Category Archives: Stress

Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE)

Bearded man makes business in the web | Credit: golero
Bearded man makes business in the web | Credit: golero

I received an email asking if I would write about Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) from an Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology perspective.

Interestingly, much of the research on ROWE has been coming from the field of sociology. Two sociologists from University of Minnesota’s Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, Dr. Phyllis Moen and Dr. Erin Kelly (Kelly is now at the MIT Sloan School of Management), were the original researchers invited in 2006 to observe and study ROWE as it was being implemented at Best Buy (Flexible Work and Well-Being Center, 2015).

Background of ROWE

Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) was pioneered by Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson while they were employed at Best Buy. The seeds of ROWE began in 2001 when a leader at Best Buy corporate headquarters needed help to make Best Buy a top choice among talented people who were seeking jobs. A survey was conducted asking employees what they wanted most from work. Overwhelmingly, the answer was: trust me with my time, trust me to do my job, and I’ll deliver results, and be a happier employee too (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). In a pilot program (called Alternative Work Program) that gave employees a choice from a set of flexible schedules, Ressler observed that “if you gave people even a little control over their time they immediately began to see the benefits both at work and at home.” Employees who were in the pilot program were happier and more productive and they didn’t want it to end (Ressler & Thompson, 2008). Thompson joined in 2003 and what was learned during the pilot program began to grow and change. The program was refined and eventually came to be known as Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE).

Overview of ROWE

In ROWE, employees can work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done. ROWE values delivering results over face time at work. “Job performance is evaluated solely on the basis of whether the necessary results are achieved by employees, not whether they’ve put in ‘face-time’ at the office” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 155).

The idea behind ROWE is that when employees have control over their lives and they are able to work when and where they feel most productive and they’re able to balance work and family demands, they will be more incentivized to produce.

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote in their book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, that ROWE is based on a simple idea:

“In a Results-Only Work Environment, people can do whatever they want, whenever they want, as long as the work gets done. . .In a ROWE, you can literally do whatever you want whenever you want as long as your work gets done. You have complete control over your life as long as your work gets done” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 3). You can go grocery shopping, take a nap, or go to the movies and never have to ask for permission or tell your boss where you’re going. As long as work gets done and you get results, then it’s your life (Ressler & Thompson, 2008).

Benefits of ROWE

The benefits of ROWE include (Correll, Kelly, O’Connor, & Williams, 2014):

  • Increased employees’ control over their work schedule and improved work–life fit
  • Reduced work-family conflict and negative work-family spillover
  • Positive effect on employees’ sleep duration, energy levels, self-reported health, and exercise
  • Reduced turnover
  • Increased job satisfaction and organizational commitment

Things That Do Not Change under ROWE

There are some things under ROWE that do not change (Kelly & Moen, 2009):

  • Positive and negative home-to-work spillover
  • Family-to-work conflict
  • Overall assessment of health
  • Well-being scale
  • Psychosocial job demands scale
  • Job control scale (decision authority, skill discretion)
  • Job involvement scale
  • Satisfaction with coworkers
  • Satisfaction with manager
  • Work engagement scale
  • Psychological distress
  • Emotional exhaustion

ROWE is Flexible Work Arrangement (FWA) to the Extreme

ROWE is a type of flexible work arrangement. Flexible work arrangements refer to choices about the time (i.e, when; flextime or scheduling flexibility) and/or location (i.e., where; telecommuting or flexplace) that work is conducted (WorldatWork, 2005; Allen, 2013).

Ressler and Thompson (2008) point out that in a flexible work arrangement: permission is needed, there are limited options, is management controlled, requires policies/guidelines, the focus is on “time off,” and there’s high demand but low control. In a ROWE, you do not need permission, options are unlimited, it’s employee controlled, requires accountability/clear goals, the focus is on “results,” and there’s high demand but also high control.


“[N]o matter how flexible a nontraditional schedule is it’s still a schedule. Flexible schedule is an oxymoron. Which is why in a ROWE there are no schedules” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 69).

“If you get results, then anything else you do with your time is completely up to you. What work looks like in terms of where it takes place and during what hours is no longer important. You work when and how you work best. You are in complete control” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 67).

