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.

Psychological Training for Entrepreneurs Helps Fight Poverty

PAFF_070816_UgandaEntrepreneurs_newsfeatureIn 2015, Uganda was named the world’s most entrepreneurial country, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM). Although 28% of adults in Uganda own or co-own a business, around 70% of new businesses collapse within two years.

“Ugandans are good at starting enterprises but have a high failure rate,” Charles Ocici, executive director of Enterprise Uganda told The Guardian. “It is one thing to own economic assets, and it is another to run a business and generate sustainable income.”

In a new article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, psychological scientists Michael Frese, Michael M. Gielnik, and Mona Mensmann of Leuphana University of Lüneburg argue that bottom-up psychological interventions designed to enhance entrepreneurs have the potential to become a useful tool in the fight against global poverty.

“Increasing the number and quality of entrepreneurs is probably one of the…


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Breaking Bad News Doesn’t Have To Be So Bad

PAFF_070516_BetterBadNews_Guywithbox_newsfeatureIn many situations, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that matters. In the 2009 movie Up in the Air, George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a full-time corporate “downsizer” known for his finesse in firing people. When Ryan starts training a younger colleague on the art of the layoff, his first piece of advice is to never use the word “fired.”

Losing a job is one of the most stressful events that can happen to someone, but does candy-coating the bad news actually help soften the blow?

Led by Manuela Richter and Cornelius J. König, a team of psychologists at Saarland University in Germany recently conducted a series of experiments examining whether there are certain “rules” that managers can follow to minimize the distress of giving—and receiving—bad news at work.

“Managers have to communicate not only organizational downsizing…


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Is Success in Our Genes?

PAFF_063016_genesforsuccess_newsfeatureMany factors influence the course of a person’s career, from a strong personal motivation to succeed to a leg up because of a family connection. One factor that psychological scientists are increasingly exploring is the extent to which our professional success is shaped by our genes.

In a recent study, published in Psychological Science, a team of researchers led by Daniel W. Belsky of Duke University School of Medicine investigated the link between genetics and upward social mobility.

“Getting a good education requires many of the same skills and abilities needed to get ahead in life more generally, so we hypothesized that the same genetics that predicted success in schooling would predict success in life,” says Belsky.

Belsky and colleagues used data from the Dunedin study, an ongoing longitudinal study that has followed 1,000 individuals in New Zealand starting from…


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Who’s the Better Judge of a Good Idea: You or Your Boss?

PAFF_062816_BrightIdeas_newsfeatureAfter the success of his movie American Graffiti, George Lucas pitched an idea for a little sci-fi flick called “The Star Wars” to several major film studios; United Artists, Universal Pictures, and Disney all passed on the ambitious project. Star Wars, which was produced for $11 million dollars in 1977, went on to become one of the biggest box office successes in the history of film. Adjusted for inflation, the Star Wars films have raked in over $21 billion dollars—a fact that has probably haunted all the studio executives who initially passed on the project.

“Betting on the most promising new ideas is key to creativity and innovation in organizations, but predicting the success of novel ideas can be difficult,” explains Stanford psychological scientist Justin M. Berg. “To select the best ideas, creators and managers must excel at ‘creative forecasting’—i.e., predicting…


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Workaholism Tied to Several Psychiatric Disorders

PAFF-062116_WorkaholismMentalHealth_newsfeatureThe Oxford English Dictionary credits the psychologist and theologian Wayne E. Oates with coining the term “workaholic.” As Oates outlined in a 1971 book on the subject, “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly” can take on obsessive qualities similar to those of an addiction-related disorder.

A large new study provides evidence that workaholism, along with harming wellbeing and health, also frequently co-occurs with clinical disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, and depression.

“Workaholics scored higher on all the psychiatric symptoms than non-workaholics,” the study authors report in the journal PLoS ONE.

An international team of psychological scientists from Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States recruited 16,426 adults living in Norway as participants in the study. Links to the research survey were publicly posted in online editions of five Norwegian…


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