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.

Negotiating with Nothing Holds Surprise Benefits

Standard advice for negotiators is to always come to the bargaining table with an alternative offer. Viable alternatives, even weak ones, are thought to provide negotiators with more power to leverage better deals. But new research from an international team of psychological scientists suggests that powerlessness can sometimes be an advantage.PAFF_010615_PowerlessNegotiations_newsfeature

Experienced negotiators often enter talks with an alternative deal called a BATNA–Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement—in their back pocket. The BATNA is essentially a backup plan, and parties who possess a strong BATNA are able to wield more power in negotiations.

But researchers Michael Schaerer and Roderick I. Swaab of INSEAD in France and Adam D. Galinsky of Columbia University hypothesized that a weak BATNA may actually sabotage our chances, acting as a cognitive anchor that predisposes us to accept lower offers. Negotiators with no alternative, no power, and no…


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Office Holiday Parties Leave Some Employees Out in the Cold

PAFF_122314_HolidayPartiesOffice_newsfeatureThe end of the year is prime time for office parties. From the company picnic to the annual holiday party, office social gatherings are intended to foster team building and camaraderie between coworkers. By providing employees a low-key chance to bond over cookies and punch, managers may believe they’re giving their employees an opportunity to strengthen relationships that will ultimately lead to a more effective workplace.

However, research recently published in the journal Organization Science suggests that office shindigs may actually have serious unintended consequences. According to the research findings, members of racially diverse groups not only reported feeling uncomfortable during office parties, they also felt even more disconnected from their colleagues once the party was over.

Psychological scientists Tracy L. Dumas (The Ohio State University), Katherine W. Phillips (Columbia University), and Nancy P. Rothbard (University of Pennsylvania) found evidence that the…


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Being Able to Personalize Your Workspace May Have Psychological Benefits

PAFF_121614_DecoratedOfficesMFB_newsfeatureSeveral studies have found that open office layouts can negatively impact employee performance. Environmental noise and interruptions can become distracting, impairing workers’ productivity. Employees in open offices have also been found to have higher levels of stress, lower levels of concentration and motivation, and they even seem to take more sick leave.

In another strike against open offices, a recent study finds that employees who lack privacy may suffer from higher levels of emotional exhaustion compared to those who have an office with four opaque walls and a door.

Psychological scientists Gregory A. Laurence, Yitzhak Fried, and Linda H. Slowik hypothesized that when employees lack privacy they end up spending more energy and mental resources on coping with distractions, including the stress of feeling as though they are under observation by colleagues and supervisors.

“When people experience their work environment to be…


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Studying Office Social Networks to Improve Teamwork

PAFF_121114_SocialNetworksTrust_newsfeatureThe perception that an organization’s rules and policies are fair may be particularly important for people who work closely together in teams. When people perceive that they are being treated fairly by their organization, having a sense of what’s called “procedural justice,” they perform better as a team and show more positive behavior as individuals.

But when the boss plays favorites, trust between teammates can plummet.

In a recent study, psychological scientists Dong Liu (Georgia Institute of Technology), Morela Hernandez (University of Washington), and Lei Wang (Xi’an Jiaotong University) utilized a novel social network approach to studying teams. Rather than looking only at the aggregate of workers’ perceptions of fairness, Liu and colleagues measured the frequency and quality of interactions between individuals.

By measuring discrete social interactions within social networks, Liu and colleagues were able to observe that when there was a…


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Leaders Who Can Laugh at Themselves Get a Thumbs Up

PAFF_120914_SelfDeprecatingHumor_newsfeatureHumor in the workplace can foster a positive atmosphere that helps coworkers bond, but jokes in the office can also fall flat, hurt feelings, and can even lead to lawsuits. A new study finds that leaders who strike the right balance, laughing at themselves but not their colleagues or underlings, may be seen as more likable, trustworthy, and caring.

Researchers Colette Hoption (Seattle University), Julian Barling (Queen’s University), and Nick Turner (University of Manitoba) hypothesized that, regardless of whether people actually thought a leader was funny, self-deprecating jokes would be seen as an expression of a leader’s values and concern for others.

“We chose humor as a mechanism through which leaders express their concern for others (vs. the self) because of the potential for humor to be both a weapon to harm others and a tool to build relationships,” the researchers write…


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