The Promise of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson (2008) wrote, “in a ROWE you don’t overwork because there is no incentive to overwork” (p. 198). You don’t have to do all-nighters or be the first in the office and the last one to leave because you are rewarded solely on delivering results. “Once you’ve delivered those results, you stop working and do something else. It’s nice” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198).

The Fanfare and Fizzle

In 2013, in a complete reversal from its initial enthusiastic endorsement of ROWE, Best Buy terminated the program (Wong, 2013). Under a new CEO, Best Buy cited the urgency to turn around its struggling consumer electronics retail business as the reason for ending its Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program (Lee, 2013). As the company’s spokesperson explained (Lee, 2013): “Bottom line, it’s ‘all hands on deck’ at Best Buy and that means having employees in the office as much as possible to collaborate and connect on ways to improve our business.”

But Best Buy was not the only organization to try out and then later abandon ROWE. The United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) also tried ROWE and soon discontinued the program. A 2011 evaluation of the ROWE pilot revealed that managers were uncertain as to how to evaluate their employees based on their work results. And employees also struggled because they did not understand if they were meeting their expected results (Glazer, 2013).

The Risks and Obstacles of ROWE

Ressler and Thompson argue that ROWE is appropriate in all workplaces but there are situations where it isn’t recommended or appropriate, such as customer service departments, or when employees are new or inexperienced and require more support, or when you’re not certain that team members will complete their tasks at the level of quality and by the deadlines agreed upon (, 2016). As a matter of fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements (Kelly & Moen, 2014) admit that some workers, like those in retail and service positions, must still do their work “at work.”

Despite the promise made by Ressler and Thompson that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork” (Ressler & Thompson, 2008, p. 198), there is research on telecommuting that dispute this claim.

In a previous post on the pitfalls of telecommuting, I wrote that those who telecommute (work from home or another remote location) will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less (Noonan & Glass, 2012). In fact, researchers have found that “telecommuters worked between 5 and 7 total hours more per week than nontelecommuters” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 40).

Kelly and Moen (2007) offered this thought when they first began studying ROWE: “Organizational needs—getting the work done—are still emphasized in the ROWE setting, and it is an open question whether increased control is actually beneficial when work demands are very high” (p. 497).

Michelle Conlin (2006) wrote, at the end of her Bloomberg article on ROWE, that, “Some at the company [Best Buy] complain that productivity is up only because many Best Buyers are now working longer hours.”

While a majority of employees say flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting, help them to achieve a better work/life balance (Wright, 2014), evidence suggests that it’s not as rosy as one might think. For example, teleworkers reported more time-based family interference with work (FIW) than did non-teleworkers. Indeed, the ability to telecommute or work from home “may enable negative work and nonwork spillover rather than avert it” (Allen, 2013, pp. 706-707).

“The most telling problem with telecommuting as a worklife solution is its strong relationship to long work hours and the “work devotion schema.”” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

“Since telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers, and supervisors, telecommuting can potentially increase the penetration of work tasks into home time. Bolstering this interpretation, the 2008 Pew Networked Workers survey reports that the majority of wired workers report telecommuting technology has increased their overall work hours and that workers use technology, especially email, to perform work tasks even when sick or on vacation” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 45).

Moen, Kelly, and Lam (2013) tested “A key question [regarding] whether ROWE actually reduced employees’ time strain, in terms of reducing their work-time demands and/or increasing their time control” (p. 159). The researchers found that “exposure to ROWE increased time control (time adequacy, schedule control) but did not change time demands (work hours, psychological time demands)” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 166).

“ROWE flexibility initiative did not reduce psychological time demands, probably because ROWE-type interventions do not diminish the amount, intensity, or expectations of time investments in work” (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013, p. 167).

Takeaway: A Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) sounds great — as a concept. However, the challenges of implementing and the realities involved in working in a Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) can reveal major limitations as to its appropriateness for every workplace. In fact, even researchers of flex work arrangements concede that some workers, such as those in retail and service positions, will still need to continue doing their work “at work.” What’s more, contrary to the claim that “in a ROWE you don’t overwork,” some employees working in a ROWE reported that they actually work longer hours.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant


Allen, T. D. (2013). The Work–Family Role Interface: A Synthesis of the Research from Industrial and Organizational Psychology. In N. W. Schmitt & S. Highhouse (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 12 Industrial and organizational psychology, 2nd ed) (pp. 698-718). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

Conlin, M. (2006, December 10). Smashing The Clock. Retrieved from

Correll, S. J., Kelly, E. L., O’Connor, L. T., & Williams, J. C. (2014). Redesigning, Redefining Work. Work and Occupations, 41(1), 3-17.

