employee work outcomes? The results of the study showed that employees who reported high levels of physical symptoms of stress were significantly less committed to their organizations and significantly more likely to think of quitting their jobs.

Putting it all together, the research suggests that employees who face high levels of home stress are more likely to have this stress spill over into the workplace, which leads to increased physical symptoms of stress and increased negative work outcomes (e.g., lower commitment, higher turnover intentions, etc.). This study specifically studied the fear of home foreclosure on spillover, stress, and work outcomes; however, other stressful events might include the loss of a loved one, a family member losing a job, or other traumatic crises.

 

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

It is nearly impossible to predict when an employee will experience a traumatic or life-changing event. However, organizations need to be aware of the negative outcomes that can arise when such events do occur. The authors suggest that organizations implement employee assistance programs (EAPs) to help employees manage stressors that occur in their personal lives. In addition, traumatic events –like losing one’s home – can result in a range of physical or mental problems for employees. Therefore, it is imperative that managers understand how traumatic events impact employees. They can then refer employees for support and counseling services before negative work outcomes, such as decreased commitment, occur.

Most importantly, this study highlights how employees carry over stress from their personal lives into their work environments. However, with proper intervention and resources, employees can manage this stress without also experiencing negative workplace outcomes.

Age-Inclusive HR Practices Lead to Improved Organizational Outcomes

 

Most industrialized countries are facing challenges posed by aging populations. Correspondingly, companies have to manage and engage a more age-diverse workforce than ever before. Sometimes, employees from three or even four different generations may work in the same company. Boehm, Kunze, and Bruch (2014) examined the effects of age-inclusive HR practices on organizational outcomes and found promising results.

 

WHAT ARE AGE-INCLUSIVE HR PRACTICES?

Age-inclusive HR practices may include, but are not limited to, age-neutral recruitment and selection practices, equal opportunities to training, promotion, and transfer, and promotion of an organizational culture that values employees’ contributions regardless of their age. Basically, the HR practices should consistently reflect the organization’s commitment to an age-diverse workforce.

 

HOW DO THEY LINK TO ORGANIZATIONAL OUTCOMES?

Age-inclusive HR practices impact organizational outcomes indirectly through age-diversity climate. Age-diversity climate is defined as “organizational members’ shared perceptions of the fair and nondiscriminatory treatment of employees of all age groups with regard to all relevant organizational practices, policies, procedures and rewards.” In other words, it refers to employees’ shared impression that the organization takes an age-neutral approach to recruitment, promotions, and other employment practices.

Age-inclusive HR practices serve as signals of an age-diversity climate to employees. Employees are likely to perceive the organization as more just, supportive, trustworthy, and having a long-term interest in employees. Therefore, employees will reciprocate with more work-related effort and support for their colleagues, which will contribute to improved organizational performance. Also, organizational commitment and intent to stay will increase, thus reducing turnover intentions.

Through a survey study with 93 German companies, the researchers found that companies with more age-inclusive HR practices enjoyed better age-diversity climate and better organizational outcomes in areas of company growth, financial performance, return on assets, employee productivity, and efficiency of business procedures.

 

WHAT SHOULD ORGANIZATIONS DO?

HR practitioners need to be aware of the demographic change of the workforce and be prepared to handle this trend. Age-inclusive HR practices that address equal access to employment, promotion, training, and opportunity to contribute may be a valuable tool. In order to further promote an age-diversity climate, HR practitioners should also make sure to communicate these practices to employees to increase their awareness. Lastly, age-inclusive HR practices are advantageous to all organizations, not only those featuring a high age-diverse workforce.

Are You Managing and Keeping Your Star Performers?


Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: Star Performers in Twenty-First Century Organizations
Reviewed by: Karan Samtani

 

Every organization wants to retain its best people, because star performers are essential to success. But this maxim has become even more prevalent in today’s business world.

The authors claim that the 20th century was about reforming the business world into factories that valued conformity and having everyone do their tasks in the same way. But the current business climate has people working to solve more problems in more unique ways. The projects that we work on involve quick turn-arounds and efficiency.

In short, the business world has moved away from the conformity of the 20th century and into the creativity of the 21st century. This change has made star performers even more valuable, according to the authors of the study.

 

THE VALUE OF STAR PERFORMERS

According to the researchers, the top 10% of a company’s employees account for close to 30% of overall performance, and the top 20% account for close to 50% of overall performance.

The study found that replacing a star with an even slightly inferior employee can result in dramatically lower output. The value of star performers are not only based on their performance, but how they act and react with other employees.

