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.

Burnout Leaves its Mark on the Brain

PAFF_072315_BurnoutBrain_newsfeatureA rough day at the office is stressful enough, but when long hours and chronic exhaustion become the norm at work it can take a dramatic toll on our health—including our brain functioning.

When stress at work becomes overwhelming, it can turn into burnout. Burnout has many of the same symptoms as depression, including memory and concentration problems, sleeplessness, diffuse aches, profound fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and a nagging feeling of being emotionally drained.

In a recent study, a team led by psychological scientist Amita Golkar and colleagues from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found evidence that workplace burnout can alter neural circuits in the brain. As part of a vicious cycle, chronic stress seems to dampen people’s neurological ability to bounce back from negative situations—causing even more stress.

A group of 40 subjects with formally diagnosed burnout symptoms were recruited from…


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Chatting Before Negotiations Benefits Men More Than Women

PAFF_071515_ChitChatNegotiation_newsfeatureNew research suggests that men may reap financial rewards by engaging in a bit of casual chitchat before a negotiation. However, the same is not true for women.

Psychological scientists Brooke Shaughnessy (Ludwig-Maximilians-UniversitĂ€t MĂŒnchen), Alexandra Mislin (American University), and Tanja Hentschel (Technische UniversitĂ€t MĂŒnchen) concluded that a bit of schmoozing can help men—but not women—walk away from a negotiation with a better deal, as well as better long-term business relationships.

“The results of these studies strongly support the notion that men and women, in the same situation, engaging in the same behavior, result in distinct reactions due to the behavioral expectations associated with their gender,” writes Shaughnessy and colleagues. “Specifically, for male negotiators, engaging in small talk consistently enhanced perceptions of liking, cooperativeness, and relationship satisfaction.”

Although prior research has linked small talk in negotiations to positive outcomes in general, the research…


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A Full Night’s Sleep Boosts Satisfaction with Work

PAFF_070715_SleepStressWork_newsfeatureTreating workers’ sleep problems may be one way to improve employee satisfaction on the job, according to new research.

After analyzing data from nearly 5,000 employed adults, a team of psychological scientists from Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute concluded that getting a healthy amount of sleep is vital for workers to manage stress and maintain a positive attitude at work.

Just as stress on the job can cause poor sleep, lead study authors Torbjörn Åkerstedt and Johanna Garefelt found that not getting enough quality sleep can influence the way employees perceive stress at work. Sleep-deprived employees felt as though they had a significantly more demanding workload, less control, and less social support than their well-rested peers. They also ended up—unsurprisingly—reporting more negative attitudes about their work and higher rates of stress.

Importantly, these results highlight how the link between workplace stress…


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For Job Interviews, Earlier in the Day May Be Better

PAFF_063015_InterviewTiming_newsfeatureDuring a job interview, many applicants worry that their professional fate rests in the first few moments of the interview. After a few minutes—or even seconds—the interviewer has sized them up and arrived at a decision.

But new research suggests that there may be a different factor for job candidates to worry about: timing. Data gathered by psychological scientists Rachel Frieder (Old Dominion University), Chad Van Iddekinge (Florida State University), and Patrick Raymark (Clemson University) challenge the common belief that interviewers rely on near-instantaneous snap judgements. Instead, their research suggests that a successful interview may depend on your place in the interview schedule.

For the first one or two applicants, interviewers don’t have much information to process, allowing them to make a decision about a candidate’s suitability fairly easily. But, as more candidates are interviewed, interviewers have to remember, process, and compare…


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Benefitting from Nepotism Carries Hidden Costs

PAFF_062415_NepotismCosts_newsfeatureFrom politics to Hollywood, it’s not always what you know but who you know that gets you the job. The right family contacts have helped generations of well-connected children climb the corporate ladder. But new research from Butler University psychological scientists Margaret Padgett, Robert Padgett, and Kathryn Morris from Butler University concludes that beneficiaries of nepotism pay a price.

“People have negative attitudes toward nepotism and consequently, stigmatize those who benefit from a family connection in the hiring process,” the researchers write in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

In the first study, they analyzed a sample of 191 MBA students. For the experiment, participants were told to imagine themselves as employees at a bank about to hire a new manager, their future boss. They were given a packet of hiring materials for three applicants under consideration for the position. The packet…


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