Flexible Work and Well-Being Center. (2015). University of Minnesota. Retrieved from

Glazer, S. (2013, July 19). Telecommuting. CQ Researcher, 23(26), 621-644. Retrieved from

Hollon, J. (2013, March 6). Goodbye ROWE: Best Buy Ends Flex Work Program It Was Famous For. Retrieved from

Joly, H. (2013, March 17). Best Buy CEO on leadership: A comment I made was misconstrued. Star Tribune. Retrieved from

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2007). Rethinking the ClockWork of Work: Why Schedule Control May Pay Off at Work and at Home. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 9(4), 487-506.

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2009). Brief Summary of the Flexible Work & Well-Being Study. PDF posted on WorkplacePsychology.Net

Kelly, E. L., & Moen, P. (2014, January 23). Building Flexibility Into The Way We Work. Huffington Post. Retrieved from

Lee, T. (2013, December 13). Best Buy ends flexible work program for its corporate employees. Star Tribune. Retrieved from

MindTools. (2016). Managing in a Results-Only Work Environment. Retrieved from

Moen, P., & Kelly, E. L. (2007). Flexible Work and Well-Being Study: Final Report. Retrieved from

Moen, P., Kelly, E. L., & Lam, J. (2013). Healthy work revisited: Do changes in time strain predict well-being? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18(2), 157-172.

Nguyen, S. (2015, August 22). The Pitfalls of Telecommuting. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from

Ressler, C., & Thompson, J. (2008). Why work sucks and how to fix it. New York: Penguin Group.

WorldatWork. (2005). Flexible Work Schedules: A Survey of Members of WorldatWork and AWLP. Retrieved from

Wong, V. (2013, March 7). How Best Buy Has Changed Its Tune on Flexible Work. Bloomberg. Retrieved from

Wright, A. D. (2014, June 13). 10% Would Take Less Pay to Telecommute, Study Says. Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Retrieved from

Job Dissatisfaction and Mental Health

Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly
Stressed business people with heads in hands | Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly

I was contacted by a journalist with The Guardian, a popular UK newspaper, for my thoughts about why having too little to do at work is bad for your mental health. I am reposting my responses below.

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated, at work similar to being overworked?

Answer: If we assume that having too little to do or being under-stimulated at work falls under the umbrella of boredom (Mann, 2007) and that there’s a relationship between boredom at work and employee mental well-being (Warr, 2005), and that mental health is comprised of many dimensions (two of which are subjective well-being and positive self-regard), then being bored at work (not enough to do or not stimulated) and being overworked are similar, albeit they occupy different points on the spectrum. With regard to being overworked, researchers have found that changes in job demands predict future burnout (Schaufeli, Bakker, & Van Rhenen, 2009).

Question: Is having too little to do, or being under-stimulated at work, bad for your mental health? If so, why does this cause stress/poor mental health?

Answer: Related to my previous answer, being bored (having too little to do or being under-stimulated and when associated with poor mental well-being & poor positive self-regard) and being overworked can both be bad for a person’s mental health.

When we talk about an employee’s subjective well-being, it’s important to distinguish between “context-free” well-being and “domain-specific” well-being (Warr, 2005). A person’s well-being with respect to his or her job is a job-related “domain-specific” well-being (i.e., limited to the workplace & job). It’s also possible and we do see this happen, where it’s family-related “domain-specific” well-being. That is, situations in an employee’s family life/environment have a negative impact on his/her subjective well-being and the employee carries this into the workplace.

We can see how just these two streams in the “domain-specific” well-being can be challenging to separate within a person’s mental state of mind. Put it simply, we can take work stress home, but the reverse is also true, we can just as easily take home stress with us to work.