 

WHY STAR PERFORMERS OFTEN GROW DISGRUNTLED

The problem is that many organizations act as if the average employee is performing the majority of the work, and continue to use the normal distribution method when it comes to how they handle employees.

What can we do that has the greatest effect on the most people? They use this methodology for training, for determining strategic change initiatives, and for compensation.

The result is that they placate average employees and tend to alienate the star performer. Star performers feel as though they are either being talked down to, not given any attention at all, or are not valuable to the company. When that happens, they leave.

 

HOW COMPANIES CAN KEEP THEIR BEST PEOPLE

Management would be better served by focusing on their best people instead of focusing on the majority. The result is a more efficient increase in output, and fewer alienated star performers. A star performer in this job market still has options, and they take them when the work environment is not suitable for them.

So how can organizations keep their star performers?

  • Allow star performers the flexibility to move in and out of teams to take full advantage of their knowledge transfer to rising stars.
  • Use training interventions that improve star performers even marginally, because a slight increase in performance of stars can lead to greater production than a more significant increase of the average employee.
  • Create a compensation system that conforms to the distribution of performance, which will help retain stars.
  • Compensation systems that best retain stars provide considerably higher pay for elites.
  • Investing more time into stars is likely to gain greater overall output and create positive gains.
  • Management practices of limited flexibility and homogeneity of pay are not likely to motivate star performers.

Interviews: How to Identify a Deceptive Job Candidate

Almost every company has to go through some type of interviewing process in order to select which applicant they will hire.

But applicants frequently use a deceptive type of impression management, which can lead to organizations hiring the wrong person for the job. This can be a serious issue for companies if they hire a deceptive applicant whose work does not match up with the way they performed in their interview.

Companies cannot hope to completely stop applicants from using deception impression management in interviews. But organizations can try to alleviate the problem by selecting interviewers capable of detecting when an applicant is being deceptive.

 

A NEW APPROACH TO STUDYING IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT

In past research, most studies on this topic looked at impression management from a second-hand account, through self-report of the applicant.

The current study directly examines actual employment interviews using the technology of real-time coding via video.

This is the first study to examine deceptive job candidates from a company’s perspective, rather than how the candidate views their deception.

 

THE PROBLEM WITH IDENTIFYING A DECEPTIVE JOB CANDIDATE

While at first one might think it would be easy to spot a deceptive job candidate, the truth is that it’s a lot more difficult than we imagine.

Recognizing when a candidate is being deceptive takes considerably more effort than detecting when a candidate is being truthful. Not only that, but the interviewer in typically more focused on representing their organization well during the interview, which makes identifying any deceptive behavior by the applicant even more difficult.

In a separate study, researchers found that companies frequently miss a candidate’s deception, and hire up to 31% of all deceptive candidates interviewed. In other words, interviewers are rarely successful at identifying a deceptive candidate.

 

THE BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS

Overall, this study suggests that interviewers are more successful at detecting honest impression management, but often cannot detect deceptive impression management effectively. Specific, situational-phrased questions during the interview resulted in correctly recognizing a larger number of IM tactics.

If nothing else, companies should create some type of awareness among their interviewers that this sort of deception exists. This can help increase their suspicion when interviewing, which ideally would also increase detection percentages.

If possible, organizations should create and implement their own IM tactic training in order to improve their selection of the best applicant. Putting this in place could only benefit the organization and its selection procedures.

How Service Employees React to Mistreatment by Rude Customers


Publication: Personnel Psychology
Article: Service Employees’ Reaction to Mistreatment by Customers: A comparison between North America and East Asia
Reviewed by: Anjali Banerjee

Dealing with rude customers is a universal truth to working in service positions. We’ve all been there, standing awkwardly in the checkout lane as a red-faced customer furiously berates an employee for some perceived injustice or inconvenience. Intriguingly, how employees react to this rude behavior might be influenced by cultural values.

Researchers Ruodan Shao and Daniel P. Skarlicki compared “Service Employees’ Reactions to Mistreatment by Customers” in a hotel chain with locations in China and Canada. These countries were chosen due to their discernible cultural differences, especially the disparity between an individualistic and collectivistic focus.

Individualism is a cultural value that is characterized by a more independent focus, emphasizing personal needs, feelings and autonomy. Conversely, collectivistic values focus on prioritizing harmony and group accomplishments.

The researchers theorized that being berated or otherwise mistreated by customers is stressful to employees, damaging their self-esteem and self-worth as well as consuming mental resources through mechanisms such as ego depletion.

