Category Archives: Occupational Health Psychology

Coping With Fear-Lessons for Business and Life

In his book, Rules of Thumb, Alan Webber talks about one of the rules in his book: When things get tough.

Rule #1: When the going gets tough, the tough relax.

In crisis management, I teach people that fear is normal and natural. In fact, what matters most is our behaviors in these stressful, frightening situations that strongly determine the difference between a safe or disastrous outcome. If it weren’t for our ability to experience fear, we would not be able to survive for too long in this world. Just think about the number of times your own fears warned you of impending dangers (a car coming dangerously close to yours on the freeway, a stranger who seems a bit creepy, etc.). Most of us are familiar with the “fight-or-flight response,” which experts describe as a physiological arousal response in which the body prepares to fight or escape a real or perceived threat (Donatelle, 2009). Although this instinctual response is designed to help us, if overused, it can actually damage our bodies.

Simply stated, although it’s normal to be afraid, if you live a life based on fear, you will hurt yourself and those around you.

In Webber’s case, his fear was of failure, of being embarrassed, or appearing to ask a stupid question. The person he was scheduled to interview, Helmut Schmidt (a former German chancellor), was “notoriously difficult.” It was completely understandable that Webber was fearful of this guy “dismissing my questions as stupid” (Webber, 2009, p. 3).

However, rather than letting his fear get in the way, Webber decided to jot down some notes to himself on a yellow legal pad. On it he wrote: “Relax! Smile! This is a blessing, a treat, and an honor. It’s not a punishment to be endured.” After all, “[h]ow many people get to sit across from a world leader and ask him questions?”

Webber’s advice, applicable to business and life, is this:

“Anytime you approach a task with fear you are at least a double loser. First, you color the work with fear and increase the chances of failure…Second, you guarantee that you won’t enjoy the experience. Whether you succeed or fail, wouldn’t you like to remember the experience as one you enjoyed, not one you suffered through?” (Webber, 2009, p. 5)

“Don’t let fear undermine your chance to do that one thing you’ve wanted to do.” -Alan M. Webber

References

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

Failure is Failing to Try

I love Half Price Books. You can pick up a $25 book for less than $7.00 and there’s even an educator’s discount. Earlier today, I picked up a book called “Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self” by Alan M. Webber. Webber is the cofounding editor of Fast Company and was the managing editor and editorial director of the Harvard Business Review.

I think I decided to get the book because on the book jacket flap Webber said that one of the high points of his life was being told he looked like Bruce Willis when he visited Japan. For the record, I don’t think he does and I’m Asian. Hey, I like an author with a sense of humor.

Webber’s Rule #45 caught my eye. It says: Failure isn’t failing. Failure is failing to try. Webber recounts the time, while working at the Harvard Business Review (HBR), that he felt that needed to “take shot at starting my own magazine (Fast Company)” (p. 225). He had been mulling over the idea of leaving HBR and starting Fast Company.

The decision wasn’t easy because the advice from his colleagues was to stay and use his position to further his career or stick with the job and he would be rewarded with a better one later on. It was hard to ignore the obvious advantages of the Harvard Business Review (prestige, security, and money). But Webber was determined to answer his inner calling of starting his own magazine.

As he said: “The question wasn’t whether it was a good idea. The question wasn’t even whether it would work. The question was, would I have the courage to try?

What was the worst thing that he could tell himself, that he tried to start a magazine and failed or that he failed to try at all?

This story of yearning to follow your heart resonates with me because in 2004, I left my life and home in Dallas, Texas to live and work on a tiny island in the North Pacific Ocean called Saipan.

That life-changing decision was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. I had been living my life vicariously, dreaming about great things but not having the courage to try them. In the end, the heart won out and I could no longer ignore the yearning of living abroad.

It’s hard to describe how fulfilled I felt when I came to Saipan. Within the first week or so, I knew that I had made the right decision. No one told me that I had made the right choice. No self-help or personal development book answered my deep longings. Rather, it was simply a feeling I felt in my heart. It just felt right.