One very important note we need to remember is this: an employee’s job may influence his/her well-being, the employee’s well-being may impact how he/she perceives the job, or characteristics of the employee can determine well-being or perception of the job (Warr, 2005). Also critical to mental health are feelings that we have about ourselves as a person. In addition to subjective well-being is the concept of positive self-regard. We can think of positive self-regard in terms of a person’s self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-worth (Warr, 2005).

Question: What is the optimum level of work for good mental health?

Answer: There is no magic formula for what level of work would contribute to good mental health. As I have shared, the reason is because the factors that lead to good or poor mental health are many and they can be difficult to separate from other related factors (Warr, 2005).

That said, there are still things that organizations can do to help their employees stay engaged in their jobs.

In his book The Best Place to Work, Ron Friedman (2014) shared that one key lesson to getting employees engaged in their work is to offer “opportunities for them to experience autonomy, competence, and relatedness on a daily basis.” He explained that employee autonomy is when workers have a sense of choice. Companies can promote employee autonomy by explaining the reason/logic when tasks are presented, by giving employees the flexibility about how and when a task is done, and by giving employees options on where they can do their work (e.g., telecommuting).

Takeaway: If we tie our discussion about boredom at work (i.e., having too little to do or being under-stimulated) as well as being overworked to mean being generally dissatisfied with a job, then there’s a strong connection between job dissatisfaction and mental health. Research suggests that an employee’s level of job satisfaction is an important factor influencing his or her health (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005). In analyzing nearly 500 studies involving over 250,000 employees, researchers have found a very “strong relationship between job satisfaction and both mental and physical health,” and that “dissatisfaction at work can be hazardous to an employee’s mental health and well-being” (Faragher, Cass, & Cooper, 2005, p. 108).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant


Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: a meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 62(2), 105-112. doi:10.1136/oem.2002.006734

Friedman, R. (2014). The best place to work: The art and science of creating an extraordinary workplace. New York: Perigee.

Mann, S. (2007, February). Boredom at work. The Psychologist, 20, 90-93. Retrieved from

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Van Rhenen, W. (2009). How changes in job demands and resources predict burnout, work engagement, and sickness absenteeism. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(7), 893-917. doi:10.1002/job.595

Warr, P. (2005). Work, well-being and mental health. In J. Barling, E. K. Kelloway, & M. R. Frone (Eds.), Handbook of work stress (pp. 547-574). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Why It’s Necessary To Fight Work Stress And How To Do It

Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak
Tired businesswoman with head in hands looking away | Credit: Caiaimage/Agnieszka Wozniak

A writer asked for my thoughts about why it is necessary to fight work stress and how to do it. Here’s my response:

Why We Must Combat Work Stress

There are many work-related problems that crop up as a result of work stress. These are similar to stress experienced outside of the workplace (i.e., involving physical, psychological, or behavioral reactions). Employees complain about and/or experience sleep disorders, inability to concentrate or focus, feeling exhausted or burned out, feeling irritable, engaging in arguments or conflicts with coworkers or supervisors, or withdrawing and isolating from others. As mentioned in the “Mental Health at Work” series, if work/job stress is prolonged, frequent, or intense, individuals are at higher risk for psychological problems, such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, panic attacks, or even PTSD. Collectively, these problems, if left unchecked, contribute to larger organizational issues, such as increased absenteeism, medical/disability cost, high turnover, reduced productivity, etc. Indeed, work stress is a serious and growing problem that harms employees and organizations (Quillian-Wolever & Wolever, 2003).

How to Combat Work Stress

It is easier to make a case for why we need to combat work stress than it is to go about combating work stress. Simply stated, it’s hard to manage stress effectively.

For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) has a resource titled, “Coping With Stress at Work” that suggests 7 steps to managing stress in general (e.g., track your stressors, develop health responses, etc.).

However, what that particular resource and many other resources about combating/managing stress fail to point out is that managing work stress is multifaceted and involves individually-targeted as well as organizationally-targeted interventions. Many resources only touch on the individual’s initiative to manage his/her own stress. That is, it’s about how individuals can take steps to manage their own stress in the workplace.

There are different views about what contributes to work stress. Some say it has to do with worker characteristics (or qualities relating to the worker), while others say it has to do with the working conditions (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005).

