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.

The Upside of Rivalry: Higher Motivation, Better Performance

PAFF_090414_RivalryMotivationMFB_newsfeatureNearly 30 years of intense competition between tech giants Bill Gates and Steve Jobs helped produce the software and gadgets that we now find indispensable, and fierce matchups between “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird resulted in some of the highest TV ratings ever in the history of basketball. From the boardroom to the basketball court, rivalry has a long history of driving success and innovation.

A recent study from psychological scientist Gavin J. Kilduff of New York University found that not only do people report higher performance when competing against their rivals, but that rivalry actually improved race times for long-distance runners.

Unlike other competitions, rivalry occurs between people who already know each other and who take their history of past interactions into account in competition. For rivals, the psychological stakes are more important than any prizes or titles.

“Take the rivalry…


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Everyone Wins When Employees Have More Control at Work

Most workers would love to have more control over their jobs. For some that would mean leaving early to pick up the kids, while for others it could mean taking on more challenging projects.PAFF_090214_DealsAtWorkMFB_newsfeature

A recent study finds that allowing employees to play a more active role in customizing their jobs may be a win-win for both workers and managers. These kinds of informal agreements between individual employees and their supervisors are known as idiosyncratic deals, or i-deals.

An international team of researchers led by Severin Hornung of Hong Kong Polytechnic University found that employees who were able to hash out i-deals with their managers reported several positive outcomes, including being less stressed, more motivated, and more excited about their work.

The researchers surveyed 187 health care workers at a hospital about whether they had successfully negotiated i-deals in their current jobs.…


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For Managers, Upholding Fairness Comes at a Cost

The French novelist Victor Hugo wrote that “being good is easy, what is difficult is being just.” A recent study on fairness in the workplace may lend support to his claim.

PAFF_082614_WorkJusticeMFB_newsfeatureAlthough fairness is typically heralded as something good, psychological scientists Russell E. Johnson (Michigan State University), Klodiana Lanaj (University of Florida), and Christopher M. Barnes (University of Washington) found that for those charged with enforcing it, workplace justice may actually come at a cost.

Abiding by rules and procedures has been shown to drain mental resources, leading the researchers to hypothesize that enforcing the rules could also be mentally draining. When people’s mental resources are low it’s tougher for them to maintain the self-control needed to resist negative behaviors and behave in positive ways.

In the workplace, procedural justice refers to the way employees perceive organizational rules and polices meant to…


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In Hiring, Resume Info Could Help Employers Predict Who Will Quit

Replacing an employee isn’t just expensive. When an employee leaves, organizations often have to plan for dips in productivity and loss of institutional knowledge, not to mention having to dedicate time and effort to hire PAFF_081914_ResumeHiringMFB_newsfeature and train a new employee.

Given all of these costs, many organizations are interested in identifying strategies that will help them retain their employees. New research shows that information included in most resumes could serve as a cheap and effective predictor for how long someone is likely to stay in a new job, suggesting that retention might be boosted early on in the initial screening process.

Psychological scientist James A. Breaugh of the University of Missouri in St. Louis compared job turnover rates for 414 customer service agents who had recently been hired at a large call center to job application information.

To predict who would…


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Networking Style May Predict Profits for Entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurship is a risky endeavor. Of all new firms, around one-third will close within the first two years and over half will have closed within their first four years. However, one thing that has been shown to greatly PAFF_081214_networkingrevenueMFB_newsfeatureimprove the odds of success for new businesses: face-to-face networking.

A team of psychological scientists, led by Jeffrey M. Pollack of North Carolina State University, investigated how different approaches to networking might end up impacting the bottom line for entrepreneurs.

In a recent study, Pollack and colleagues hypothesized that even though all entrepreneurs have the same ultimate goal of making more money, they might be utilizing different strategies for balancing risk and security in their networking styles.

For example, someone more inclined to “play it safe” might focus on interacting with a select group of people they already know, rather than wasting time and…


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