I think Alan Webber felt the same thing when he left what was comfortable to start his own magazine.

“Ten years from now, what will you regret never having tried?” -Alan Webber

Reference

Webber, A. M. (2009). Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business without Losing Your Self. New York: HarperCollins.

Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Note: If you have trouble viewing the video, you can watch it on YouTube.

I want to thank WorkplacePsychology.Net reader Chris Webb for sending me a link to this video about Dan Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.”

What’s so impressive are the visual illustrations done by the artist (also called a “graphic facilitator”) at Cognitive Media to visually capture what the author is trying to verbally communicate about motivation.

The video is a great complement to two earlier posts, 3 Primary Goals of People at Work and What Really Motivates Employees.

If you are like me, someone who loves to “think visually,” you’ll love this video. Thanks again Chris!

How Face-to-face Conversations Help Us Deal with Technostress

As I was sitting patiently waiting for my car to be repaired at the car shop the other day, I came across a great story in AARP Magazine titled, “Is Conversation Gone for Good?” It confirmed to me something I have been thinking about a lot lately — the missing element of face-to-face conversations and the level of stress we experience living in a high-tech world.

The article raises two important points I want to mention here:

  • Today, our talks are more results-oriented and less people-oriented. In person, we ask closed questions that can be answered by yes or no and we share brief exchanges. The author of the article remarked how his recent “conversations” were, in fact, Facebook postings.
  • The paradox of contemporary life—simultaneous connection and isolation. Think about it for a minute. We reach out to connect to others (many times strangers) through social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and yet, when we are in the same room with other people, we don’t have much to say to them.

We are bombarded by and bombard others with so much information that there is actually a term to describe this — technostress.

Technostress is stress resulting from our over-reliance on technology. According to Rebecca J. Donatelle, Ph.D., technostress is “a dependence on technology, the constant state of being “plugged in,” and the fear of technology failure” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

She says that when technostress takes a hold of you, it sometimes interact with other forms of stress “to create a never-ending form of stimulation that keeps your stress response reverberating all day” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

The power of technology allows us to be productive and encourages people to multitask, juggling many different things at once. We see this actually advertised and prized as a desired quality in an employee or person. However, research indicates that “people who multitask…are less efficient than those who focus on one project at a time” (Donatelle, 2009, p. 74).

A recent Harvard Business Review post says that multitasking leads to as much as a 40% drop in productivity, increased stress, and a 10% drop in IQ (Bergman, 2010).

Signs of technology overload (Donatelle, 2009):

  • Increasing heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irritability and memory disturbances
  • Inability to relax
  • Feeling nervous and anxious during times when you are supposed to be having fun
  • Headaches
  • Stomach, digestive problems, ulcers
  • Skin irritations
  • Frequent colds
  • Difficulty in wound healing
  • Difficulty sleeping or lack of sleep
  • Gaps in attentiveness and changes in ability to concentrate

TIPS FOR FIGHTING TECHNOSTRESS (Donatelle, 2009):

1. Become aware of what you are doing.
Log the time you spend online, on social networking sites, e-mail, voicemail, etc. Set up a schedule to limit your use of technology. For example, spend no more than a half-hour per day answering e-mails.

2. Give yourself more time.
If you are surfing the Web for resources for a paper or project, begin early rather than the night before it is due.

3. Manage the telephone—don’t let it manage you.
Rather than interrupting what you’re doing to answer the call, screen phone calls with an answering machine or caller ID. Eliminate call waiting because it forces you to juggle multiple calls, and instead, subscribe to a voicemail service that takes messages when you’re on the phone.

4. Take regular breaks.
Even when you’re working, every hour get up, walk around, stretch, do deep breathing, or get a drink of water.

5. If you are working on the computer, look away from the screen and focus on something far away every 30 minutes.
Stretch your shoulders and neck periodically as you work. Play relaxing background music.

