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.

Employees Changed Their Drinking Habits After the Recession

PAFF_010816_DrinkingontheJob_newsfeatureBeginning in December of 2007, the United States entered one of the worst economic recessions in its history. Lasting more than two years, the Great Recession took a devastating toll on financial markets across the world, leading to mass layoffs and intense job insecurity.

One surprising consequence of the Great Recession is the way it influenced alcohol consumption. A new study from APS Fellow Michael Frone, a senior research scientist at the University at Buffalo Research Institute on Addictions, finds that even when people managed to hang onto their jobs, the stress of the down economy seems to have influenced their drinking habits.

“Even among the employed, economic downturns can create sources of work-related and financial stress that may lead to lower levels of alcohol use during the workday, but higher levels of excessive and ill-timed alcohol use away from work,” Frone…


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The Secret of Building Successful Teams

PAFF_010515_SuccessfulTeams_newsfeatureSuccessful organizations depend on successful teamwork, and according to Arizona State University psychological scientist Nancy J. Cooke what you think you know about teamwork is probably wrong; creating a high-performing team is about much more than simply trying to recruit the best and the brightest (which research shows can backfire anyway).

For tasks that require a high degree of cognitive complexity, from brain surgery to manufacturing a car, it is impossible for any single individual to completely understand all of the components necessary for the task. Instead, each individual on the team contributes his or her own distinct perspective, knowledge, and skills to the team’s pool of cognitive resources.

“Cognition at the team level is conceived of as a repository of knowledge that the team taps to accomplish a task,” Cooke explains in a new article published in Current Directions…


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Power and Punishment: The Rules of Leadership Are Not Universal

PAFF_122215_PowerPunishmentMFB_newsfeatureWhen employees are late for work, breaking safety procedures, or ignoring deadlines, it’s part of the boss’s job to dole out the appropriate punishment. Nobody wants to be disciplined at work, but punishment for breaking rules ensures that the workplace is kept safe and productive. In fact, the US Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission states that an employer must make “a diligent effort to discourage, by discipline if necessary, violations of safety rules by employees.”

But when and why managers dole discipline to employees may depend on where they are in the world. While punishment is an effective way to make sure everyone is observing the rules, it’s also vital that employees feel that their leaders are fair about discipline.

In a recent set of experiments, a team led by Ko Kuwabara of Columbia Business School examined how cultural context influences…


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The Look of Leadership

PAFF_121515_LookofLeadership_newsfeatureHow much a leader earns may depend, at least in part, on whether they look the part.

New research from Laura Fruhen (University of Western Australia) found that people were willing to offer higher salaries to job applicants when they possessed certain facial characteristics.

It’s been long established that more attractive people tend to receive bigger paychecks, but Fruhen, along with colleagues Christopher Watkins (Abertay University) and Benedict Jones (University of Glasgow) found that a trustworthy or dominant-looking face may also lead to a sizable bump in salary.

“We worked out that over the course of a 40-year career, an income advantage of between $11,000 and $26,000 could be achieved just based on having particular facial features,” Fruhen explains.

Studies suggest that people tend to be consistent about which faces look more, or less, leader-like. Evolutionary psychologists Mark Van Vugt and Allen…


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Why Office Jerks Get Ahead

PAFF_121015_OfficeJerksGetAhead_newsfeatureThink your boss is a psychopath? You may be right. New research finds that employees who displayed certain Dark Triad traits – psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism – are more likely to climb to the top of the corporate ladder than those who don’t show the traits.

University of Bern psychological scientists Daniel Spurk, Anita Keller, and Andreas Hirschi conducted the new study, concluding that high scores on some of these malignant traits were linked to better career prospects, including more leadership positions and higher salaries.

Even though the Dark Triad traits are associated with negative behaviors (e.g., lying, cheating, recklessness, manipulation) that can cost businesses billions, research also suggests that ruthless corporate climbers with the traits can also be charming, ambitious, and excellent negotiators.

The researchers hypothesized that some of these sinister traits may help people succeed, while other traits may hinder…


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