As a result, employees are faced with a choice: They can either replenish these resources by sabotaging the service being provided (for example, by hanging up on a rude customer), or choose to protect their remaining resources by provide the minimum level of service required.

The study found that this choice is made more predictable based on the cultural context. In Canada’s individualistic culture, employees reacted to mistreatment from customers in a more direct way. In China’s collectivistic culture, employees were more likely to react by retreating from providing top-quality services. Both of these reactions have important impacts on customer service.

So what do we do with this discovery? The study’s findings are especially relevant to companies with global chains. By understanding the important role of cultural values, we can better predict the reactions of employees in different countries to stressful situations.

Furthermore, the researchers provided several solutions to the issue of stress caused by customer mistreatment, including a no-tolerance policy for poor treatment of employees, educating managers about these patterns of reactions, and encouraging a social structure at work to help with employee stress management.

In short, organizations need to remember that customers can be jerks. When they are, your employees will be faced with the choice of how to respond. Ultimately, anticipating their reactions based on cultural differences can make a huge difference in your employees’ stress management and customer service.

The Consequences of Fit Across Cultures

Previous research has demonstrated that fit – the compatibility between an employee and a work environment – tends to lead to better attitudes, better job performance, and lower turnover (Arthur, Bell, Villado, & Doverspike, 2006). However, this research has focused predominantly on populations in North America. Today, companies operate across geographical boundaries in a globalized world of business, and it does not seem prudent to apply results found in North America to countries in Europe and Asia. Therefore, it becomes necessary to understand if fit across cultures predicts work attitudes and job performance across the globe.

For this study, Oh, Guay, Kim, Harold, Lee, Heo, and Shin reviewed 96 studies that had previously been conducted in East Asia, Europe, and North America. First, they found that fit predicts work attitudes – such as organizational commitment, job satisfaction, and intent to quit – as well as job performance across cultures. In taking this result further, the authors then looked at different types of fit, how they may vary across cultures, and how this may influence job performance.

To that end, four types of fit were identified:

  • person-job fit, the compatibility between an employee and their job;
  • person–organization fit, the compatibility between an employee and the organization;
  • person–group fit, compatibility between an employee and their coworkers; and
  • person–supervisor fit, the compatibility between an employee and their direct supervisor.

These types of compatibility were then grouped into two types: impersonal and interpersonal. The compatibility between an employee and their job or organization were categorized as an impersonal type of fit, since they do not concern interpersonal and social aspects of work. The compatibility between an employee and their co-workers or their boss were categorized as an interpersonal type of fit, since they are directly concerned with how well an employee relates to other people in the workplace.

In comparing fit and performance across cultures, impersonal fit had stronger effects in North America and Europe, while interpersonal fit had stronger effects in East Asia. In other words, for Westerners, matching an employee to the right role and organization is most important, while human resource management in East Asian business environments should take special care to build positive teams in which social conflict is kept to a minimum.

Self-efficacy and Job Performance

Is self-efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to succeed – the result of past performance or a cause of future performance? Research thus far has shown that both perspectives are true: that past performance is a driver of self-efficacy (Kozlowski, Gully, Brown, Salas, Smith, & Nason, 2001) and that self-efficacy is a driver of future performance (Sitzmann & Ely, 2011). Upending large parts of the literature on this topic and resolving this issue of whether self-efficacy is the result of past performance or a cause of future performance, Traci Sitzmann of the University of Colorado at Denver & Gillian Yeo of the University of Western Australia found that self-efficacy is more the result of past performance and less a cause of future performance. In other words, a win in the workplace yesterday will make you feel good about yourself and may lead to a boost in job satisfaction, but it doesn’t increase your chances of succeeding tomorrow. Future job performance and self-efficacy are not as closely linked as was previously though.

For their study, Sitzmann and Yeo reviewed the current literature, a process known as a meta-analysis, and synthesized the results of 38 studies of over 5,000 participants, most of which were college students. The indicators of performance differed among the studies, ranging from job performance tasks like stock prediction scores and air traffic control decision points to golf putting and exams in a statistics class. Overall, the analysis was surprising, because earlier work has tended to conclude that self-efficacy, in itself, led to improved job performance.

Fake Smile at Work? How you do it may determine your job satisfaction


Publication: Personnel Psychology (2013)
Article: A meta-analytic structural model of dispositional affectivity and emotional labor
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Have you ever given a fake smile to someone at work even though you weren’t feeling happy or very excited to see him? If so, you’ve engaged in a process known as emotional labor in which you manage your emotions in order to act in an appropriate way in a work setting. Maybe you wouldn’t go to such efforts when around friends and family, instead feeling free to express the emotions you actually feel. In a work setting though, it may not be best to show your irritation about missing lunch to your brand new client.