6. Resist the urge to buy the newest and fastest technology.
Such purchases causes financial stress and adds to your stress levels, especially when dealing with the glitches that occur from installing and adjusting to new technology.

7. Do not take laptops, PDAs, or other technological gadgets on vacation.
If you must take a cell phone for emergencies, turn it and your voice messaging system off, and use the phone only in true emergencies.

8. Back up materials on your computer at regular intervals.
There’s nothing more frustrating and stressful than losing work because of a power outage. In college, I heard about a girl crying hysterically because she lost a paper she had spent hours writing. The culprit was a squirrel who sacrificed his life running into a power line. Poor girl and poor squirrel.

9. Expect technological change.
The only constant is change. Nowhere is this more true than with technology. We blink and what we purchased or become accustomed to will become yesterday’s news. No matter how comfortable you are with your current computer, cell phone, PDA, and so on, at some point you will need to move on to a new one.

10. Unplug or Disconnect, Step Away, and “Talk.” – this last tip is my own.
When I was in my teens and early twenties, I was quite impatient as I suppose some people are growing up. But the older I become, the more I slow down to soak life in. It was this epiphany that led me back home, from working overseas, to be with my aging parents.

Just like the author of the AARP article, I too am enjoying conversations (face-to-face ones that is) with others. In the past few years, those precious conversations have been with my mother. And, like the author, I am finding wonderment in the “transformative power of human contact,” one that offers glimpses into the lives of those with whom I hold face-to-face conversations.

When I talk and listen to my mom, it’s almost as if time stops. When I am truly engrossed in conversation with her, I feel as though I’m traveling back in time to years past, learning about her, about myself, and about life. With our manic society, hyperactive workplaces, and a 24-7 mindset about being plugged in, it is comforting to know that, sometimes, the most profound and yet easiest solution on “unplugging” is to simply “talk.”

References

Bergman, P. (May 2010). How (and why) to stop multitasking. Harvard Business Review, May 20, 2010. Retrieved from http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2010/05/how-and-why-to-stop-multitaski.html

Donatelle, R. (2009). Health: The basics (8th ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Dudley, D. (Mar/Apr 2010). Is conversation gone for good? AARP Magazine, Mar/Apr 2010, 62-67.

3 Primary Goals of People at Work

In “The Enthusiastic Employee” authors Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005), working under Sirota Consulting, surveyed 2.5 million employees in 237 organizations in 89 countries about what they want from their jobs.

Contrary to wide and unsubstantiated claims made about worker attitudes, the authors found through their research that the overall satisfaction of workers with their work is strong and consistent across a wide variety of industries, occupations, and cultures. Furthermore, these researchers maintain that there is no evidence that younger workers are any more or less disenchanted than older workers.

The majority of the responses fall into three factors. The authors call this the Three Factor Theory of Human Motivation in the Workplace. They are: equity, achievement and camaraderie.

  1. Equity: To be treated justly in relation to the basic conditions of employment. These basic conditions include physiological (e.g., safe work environment), economic (e.g., job security, fair pay), and psychological (e.g., treated respectfully & fairly).
  2. Achievement: Employees are enthusiastic working for organizations that provide them with a clear, credible and inspiring organizational purpose – “reason for being here.” There are four sources of employee pride. In essence they reflect the idea of excellence:
    • Excellence in the organization’s financial performance.
    • Excellence in the efficiency with which the work of the organization gets done.
    • Excellence in the characteristics of the organization’s products such as their usefulness, distinctness and quality.
    • Excellence in the organization’s moral character.
  3. Camaraderie: Employees want to work collaboratively. They get the greatest satisfaction from being a member of and working on a team to achieve a common goal. In fact, the authors assert that cooperation, and not job descriptions or organizational charts, is the unifying force holding the various parts of an organization together.

Sirota, Mischkind, and Meltzer (2005) say that one key to overcome conflict and encourage cooperation is to build partnerships. The parties involved do this by collaborating to work toward common goals.

However, they caution that in order to build partnerships within and throughout the organization,

“[A]ction must begin with, and be sustained by, senior management” (p. 283).