What we need to do is think about interventions for work stress in terms of levels (primary, secondary, and tertiary [Leka & Houdmont, 2010]). The primary intervention targets the source of the work stress (i.e, the design, management, and organization of work). When we talk about how workers can better respond to and manage stress, that’s the secondary intervention. Secondary prevention intervention (often called stress management) is about changing the ways that individuals respond to risks or job stressors (Barling, Kelloway, Frone, 2005). Finally, there’s the tertiary intervention that provides remedial support for problems that have already manifested (Randall & Nielsen, 2010).

For an excellent reference on the three levels of interventions (primary, secondary, and tertiary) see the article, “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3).” And for a comprehensive understanding, check out all three booklets in the Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (cited in the links below).

But I don’t want to complicate things too much by talking about the different levels of interventions, so I’ll leave you with some tips for how to fight/manage stress at the individual level (targeting the secondary intervention level).

9 TIPS FOR COPING WITH STRESS [secondary intervention level]
(taken directly from Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series – Booklet 1).

  1. Learn to identify the signs your body is giving you (increased heart rate, clammy hands, difficulties in concentrating, etc.) as this will help you do what is necessary to reduce stress.
  2. Learn to identify what increases your stress; by acting on the causes of stress, you can better control it.
  3. Learn to delegate – don’t shoulder all responsibilities on your own.
  4. Establish a list of priorities as this will help you to better manage your time.
  5. Suggest changes at work, talk about irritating situations with your colleagues and supervisor, and try to find solutions that are mutually acceptable.
  6. Develop a good support network and recognize that help is sometimes necessary to get through hard times.
  7. Participate in leisure activities. Apart from helping you relax, such activities will help “recharge your batteries.”
  8. Exercise. In addition to the obvious health benefits, exercise will help you sleep better.
  9. Reduce your consumption of stimulating foods and beverages such as coffee, tea, chocolate, soft drinks, sugar or alcohol.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership, Training, and Talent Consultant


American Psychological Association (APA). Coping With Stress at Work.

Barling, J., Kelloway, E. K., Frone, M. R. (2005). Handbook of work stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series (Booklet 1, 2, 3).

Chair in Occupational Health and Safety Management at Université Laval, Québec, Canada. Mental Health at Work… From Defining to Solving the Problem series. “Solving the Problem: Preventing Stress in the Workplace (Booklet 3)”. Retrieved from

Leka, S., & Houdmont, J. (2010). Occupational health psychology. Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Quillian-Wolever, R., & Wolever, M. (2003). Stress management at work. In L. E. Tetrick & J. C. Quick (Eds.), Handbook of occupational health psychology (pp. 355-375). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Randall, R., & Nielsen, K. (2010). Interventions to Promote Well-Being at Work. In D. Leka & J. Houdmont (Eds.), Occupational health psychology (pp. 88-123). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.

Cost of Stress on the U.S. Economy Is $300 Billion? Says Who?

Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey
Young businesswoman working in office | Credit: BJI / Lane Oatey

In 2011, I wrote an article about the true cost of job stress. In that article, I cited Dr. Rebecca Goldin (a Professor at George Mason University and Director of throughout and shared Dr. Goldin’s observations about the American Institute of Stress’ baseless claim of the $300 billion price tag of stress on the U.S. economy.

Today’s 2016 article is a supplement to the 2011 article, and includes additional information and supporting references.

First, the original URL link to Dr. Goldin’s “Counting the Costs of Stress” article on the website is no longer valid. I’ve reached out to Dr. Goldin to see if her article is posted elsewhere but did not hear back from her. Luckily, I had saved a PDF copy of the article and have posted it to my own website. Citations to Dr. Goldin’s 2004 article will now to point to a PDF of the article [hosted on my own website] rather than to an invalid URL on the website.

Second, I’ve located a copy of Dr. Paul Rosch’s 2001 newsletter in which he explained his rationale for how he arrived at the $300 billion price tag. According to Dr. Rosch (2001), via the American Institute of Stress, job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity, and medical, legal and insurance costs.

Rosch also wrote in the International Stress Management Association newsletter (2001): “Job stress is estimated to cost American industry $300 billion a year from absenteeism, employee turnover, diminished productivity, workers compensation awards and other legal expenses, direct medical and insurance costs, etc.”

