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.

Being Able to Personalize Your Workspace May Have Psychological Benefits

PAFF_121614_DecoratedOfficesMFB_newsfeatureSeveral studies have found that open office layouts can negatively impact employee performance. Environmental noise and interruptions can become distracting, impairing workers’ productivity. Employees in open offices have also been found to have higher levels of stress, lower levels of concentration and motivation, and they even seem to take more sick leave.

In another strike against open offices, a recent study finds that employees who lack privacy may suffer from higher levels of emotional exhaustion compared to those who have an office with four opaque walls and a door.

Psychological scientists Gregory A. Laurence, Yitzhak Fried, and Linda H. Slowik hypothesized that when employees lack privacy they end up spending more energy and mental resources on coping with distractions, including the stress of feeling as though they are under observation by colleagues and supervisors.

“When people experience their work environment to be…


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Studying Office Social Networks to Improve Teamwork

PAFF_121114_SocialNetworksTrust_newsfeatureThe perception that an organization’s rules and policies are fair may be particularly important for people who work closely together in teams. When people perceive that they are being treated fairly by their organization, having a sense of what’s called “procedural justice,” they perform better as a team and show more positive behavior as individuals.

But when the boss plays favorites, trust between teammates can plummet.

In a recent study, psychological scientists Dong Liu (Georgia Institute of Technology), Morela Hernandez (University of Washington), and Lei Wang (Xi’an Jiaotong University) utilized a novel social network approach to studying teams. Rather than looking only at the aggregate of workers’ perceptions of fairness, Liu and colleagues measured the frequency and quality of interactions between individuals.

By measuring discrete social interactions within social networks, Liu and colleagues were able to observe that when there was a…


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Leaders Who Can Laugh at Themselves Get a Thumbs Up

PAFF_120914_SelfDeprecatingHumor_newsfeatureHumor in the workplace can foster a positive atmosphere that helps coworkers bond, but jokes in the office can also fall flat, hurt feelings, and can even lead to lawsuits. A new study finds that leaders who strike the right balance, laughing at themselves but not their colleagues or underlings, may be seen as more likable, trustworthy, and caring.

Researchers Colette Hoption (Seattle University), Julian Barling (Queen’s University), and Nick Turner (University of Manitoba) hypothesized that, regardless of whether people actually thought a leader was funny, self-deprecating jokes would be seen as an expression of a leader’s values and concern for others.

“We chose humor as a mechanism through which leaders express their concern for others (vs. the self) because of the potential for humor to be both a weapon to harm others and a tool to build relationships,” the researchers write…


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Positive Perceptions of Women May Empower Female Leaders

PAFF_120214_empoweringwomenleaders_newsfeatureWomen in leadership roles can feel like they’re in a bind. As leaders, they’re expected to be strong and decisive. As women, they’re often expected to be nice, nurturing, and cooperative. While a male leader may be praised for a take-charge attitude, a woman may be called bossy or abrasive for the same behavior. It’s no surprise that many women in leadership roles feel that the expectations for their behavior in these two roles are often at odds.

However, a recent study from psychological scientists Natalia Karelaia of INSEAD and Laura Guillén of the European School of Management and Technology found that female leaders may benefit from holding positive perceptions of themselves as women.

“Our research identifies an important ingredient for a successful adaptation of women leaders to their professional roles: positive gender identity,” the researchers write in the journal Organizational Behavior…


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Preventing Job Turnover By Identifying What Makes People “Seekers” or “Stayers”

PAFF_112614_SeekersandStayersMFB_newsfeatureThe days of having employees who stick with one job for their entire career may be over. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American employee will stay in their current job for around 5 years and will hold an average of 11 different jobs by the time they’re in their fifties. But replacing employees is often time consuming and expensive for organizations.

One strategy to help cut down on employee turnover is to better identify the factors that influence an employee’s decision to stay put or look for greener pastures elsewhere.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology, psychological scientists Sang Eun Woo of Purdue University and David G. Allen of the University of Memphis identified several key factors that workers weigh before making the decision to jump ship: job satisfaction, job motivators, and…


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