It is only when senior leadership has the foresight to see what can be, not just what is, along with the perseverance and hard work to translate philosophy into concrete daily policies will partnership organizations emerge. Above all, it requires “seeing and treating employees as genuine allies in achieving change” (Sirota, Mischkind, & Meltzer, 2005, p. 301).

Reference

Sirota, D., Mischkind, L.A., & Meltzer, M.I. (2005). The Enthusiastic Employee: How Companies Profit by Giving Workers What They Want. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

7 Reasons Why Employees Leave

In “The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2005),” Leigh Branham outlined seven reasons why workers quit or leave their jobs:

  • Reason #1: The Job or Workplace Was Not as Expected
  • Reason #2: The Mismatch Between Job and Person
  • Reason #3: Too Little Coaching and Feedback
  • Reason #4: Too Few Growth and Advancement Opportunities
  • Reason #5: Feeling Devalued And Unrecognized
  • Reason #6: Stress From Overwork and Work-Life Imbalance
  • Reason #7: Loss of Trust and Confidence in Senior Leaders

Branham asserts that there are two distinct periods when an employee thinks about leaving. The first period is the time between his or her first thoughts of leaving and the subsequent decision to leave. The second period in which the employee considers leaving is the time between his/her decision to leave and actually leaving.

Branham shares three tips that leaders can do to avoid losing employees:

  1. Inspire confidence in a clear vision, a workable plan and the competence to achieve it.
  2. Back up words with actions.
  3. Place the leader’s trust and confidence in the work force.

Reference

Branham, L. (2005). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave. Broadway, NY: AMACOM.

The Gender Pay Gap

Jumping Out Of College and Into the Pay Gap

As soon as people enter the workforce, salary figures indicate an initial gap in pay between men and women. The Harvard Business Review reports that a year after graduating from college, “the average woman earns 80% of what a man earns; however, after controlling for industry, type of job, prior experience, and other characteristics, this gap closes to 95%.” The AAUW, which derived these figures assert that the unexplained 5% gap indicates bias.

Clarifying the Numbers

In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik states that one of the most common claims about the gender pay gap is that “women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men do.” However, Casey Mulligan, an economist at the University of Chicago maintains that “the gender gap would be less than 10 percentage points if you had better data and could make all the reasonable adjustments.”

Still, no matter how one looks at the numbers, there’s no denying that there IS a gap between the salaries of women and men.

Career Detours: Women Who Off-Ramp

Perhaps the most eye-opening piece of all is the data on women who leave the workforce. According to the HBR article (which cited data from the Center for Work-Life Policy), 31% of highly qualified women leave the workforce voluntarily for an average of 2.7 years. When three-quarters of these women do return (about 73% later go back to work), only 40% find full-time jobs. The author concludes that “[t]aking time out – for any reason – is costly (for women).” Finally, citing research by the Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP), the HBR article shows that women who off-ramp lose an average of 18% of their future earning power.

References

“Harvard Business Review;” Investigating the Pay Gap; Sarah Green; April 2010; http://hbr.org/web/extras/pay-gap/2-slide; http://hbr.org/web/extras/pay-gap/9-slide

“Wall Street Journal;” Calculating Pay Inequity; Carl Bialik; April 2010; http://blogs.wsj.com/numbersguy/calculating-pay-inequity-919/

National Stress Awareness Day

April 16th is National Stress Awareness Day. One of the areas I cover here at WorkplacePsychology.Net is Occupational Health Psychology (OHP). OHP is important because it is concerned about the health, safety and well-being of workers.

And because I love using visuals to tell a story, today’s post features this infographic (information graphic) by Julie Teninbaum. It is a great example of just how powerful the use of graphics, design, and data can combine to produce something that not only is eye-catching but also conveys important information.

Julie is a regular contributor to Fast Company and does a “Numerology” (infographic). For April, she created this infographic for Fast Company’s article “National Stress Awareness Month, by the Numbers.”

