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.

GM and the Science of Burying Bad News

Delivering bad news to your boss or your shareholders is inherently nerve-wracking. But for some General Motors’ executives, braving a little discomfort could have saved lives.

A flawed ignition switch in the Chevrolet Cobalt and several other small GM cars has been blamed for at least 13 deaths, with the defect suddenly shutting off cars, stiffening brakes and power steering, and disabling air bags. The company has issued a massive recall, but its long delay in alerting customers about the switch problem could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in fines — all because, according to The Washington Post, of a corporate culture focused on cutting costs, bolstering its image, and avoiding the dissemination of bad news.

That culture isn’t unique to GM managers. People seem to…


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Your Personality Might Not be Suitable for Telework

The ferocious US winter of 2014 has undoubtedly demonstrated the economic viability of telework. In many parts of the country, home broadband connections, VPNs, and cloud-based applications allowed numerous workers to continue working when heavy snows prevented them from getting to the office.

In fact, telework is becoming not only an option on snow days, but a common practice among employers across the globe.

In the United States alone, telework arrangements have grown by more than 63% since 2006, according to market research company Global Workplace Analytics. Major corporations like British Telecom and Dow Chemical report that teleworkers are up to 40% more productive than their in-office counterparts.

The American Management Association says organizations that implemented telework programs realized a 63% drop in unscheduled absences. And IBM reports that…


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How Do Social Pressures Tip Our Ethical Balancing Acts?

Scott Adams, who has endlessly satirized office culture in his comic strip Dilbert, once surmised that the most influential people in his life were probably not even aware of what they’d taught him.

That lack of awareness Adams describes is rather common. Studies have demonstrated that people tend not to recognize the influence they have over others when they make a request, suggestion, or observation. You may have trouble saying no to a colleague who asks for help on a project or assignment, but you can bet that same individual would have trouble declining your requests, as well.

But what happens when someone asks you to do something unethical? Will your moral standards balance out any qualms you have about just saying no?

University of Waterloo researchers, led by social psychologist Vanessa K. Bohns, sought…


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The Culture of Meetings

Some of the biggest international mergers of the last 20 years are considered to be textbook cases of corporate failure. The 2006 merger of French telecommunications company Alcatel with New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies, Daimler Benz’s 1998 purchase of American automaker Chrysler, and British Steel’s 1999 marriage with Dutch Royal Hoogovens are all considered examples of cultural mismatches.

Many of the clashing business standards and corporate values that plagued these mergers were traced to communications between executives and employees — a collision of American or Anglo-Saxon attitudes with European sensibilities.

Such differences are particularly acute in today’s global marketplace, and are often evident right down to the level of working groups. In any team environment today, professional workers are likely to be matched up with at least one person from another culture.



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You’re Not Always as Capable as You Think

Inflated egos are a staple of professional environments. Most people will endure colleagues who act as if they, and only they, can carry out certain tasks, lead a work team effectively, or carry the company softball team to a big victory.

But studies show that those perceptions are often out of proportion — that a person’s views about their own talents and skills often fly well above their actual performance.

The importance of accuracy in self-insight has not been lost on psychologists, leading to a wealth of studies examining this topic. But these studies have typically only examined perceptions of ability in one area. One experiment may look at athletic prowess, while another only examines vocational skills. Few studies have compared the accuracy of self-perception across a variety of skill…


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