In his 2001 Health and Stress newsletter, Dr. Rosch wrote [emphasis added for readability]:

Job stress is estimated to cost American industry in excess of $300 billion a year. When [Dr. Rosch] started writing about this subject over twenty years ago the price tag for job stress was pegged at $150 billion annually and ten years ago it was claimed to be $200 billion. The $300 billion figure posted on our [American Institute of Stress] website has attracted a large number of inquiries over the past several years, particularly from reporters. Most people want to know if this is based on a formula or series of calculations with scientific underpinnings that have statistical significance as opposed to a personal estimate that was picked out of thin air. The answer is as follows: In 1979, Albrecht postulated an annual 4 percent rate of absenteeism and a 5 percent turnover rate in a company with 1000 employees. He assumed that 2 percent of all absences and turnovers were due to stress and that it would cost $1000 for recruitment and training for each turnover. In addition, there would be a 5 percent need for overstaffing to compensate for associated problems. Based on these figures, which were considered to be quite conservative at the time, he estimated that the hidden costs of stress to U.S.companies were $150 billion annually. That was over two decades ago and absenteeism and turnover rates have now almost doubled as have their expenses.”

Rosch added that Albrecht’s calculations did not include the cost of accidents, diminished productivity, direct health insurance, medical, legal and workers compensation costs.

It’s important to point out that Rosch incorrectly explained in his newsletter that Albrecht used a company with 1,000 employees. It was actually 2,000 people (1986, p. 128).

Third, let’s take a deeper dive into how Dr. Karl Albrecht came up with the $150 billion price tag for stress. This passage from Albrecht’s book (1986 [paperback edition]) is especially worth noting:

“Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation. That’s what I [Albrecht] have done (brazenly) in this section. As an intellectual challenge . . . let’s make some crude assumptions about stress effects in a hypothetical business organization and see what the bottom line impact might be” (p. 128).

Albrecht’s hypothetical organization in 1979:

Size: 2,000 people
Sales: $60 million/year
Profit: 5% = $3 million/year
Avg. salary (gross avg. for all employees): $6.00/hour
Personnel cost (salary + overhead costs): $100/person-day
Absentee rate (excluding vacation): 4% = 10 days/person-year
Turnover rate (assume stable workforce size): 5% = 100 people/year
Turnover cost (advertising, hiring, processing, etc.) $1,000/person

Albrecht explained that he took a conservative estimate in determining absenteeism (4%), turnover (5%), and personnel costs ($100/person-day).

For the 4% absenteeism rate, Albrecht speculated that 2% came from unavoidable disabilities and 2% came from stress. “In this 2% figure we include any genuine illness that is stress-induced as well as effects of life stress that may originate outside the job [emphasis added]” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

For the 5% turnover rate, Albrecht speculated that 3% was the result of retirement and voluntary (i.e. quitting) and involuntary turnover (i.e. fired). The other 2% turnover is assumed to arise from stress-related causes which includes “life stress originating outside the job [emphasis added] that interferes with the person’s ability or inclination to remain on the job” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 130).

Albrecht also added an overstaffing ratio (5%). “5% of the work force (sic), or 100 people, are on the payroll because of the reduced performance of the others” 1986, p. 131). He justified this overstaffing ratio in this manner: “if a large proportion of people experience stress levels that degrade their performance capabilities, then we will need more people to get a given amount of work done — and to achieve a given level of sales and profits in our hypothetical company — than we otherwise would” (Albrecht, 1986, p. 131).

And if that weren’t enough, Albrecht tacked on the cost of antisocial acts (“theft, sabotage, deliberate waste or breakage, ‘invisible’ slow downs, and the like”) [Albrecht, 1986, p. 131]. For these antisocial acts (e.g., theft of a machine and “temper tantrum that results in a broken window or a damaged typewriter” (p. 131), Albrecht admitted that “we have no way of knowing which of these costs are stress-linked and which are simply isolated events [emphasis added]” (1986, p. 131).