Working Preferences of Americans by Gender

Gallup asked American adults this question,

“If you were free to do either, would you prefer to have a job outside the home, or would you prefer to stay at home and take care of the house and family?”

U.S. Adults Outside Home % Stay Home % Both
 (vol.) % No
 Opinion %
2008 Aug 7-10 63 34 1 2
2007 Aug 13-16 58 37 3 2
2005 Aug 8-11 54 41 4 1
2003 Jun 12-18 58 38 3 1
2002 Jun 3-9 59 36 4 1
2001 Jun 11-17 62 35 2 1

Even more telling is when it’s broken down by gender…

Men Outside Home % Stay Home % Both
 (vol.) % No
 Opinion %
2008 Aug 7-10 74 23 * 3
2007 Aug 13-16 68 29 1 2
2005 Aug 8-11 68 27 3 2
2003 Jun 12-18 73 24 3 *
2002 Jun 3-9 72 24 3 1
2001 Jun 11-17 73 24 2 1

Notice the difference between the men’s preference to work outside the home versus the women’s preference…

Women Outside Home % Stay Home % Both
 (vol.) % No
 Opinion %
2008 Aug 7-10 52 45 1 2
2007 Aug 13-16 50 45 4 1
2005 Aug 8-11 42 53 4 1
2003 Jun 12-18 45 51 3 1
2002 Jun 3-9 47 48 4 1
2001 Jun 11-17 53 45 2 *

I wonder what this says about men and women and about our society in general?

In their book, “Social Psychology,” Kassin, Fein, and Markus (2008) maintain that,

“Beliefs about males and females are so deeply ingrained that they influence the behavior of adults literally the moment a baby is born” (pp. 154-155).

In other words, what society says about boys and girls, men and women and the corresponding roles we occupy in our society has a significant and powerful impact on our thinking and actions – almost from the moment we enter this world.

When asked to describe a typical man and woman, “males are said to be more adventurous assertive, aggressive, independent, and task-oriented; females are thought to be more sensitive, gentle, dependent, emotional, and people-oriented” (Kassin, Fein, & Markus, 2008, p. 154). What’s amazing is that these descriptions of men and women were shared by 2,800 college student from 30 countries, confirming the universal significance of gender stereotypes (Kassin et al., 2008).

Children learn gender stereotypes and roles from their parents and other adults and carry these stereotypes with them into adulthood. Thus, it isn’t surprising to find the discrepancy between men’s and women’s responses to working outside the home.

References

Gallup, Inc. Work and Workplace. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/1720/Work-Work-Place.aspx

Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. R. (2008). Social psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Career Well-Being

In their upcoming book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (Available May 4, 2010), Rath and Harter (2010) offer this interesting piece of information about career and its impact on our well-being.

It’s quite astonishing that people recover faster from the death of a spouse than from prolonged unemployment.

Although career well-being is discussed, it is just one of five elements covered.

The Five Essential Elements

  • Career Wellbeing
  • Social Wellbeing
  • Financial Wellbeing
  • Physical Wellbeing
  • Community Wellbeing

This is one book I’m really looking forward to reading.

The Rising Underemployment Rate and its Emotional Impact

In a previous post called The Cost of Unemployment, I wrote about the toll, on health and well-being, that unemployment had on people.

One aspect of unemployment that rarely gets mentioned is underemployment. Gallup defines underemployment as people who are “unemployed or working part-time but wanting full-time work” (Jacobe, 2010, para. 3). According to the latest Gallup poll, the underemployment rate is at a staggering 20% as of March 15, 2010, compared to the 9.7% unemployment rate reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Underemployed Americans are 2x more likely to have been told that they suffer from depression (21% vs. 12% employed Americans)(Marlar, 2010, para. 5).

These findings, both the rate of underemployment and the well-being index score, “underscore why Americans say the most important problem facing the nation today is jobs and unemployment” (Jacobe, 2010, para. 2).