Previous research has divided emotional labor into two categories: surface acting and deep acting. Surface acting refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires even though it may not be the emotion that you are feeling. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client even though you feel neither happy nor cheerful. Deep acting also refers to expressing the emotion that the situation requires, but instead of merely faking it, you try to generate the required emotions by thinking of historical events or associations. For example, you may need to smile and be cheerful when greeting a client, and even though you’re feeling tired and grumpy, you generate happiness and cheer by thinking of positive associations or of things that make you happy.

Through a literature review of over 116 samples, the results of this investigation indicate that the type of emotional strategy utilized – surface or deep – affects job performance. Specifically, those who use a surface-emotional-labor strategy are less satisfied with their job and more stressed and exhausted, while those who use a deep-emotional-labor strategy are more satisfied, less stressed, and perform their job better. In explaining this finding, the authors believe that surface emotional strategies have worse affects on job performance because they require more effort in order to overcome the cognitive dissonance between an emotion felt and an emotion expressed. Though this result is important for the job performance of anyone with a client-facing role, it is particularly important for those in the service industry in which customer satisfaction is key.

Building a Positive Work Environment: Acts of Kindness at Work


Publication: Personnel Psychology (August, 2012)
Article: Doing Good at Work Feels Good At Home, But Not Right Away: When and Why Perceived Prosocial Impact Predicts Positive Affect
Reviewed by: Nupur Deshpande

According to researchers Sonnentag & Grant, a positive mood that comes from helping someone is so powerful that it can last till bedtime. Firstly, when you believe that you have helped someone at work you feel good. Then, over the day, you think about it, reflecting on the positive features of the event. This reflection spills over into the rest of your day, leaving you feeling good all day long. Due to our tendency to be more engaged with positive emotions and to detach from negative ones, we improve the positive parts of these memories in our minds, giving them greater power to make us happy. Secondly, helping someone at work creates a sense of progress and achievement (especially in helping professions), because it signals that one is capable of successfully contributing to someone else’s well-being. This perception can carry over to other subsequent tasks. Such knowledge alleviates anxiety and enables employees to feel calm and relaxed. Quite interestingly, researchers found that there is an additional positive effect that occurs at the end of the work day, at bedtime, suggesting the importance of after-work leisure hours to contemplate on one’s day.

There are some clear cut implications of this study. The researchers surmise that, while supervisors can certainly improve their subordinates’ good feelings by acknowledging their contributions, coworkers also play an important role in workplace happiness. Especially on stressful days, coworkers appreciate daily acts of kindness. These behaviors can be brought to light via weekly meetings where heart-warming stories of such acts of kindness are shared among staff members. Another suggestion they provide is creating training programs that focus on helping employees build into their daily schedule a time for reminiscing about good experiences that have happened in the workday. This time would potentially lead employees to cultivate good feelings within themselves that may well last till their head hits the pillow that night.

Dealing with Difficult Customers: address the problem, not the emotion


Publication: Personnel Psychology (2013)
Article: More than happy to help? Customer-focused emotion management strategies
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

For customer service agents job performance is affected by which emotion management strategies they use when dealing with difficult customers. According to research by Little, Kluemper, Nelson, and Ward, problem-focused strategies like addressing a problem’s source, decrease caller’s negative feeling and result in positive customer feelings. On the other hand, emotion-focused strategies like distracting the caller from a problem increases in the intensity of a customer’s negative emotions and a decreases their positive emotions.

In other words, if the customer service representative addresses a problem the customer calls about, the customer has a better experience than if the CSR simply focuses on how the caller is feeling. Further, it was also found that the behavior of the caller affected the behavior of the customer service agent, which in turn influenced the caller’s experience. Customers who expressed negative emotions towards a customer service agent tended to trigger a less effective, more emotion-focused strategy by the customer service agent. In contrast, customers who were more pleasant elicited a problem-focused strategy and tended to have a better experience overall.

This result was found by evaluators who examined 228 recorded-customer-service calls. The evaluators had extensive experience as customer service managers. One evaluator assessed the behavior by the customer; the other analyzed the behavior of the employee. In sum, this result is not only helpful for people who work in the customer service industry, but also for customers seeking help. Calling angry or upset doesn’t often get the best outcome for either party in the exchange.