The result looks like this for stress-linked personnel costs according to Albrecht:

Stress-linked absenteeism: $1 million/year
Stress-linked turnover: $40,000/year
Performance degradation (overstaffing cost): $2.5 million/year
Antisocial acts: $20,000/year
TOTAL $3,560,000/year

Even though Rosch might not have come up with the $300 billion price tag “out of thin air,” the source (Albrecht’s book) from which he based his calculations is quite unconvincing. In fact, Albrecht even admitted as much. Despite his own initial warning to not guess or speculate a dollar amount on the cost of stress, Albrecht marched right into speculation and guesswork.

Albrecht’s original estimate/guesstimate of cost of stress on organizations (1979) was derived from taking a hypothetical firm and extrapolating the cost of stress per person for that firm to 80 million U.S. workers: $1,780 (total stress cost divided by number of employees) x 80 million = $142.4 billion (“a national cost figure for stress-induced loss of effectiveness and efficiency approaching $150 billion no longer seems unbelievable” [Albrecht, 1986, pp. 132-133]).

So Rosch cited Albrecht’s $150 billion price tag from 1979, then modified that original amount (sometime around 2001) by doubling the $150 billion to $300 billion, and (almost) everyone (the general public, the media, writers/authors, professors, and researchers) jumped onboard and accepted it as a certainty.

The undeniable truth is this: Two men made up those numbers ($150 billion & $300 billion) in an attempt to guesstimate the cost of stress. Albrecht, the first man in 1979, “brazenly” made lots of “crude assumptions” and came up with an arbitrary number as an “intellectual challenge.” Roughly two decades later, Rosch, the second man, then based his calculations off the “crude assumptions” of the first (Albrecht). Thus, whatever number Rosch arrived at is pointless because it does not have anything to stand on. Albrecht offered sage advice in his book: “Any attempt to estimate a dollar cost of chronic stress in a business organization or in American business in general, would of course involve gross guesswork and speculation.” Unfortunately, no one, including Albrecht himself, followed that nugget of wisdom.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


The American Institute of Stress. Workplace Stress. Retrieved from

Albrecht, K. (1979). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Albrecht, K. (1986). Stress and the manager: Making it work for you. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Goldin, R. (2004). Counting the costs of stress.

International Stress Management Association (ISMA-USA). (2001) Newsletter. Vol. 3. Issue 1. [PDF]

Rosch, P. J. (2001, March). The quandary of job stress compensation. Health and Stress, 1-8.

Are You Depressed Because of Your Job or Are You Depressed Regardless?

Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images
Businessman sitting on floor in corridor | Credit: Blend_Images

A Careers Reporter for Business Insider contacted me about signs that a person’s job is making him/her depressed. I’ve been wanting to write about mental illness and the workplace but just never got around to doing it and was happy that this gave me a chance to do so.

Here is what I wrote back:

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.) defines depression as follows:

“Depression: a negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life.”

According to “Mental Illness in the Workplace” (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014), depression is the most prevalent type of mental illness both inside the workplace and outside of it.

Signs of depression (and I’m referring to clinical depression) include significant sadness lasting most of the day and occurring most days of the week. What’s more, many depressed people also have trouble sleeping and/or eating. They’re tired or are chronically fatigued, can’t concentrate, feel worthless, have thoughts about suicide, or have lost experiencing joy from activities that they once enjoyed (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

Other signs to look for, particularly in the workplace, are employees who look sad, angry, unmotivated, withdrawn, or who are tired with frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or decrease in performance or performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable. They may also have interpersonal relationships that are stormy or diminished (Harder, Wagner, & Rash, 2014).

So how would you know if your job is making you depressed? We would want to look at workplace factors that include the following:

  • High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  • High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  • Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?

If we were to take what I just shared and put them into a list, it might look like this:

Is Your Job Making You Depressed?

  1. High job strain – Is the job highly and psychologically demanding, with low decision flexibility?
  2. High stress, high threat – Does the job expose the employee to a high stress, high threat environment?
  3. Lack of or low support system – Is there support from colleagues and managers?
  4. Being or feeling sad, angry, unmotivated, or withdrawn.
  5. Feeling tired and making frequent mistakes or errors at work and/or being less productive or demonstrating performance that’s inconsistent or unpredictable.