Interestingly, the Gallup data indicates that a decline in the U.S. unemployment rate might be attributed to an increase in the unemployed taking on part-time work and adding to the underemployment rate.

“It is also often suggested that a growth in part-time jobs may indicate future growth in full-time work — that companies hire part-time workers before committing to hiring new full-time employees. While this is sometimes the case, it may not be so at this point in the U.S. economy: Gallup data show that one in three part-time employees who are wanting full-time work are currently “hopeful” about finding a full-time job in the next 30 days — not much of an endorsement of the idea that today’s new part-time work will progress to full-time jobs” (Jacobe, 2010, para. 8).

References

Jacobe, D. (2010, March 19). Underemployment hits 20% in mid-March. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/126821/Underemployment-Hits-20-Mid-March.aspx

Marlar, J. (2010, March 9). The emotional cost of underemployment. Gallup. Retrieved from http://www.gallup.com/poll/126518/Emotional-Cost-Underemployment.aspx

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov

Consumerism & Affluenza – How Society Shapes Our Thinking about Happiness

Within the past several decades, an alarming trend has developed, one that goes far beyond just “keeping up with the Joneses.” You see, no longer is it enough to simply “keep up.” It seems that in today’s microwave mentality, we have to have things, and we have to have them right now. Everything becomes a necessity. We no longer eat to live. We live to eat. We no longer shop to survive. We survive to shop. Or as I heard it on the radio – shop til you drop, then crawl!

We have, in fact, become a society of conspicuous consumption [spending lavishly on goods and services for the sole purpose of showing off] and consumerism [equating happiness with buying and consuming goods].

There is a name/description/label to this madness. It’s called AFFLUENZA, formed from the words affluence (wealth) and influenza (also known as the flu).

Affluenza is defined as (1) The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses; (2) An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream (Affluenza, n.d.). Affluenza is the term used to explain the problems that occur “when individuals are in pursuit of money, wealth, and material possession at the expense of other sources of self-esteem and contentment” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

Although I originally wrote about this topic of affluenza (several years ago while working in the school system) to address the madness that parents go through to feed into their children’s demands to have the latest and greatest material things, I am presenting it here now to shed light on this epidemic and its impact on adults.

Affluenza affects people across all age groups and socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. “Contemporary affluenza researchers contend that if we do not begin to reject our culture’s incessant demands to work harder, spend more, and buy more, our society will begin to pay later with significant effects thrust upon our offspring” (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006, p. 1).

The incessant pressure to acquire material goods can result in the following (Koplewicz & Williams, 2006): As you go through the list below, notice that it easily applies to both children and adults.

  • Inability to delay gratification or tolerate frustration
  • Difficulty maintaining interest in anything requiring effort
  • False sense of entitlement
  • Expectation of material goods without responsibility
  • Loss of future motivation
  • Life activities don’t seem very real and nothing matters much
  • Low self esteem, self worth, and loss of self confidence
  • Approval dependent on possessions and status rather than on personal values
  • Preoccupation with externals and habituation for more material goods
  • Difficulty believing people like them for themselves rather than for possessions and status
  • Inability to trust prevents true friendships
  • Emotional energy becomes invested in material gains and sensitivity toward others declines

Here are some interesting tidbits (Affluenza…Diagnosis, n.d.):

  • Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.
  • Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.
  • Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world’s population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.
  • Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

Back in December 2009, I wrote about the hyperactive workplace. I believe what lies at the root of the hyperactive workplace is affluenza – the “epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the American Dream” (Affluenza, n.d.). We work long hours and remain in a state of frenzy to pursue that elusive dollar to buy the things we and our families desire. And we do this day in and day out like the hamster running in circles in a cage.

In “Success Intelligence,” (2005) Robert Holden wrote, “The rise of consumerism has certainly influenced our thinking about happiness and success…We are making every effort to ‘buy, buy, buy!’ our way to happiness and success” (pp. 110, 111). While buying things can temporarily bring short-term pleasure, our prior levels of happiness soon return. In other words, we can’t buy our way to happiness.

