Psychological Science at Work


The indispensable research blog on the science of the modern workplace, covering everything from leadership and management to the behavioral, social, and cognitive dynamics behind performance and achievement.


Facial Piercings Can Still Hurt Your Chances of Getting Hired

Although piercings and tattoos are more common than ever in America, research suggests that they may still hurt your prospects of getting a job.

PAFF_091614_FacialPiercingsMFB_newsfeature with attributionDespite the mainstream popularity of body art, many people still see facial piercings as unprofessional and unwelcome in the workplace. In a recent study, behavioral scientists James C. McElroy, James K. Summers, and Kelly Moore of Iowa State University found that even among college students, facial piercings still carry stigma that can affect whether or not someone gets hired.

In hiring, managers may see people with facial piercings as a poor fit for a job because facial piercings may be associated with negative personality traits.

“Specifically, there is still a stigma associated with tattoos and piercings in the workplace, even though numerous managers admit to having these modifications themselves,” the researchers write in the journal Organizational…

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Better Self-Control May Pay Off for Older Workers

A recent study finds that older workers may have an advantage over their more youthful colleagues when it comes to one key skill—self-control.

Psychological scientists Markus M. Thielgen and Guido Hertel of University of Münster and Stefan Krumm of the Free University Berlin found that older workers were better than younger workers at exercising self-control in the workplace, which gave them an edge in coping with challenging work environments.

Some of us are motivated by a passion for our careers, while others show up to work in the hopes of a bigger paycheck or a corner office. In order to feel satisfied at work most people require a combination of these motivations, known as implicit and explicit motives. Implicit motives refer to the enjoyment of a task itself, while explicit motives refer to our conscious goals and objectives–like getting a promotion or…

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Can Electronic Monitoring Improve Employee Performance?

“Your call may be recorded for quality assurance and training purposes.” We’ve all probably heard this message after dialing a call center before, but have you ever really thought about whether anyone was actually listening in?

In an effort to enhance employee performance, organizations like call centers are increasingly using technology to electronically monitor their workers on the job. With electronic performance monitoring, or EPM, supervisors can continually track and analyze an employee’s workflow in real time.

When call centers use EPM technology, supervisors are able to review recordings of calls, as well as listening into calls as they happen. Electronic monitoring systems are also used to continually collect information on performance metrics, such as average call handle time, total number of calls handled, and time on breaks.

But does this electronic “invisible eye” actually lead to improved performance on the job?

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The Upside of Rivalry: Higher Motivation, Better Performance

PAFF_090414_RivalryMotivationMFB_newsfeatureNearly 30 years of intense competition between tech giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs helped produce the software and gadgets that we now find indispensable, and fierce matchups between “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird resulted in some of the highest TV ratings ever in the history of basketball. From the boardroom to the basketball court, rivalry has a long history of driving success and innovation.

A recent study from psychological scientist Gavin J. Kilduff of New York University found that not only do people report higher performance when competing against their rivals, but that rivalry actually improved race times for long-distance runners.

Unlike other competitions, rivalry occurs between people who already know each other and who take their history of past interactions into account in competition. For rivals, the psychological stakes are more important than any prizes or titles.

“Take the rivalry…

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Everyone Wins When Employees Have More Control at Work

Most workers would love to have more control over their jobs. For some that would mean leaving early to pick up the kids, while for others it could mean taking on more challenging projects.PAFF_090214_DealsAtWorkMFB_newsfeature

A recent study finds that allowing employees to play a more active role in customizing their jobs may be a win-win for both workers and managers. These kinds of informal agreements between individual employees and their supervisors are known as idiosyncratic deals, or i-deals.

An international team of researchers led by Severin Hornung of Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that employees who were able to hash out i-deals with their managers reported several positive outcomes, including being less stressed, more motivated, and more excited about their work.

The researchers surveyed 187 health care workers at a hospital about whether they had successfully negotiated i-deals in their current jobs.…

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