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.

Bosses Can Spot Self-Serving Workers

PAFF_032015_BossesSpotSuckup_newsfeatureSupervisors are surprisingly accurate at distinguishing between employees who put in extra effort out of altruistic concern for the company, and those who suck up just to get ahead, according to a new study from a team of Canadian psychological scientists.

Study author Magda Donia of the University of Ottawa and her co-authors, Gary Johns of Concordia University and Usman Raja of Brock University, described hardworking employees as falling into one of two camps: so-called good “soldiers” and good “actors.”

While both groups of may go above and beyond on the job, good “soldiers” are motivated to help their colleagues out of sense of altruism, whereas good “actors” see helping out as a self-serving opportunity to make themselves look good.

Donia and colleagues hypothesized that while actors are on the lookout for flashy opportunities to get themselves publicly noticed for their good…


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The Vicious Cycle of Workplace Bullying


A new study finds that workplace bullying often becomes a vicious cycle where the more stressed and anxious victims become, the more likely they are to be targeted for abuse.

Years of research on workplace bullying have shown that it can pose serious consequences for victims, ranging from depression to burnout.

In addition to damaging health and productivity, psychological scientists Alfredo Rodríguez-Muñoz (Complutense University of Madrid), Bernardo Moreno-Jiménez (Autonoma University of Madrid), and Ana Isabel Sanz-Vergel (University of East Anglia), found that the stress and anxiety caused by bullying grinds workers down, leaving them more vulnerable to further persecution.

“We found that being exposed to workplace bullying leads to deteriorated mental health and decreased well-being,” says Sanz-Vergel. “But at the same time, showing anxious behavior puts the victim in a weak position and makes them an easy target – leading to…


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Offering a Range of Numbers Can Lead to an Edge in Negotiations

PAFF_031315_NegotiatingwithaRange_newsfeatureNew research from Columbia Business School challenges conventional wisdom about making an initial offer during a negotiation. To get the best deal, you may want to consider offering a range of options rather than a single number.

Whether bargaining for catering, a new car, or a starting salary, psychological scientists Daniel Ames and Malia Mason, found that when bargainers offered a modest range (asking for a starting salary of $50,000 to $54,000, for example) they secured better offers than when they suggested a single “point” number (say, $52,000).

Ames and Mason found that certain types of range offers worked better than others. The most successful strategy was using a “bolstering” range offer, where a negotiator starts with their desired price and stretches it in a more ambitious direction. For example, if your ideal salary is $70,000, your best bet is to suggest…


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The Slippery-Slope Effect: Minor Misdeeds Lead to Major Ones

PAFF_030915_SlipperySlope_newsfeature“Well, you know what happens is, it starts out with you taking a little bit, maybe a few hundred, a few thousand,” notorious fraudster Bernie Madoff told Vanity Fair after stealing $18 billion from investors. “You get comfortable with that, and before you know it, it snowballs into something big.”

A new study finds that getting away with minor infractions ends up making it easier for people to justify bigger, more serious ethical violations. Over time, small ethical transgressions–like stealing pens from work–can put employees on the “slippery slope” of increasingly bad behavior.

Across four experiments, psychological scientists David Welsh (University of Washington), Lisa Ordóñez (University of Arizona), Deirdre Snyder (Providence College), and Michael Christian (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), found that people were more likely to cheat when the stakes were small and misdeeds were easier to rationalize.



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Too Much Workplace Positivity Might Dampen Employee Motivation

PAFF_030315_TooPositiveWork_newsfeatureWorkers in Google’s offices enjoy an impressive array of perks: subsidized massages, scooters, putting greens, and office video game consoles. In an interview with The New York Times, a Google spokesman explained that the company provides these unusual perks as a way “to create the happiest, most productive workplace in the world.”

But new research suggests that when it climbs too high, a positive mood in the office can actually hurt employee motivation.

Happy employees are more likely to engage in the kind of proactive above-and-beyond behaviors that organizations need to succeed. But a recent study from psychological scientists Chak Fu Lam (Suffolk University), Gretchen Spreitzer (University of Michigan), and Charlotte Fritz (Portland State University) found that when positive mood climbs beyond a certain point, positive behavior at work may actually start to decline.

We might assume that unhappy employees are the…


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