“[W]e place all our faith in external things to make us happy. The danger here is that we lose sight of inner happiness…We forget how to be happy” (Holden, 2005, p. 112).

Imagine what your own work and workplaces would be like if you changed your views about overconsumption and what it means to be happy.

References

Affluenza. (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/

Affluenza…Diagnosis (n.d.). In Affluenza: PBS Program on the Epidemic of Overconsumption. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/kcts/affluenza/diag/what.html

Holden, R. (2005). Success intelligence: Essential lessons and practices from the world’s leading coaching program on authentic success. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc.

Koplewicz, H.S. & Williams, K. (2006). Affluence-Benefit or Handicap? New York University Child Study Center Letter, 11(2), 1-3. Retrieved from http://www.aboutourkids.org/files/articles/dec.pdf

The Price of Workplace Incivility in the Navy

A female Navy captain was recently stripped of her command of the U.S.S. Cowpens following repeated complaints of “cruelty and maltreatment” of the 400-member crew on her ship (Thompson, 2010). She was found guilty of violating Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice “cruelty and maltreatment” and Article 133 “conduct unbecoming an officer” (Ewing, 2010).

The Navy inspector general’s (IG) report found that the captain “repeatedly verbally abused her crew and committed assault.” Those who knew the captain (i.e., those who worked under her) said that the IG report resulted because of the toxic work environment aboard the ship (Thompson, 2010).

The female captain “create[d] an environment of fear and hostility [and] frequently humiliate[d] and belittle[d] watch standers by screaming at them with profanities in front of the Combat Information Center and bridge-watch teams…” one crew member recounted (Thompson, 2010).

It was also reported that she ordered a “well-respected master chief to go in ‘time out’ —standing in the ship’s key control room doing nothing— ‘in front of other watch standers of all ranks.'” (Thompson, 2010).

She also told two fellow Navy officers, “You two are f______ unbelievable. I would fire you if I could, but I can’t.” Even though cursing does occur, “to have them repeatedly brandished like clubs against subordinates — especially in front of more junior crew members — is unusual” (Thompson, 2010).

“The evidence shows” that the female captain violated Navy regulations “by demeaning, humiliating, publicly belittling and verbally assaulting…subordinates while in command of Cowpens,” the report concluded. Her actions “exceeded the firm methods needed to succeed or even thrive” and her “harsh language and profanity were rarely followed with any instruction.” Her repeated criticism of her officers, often in front of lower-ranking crew members, humiliated subordinates and corroded morale, “contrary to the best interests of the ship and the Navy” (Thompson, 2010).

One gunnery officer, who served under her aboard the destroyer U.S.S. Winston S. Churchill from 2002 to 2004, said “She would throw coffee cups at officers — ceramic, not foam….spit in one officer’s face, throw binders and paperwork at people, slam doors” (Thompson, 2010).

A retired Navy commander (who served under her when she was second in command on the destroyer U.S.S. Curtis Wilbur in 1997-98) recalls, “When I think of [her], even 12 years later, I shake…She was so intimidating even to me, a 6-foot-4 guy” (Thompson, 2010).

Pearson & Porath (2009) found that targets of workplace incivility “struggle to concentrate when treated badly. They’ll lose focus trying to understand the incivility and how to respond…[T]he emotional impact…further distracts and short circuits their ability to be effective. Incivility doesn’t shock people into better focus. It robs concentration, hijacks task orientation, and impedes performance” (p. 155).

Similarly, a study by Miner, Glomb, & Hulin found negative interactions had a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions (Sutton, 2007, p. 31). Thus, it’s not surprising to conclude that…

“[N]asty people pack a lot more wallop than their more civilized counterparts” (Sutton, 2007, p. 31).

References

Ewing, P. (2010, January 16). Cruiser CO relieved for ‘cruelty’. Navy Times. Retrieved http://www.navytimes.com/news/2010/01/ap_cowpens_cofired_011310/

Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.

