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.

Job Insecurity: It’s Not Just the Economy, Stupid

The economic instability that has swept the globe over the last six years has largely snuffed people’s confidence in their job security. And that wariness does nothing to improve organizations’ financial success. A 2008 study showed that job insecurity erodes commitment and performance, not to mention health. The pessimism in the workforce could therefore create a vicious cycle of lackluster economic growth; as workers worry about getting pink slips, their productivity declines and profits drop. And as profits drop, workers fret even more about their jobs.

This is a photo of two business people looking nervous.Psychological scientists in Europe recently investigated this possibility, striving to find out the exact reasons people feel insecure about their jobs. Specifically, they wanted to measure how individuals’ personalities, their company’s financial health, or some combination of the two, influence their perceptions about their job stability.



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Does Your Sexual Orientation Shape Your Career Plans?

Lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals gained some new strides against discrimination this week when President Barack Obama announced plans to bar federal contractors from hiring or firing employees based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But despite job protections, marriage equality laws and other protections that members of the LGB community are garnering, many of them believe their sexual identities will at some point encumber their careers, research indicates. And that expectation may have at least some degree of influence on their actual career choices.

This is a photo of a businessman in a maze.In a study published in 2012, psychological researchers at the University of Memphis examined not only the types of career barriers LGB individuals have encountered, but what barriers they anticipate hitting in the future.

They questioned whether these individuals ruled out certain career options over fears of…


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Stand Up for Better Meetings

In the wake of recent studies showing the health consequences of prolonged sitting, many professionals have begun standing at their work stations, and even in meetings. New research shows that eschewing a chair has a profound effect on group productivity.

This is a photo of a team working on a project.Standing during meetings boosts the excitement around creative group processes and reduces people’s tendency to defend their turf, according to the study.

Behavioral researchers Andrew Knight and Markus Bauer of Washington University wanted to explore the group dynamics that arose in meetings without chairs. They designed an experiment in which participants work in teams for 30 minutes to develop and record a university recruitment video.

The teams worked in rooms that either had chairs arranged around a table or had no chairs at all.

After making the videos, research assistants rated how…


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Workplace Ostracism More Distressing Than Harassment

Being ignored, excluded, or overlooked at work inflicts more damage on our physical and mental health than does being harassed, a new study shows.

Canadian researchers found that while most people consider workplace ostracism more benign than harassment, such exclusion is actually more likely to spur job dissatisfaction, health problems, and resignations.

This is a photo of a businessman with his head against a wall.Led by Jane O’Reilly of University of Ottawa, the research team theorized that ostracism is a more common experience at work than is harassment, and wanted to see how employees perceive those conditions.

They conducted an online survey of US workers from an array of industries. The participants were presented with a series of behaviors and asked to rate each. Specifically, they were asked how socially inappropriate and psychologically harmful they regarded each of the behaviors. They also…


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African American Success Stories Have a Downside

Ken Frazier grew up in inner-city Philadelphia. His father was a janitor, and his mother passed away when he was 12. As a child, he idolized Thurgood Marshall. He received scholarships to both Penn State and Harvard Law School. At the acme of his distinguished career in law and business, Frazier in 2011 became Chief Executive Officer of Merck & Co.—standing as the first African American to lead a pharmaceutical company.

A new study suggests that success stories like Frazier’s may actually have negative implications for other African Americans. Like Frazier, Brown University President Ruth Simmons, Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, and President Barack Obama have reached the pinnacle of success in historically white domains. Yet, the research shows, these positive examples may prompt White Americans to think that less successful African Americans simply need to apply more effort to achieve their own success.

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