Sutton, R.I. (2007). The no asshole rule: Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. New York: Business Plus.

Thompson, M. (2010, March 3). The rise and fall of a female Captain Bligh. TIME. Retrieved from http://www.time.com

The Importance of Work

“If you were to get enough money to live as comfortably as you would like for the rest of your life, would you continue to work or would you stop working?” (NRC, 1999, p. 50)

Year % of Americans Who Said They Would Continue to Work
1973 69.1
1974 64.8
1976 69.0
1977 70.0
1980 76.9
1982 72.3
1984 76.0
1985 69.5
1987 75.4
1988 71.0
1989 72.2
1990 72.7
1991 66.9
1993 69.0
1994 65.8
1996 68.0

These data confirm that “Americans are highly committed to work as a central activity in their lives” (NRC, 1999, p. 51).

Reference

National Research Council. (1999). The changing nature of work: Implications for occupational analysis. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Workplace Violence, Organizational Justice, and Wounded Pride

Recently, a Harvard-educated Ph.D. professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville was accused of killing three colleagues and wounding three others during a faculty meeting because she was denied tenure. But why is this topic getting attention here on WorkplacePsychology.Net? We normally don’t think of college and universities as organizations, but they are.

In industrial-organizational psychology, the topic of organizational justice is important because it plays a critical role in workplace violence. The manner in which employees see themselves being treated (fairly or unfairly) by their companies affects how these employees will behave (emotionally and behaviorally) in the work environment. In the case of the accused professor, being denied tenure might have caused her to feel that she was unfairly treated by the university.

There are three types of organizational justice: distributive (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees); procedural (perceived fairness of the process/procedure by which rewards are distributed); and interactional (sensitivity with which employees are treated & degree to which employees feel respected) (Landy & Conte, 2007, citing Colquitt, Colon, Wesson, Porter, & Ng).

Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) found that regardless of age, gender, race, and education, all people view justice similarly. In their examination of 190 studies totaling 64,757 participants, these researchers discovered that job performance and counterproductive work behaviors were mainly related to procedural justice (the perceived fairness of the process or procedure by which ratings are assigned or rewards are distributed) and that perceived injustice causes negative emotional reactions in the forms of mood and anger. Cohen-Charash and Spector (2001) further predicted that procedural justice will be more important than distributive justice (perceived fairness in allocation of rewards to employees) under certain contexts, especially in situation involving difficult decisions that might hurt or be of great significance to the person affected by them (e.g., layoffs).

Another factor related to workplace violence is a wounded pride (ego threat). Challenging the myth that low self-esteem is an important cause of violence, Baumeister, Smart, & Boden (1996) discovered that violence usually results from egos that felt threatened.

People whose favorable self-conceptions are inflated, uncertain, or unstable may become quite sensitive to unflattering feedback and may react with hostility…[H]ighly sensitive individuals may react with considerable hostility to seemingly minor ego threats (Baumeister et al., 1996, p. 11).

In this context, the college professor might have felt that those individuals who denied her tenure threatened her ego (how dare they deny someone with my intelligence and educational background) and violated procedural justice (it’s unfair how they treated me).

Research says that it takes an individual’s personality, a threatened ego, and a view of injustice to contribute to workplace aggression (Baumeister et al., 1996; Hershcovis et al., 2007). Tragically, the mixture of the professor’s personality, her wounded pride, and her perception that others had treated her unjustly resulted in workplace violence that left three people dead, three others injured, and a community in shock and mourning.

References

Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103(1), 5-33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5

Cohen-Charash, Y. & Spector, P.E. (2001). The role of justice in organizations: A meta-analysis. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 86(2), 278–321.

Hershcovis, M. S., Turner, N., Barling, J., Inness, M., LeBlanc, M. M., Arnold, K. A., Dupre, K. E., & Sivanathan, N. (2007). Predicting workplace aggression: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(1), 228-238.

Landy, F. J. & Conte, J. M. (2007). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd Ed.). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.