But, and I believe this is very important, we should also phrase it this way . . .

Are You Depressed Regardless of The Job You Have? In other words, it might just be that an individual is depressed no matter what type of job he/she has. And if that’s the case (that it’s really about a person who is or might be depressed), then we would want to look for a combination of symptoms below:

  1. Significant sadness lasting most of the day, and occurring most days of the week.
  2. Difficulty sleeping and/or eating.
  3. Feeling tired or is chronically fatigued.
  4. Unable or trouble concentrating.
  5. Feeling worthless.
  6. Have thoughts about suicide.
  7. Does not enjoy activities that you once enjoyed.
  8. Rocky or reduced interpersonal relationships.
  9. These problems are significantly interfering with your daily life.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Harder, H. G., Wagner, S., & Rash, J. (2014). Mental illness in the workplace: Psychological disability management. Burlington, VT: Gower.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

The Pitfalls of Telecommuting

Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet
Coworkers discussing project on digital tablet | Credit: Thomas Barwick

I was contacted by a TV Producer at BBC News regarding my thoughts about the pitfalls of working at home. I am reposting my response to her as well as add some additional information which, due to a tight schedule, I was not able to include in my original answers.

Question: People often tout home working as being the future – but it isn’t really happening – at least in the UK. Why Not?

I wrote about telecommuting (working from home or remotely for an employer) back in 2011 on my Workplace Psychology blog. The idea of a flexible work schedule, one that allows us the ability to work from our homes or another remote location is very attractive. We have these grand illusions about working in our pajamas and wearing house slippers while we work.

The reality, however, is that it requires a great deal of structure, time management and commitment, as well as an understanding of telecommuting’s disadvantages on the part of the person telecommuting so that s/he can get work done. Those who telecommute, especially the ones who have done so for an extended period of time will tell you that it actually requires you to work more, not less.

Perhaps it’s not such a huge surprise then that, in the United States, “the proportion of workers who telecommute has been essentially flat over the mid-1990s to mid-2000s and is no larger among younger cohorts of workers than older cohorts” (Noonan & Glass, 2012, p. 44).

Researchers have discovered that telecommuting “relocates” long hours at the office to remote work, but it does not eliminate or reduce these hours (Noonan & Glass, 2012). Another perspective related to this is that by working remotely, employees are expected (by their employers) to do more work and be available nights and weekends compared to what would be expected of an employee working in the office.

Question: Is it because working at home isn’t actually much fun? People miss the social aspect and the moral support of the office?

There’s a nice article back in 2008 about the disadvantages of telecommuting. The author listed 17 disadvantages. She grouped the 17 disadvantages into tow groups: minor problems or trivial annoyances and serious issues or major problems.

To answer your questions, I would say that telecommuting is not as fun as the idea of it, and people do miss the social aspect and moral (and also technical/IT troubleshooting) support. Indeed, one disadvantage of telecommuting is that you have no “tech support,” at least not in the sense of physically running down the hall to the IT department and asking the IT folks for help or calling them on the phone and have them come to your cubicle 30 minutes later to correct a problem with your laptop.

Another disadvantage is creating or having a working structure or routine so you can get going in the morning. When you go to the office, the ritual in the morning is to greet your boss and colleagues and ask them how they’re doing. Some of us grab a cup of coffee and we engage in small talks about the family and kids and then we get started (e.g., check email, make a phone call to a client, attend a meeting, etc.). But when you work from home (unless you purposely create/establish one), you will not engage in this type of daily morning ritual.

You mentioned the social part of physically being in the office. Working remotely is, as the terms describe, a very lonesome activity. Perhaps this is why we’re seeing and hearing more about coworking space and how those who cowork seem to to be thriving, in part because it gives remote employees a feeling that they’re a part of a community. lists the pitfalls of working remotely in 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Among these are (1) feeling isolated, (2) being distracted by family members of doing household chores, (3) missing out on office camaraderie.

Finally, remote workers may get lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“To be credited with passive face time you need only be observed at work; no information is required about what you are doing or how well you are doing it” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

“Even when in-office and remote employees are equally productive, our research suggests their supervisors might evaluate them differently because of differences in their passive face time” (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

As they also wrote in their journal article (Elsbach, Cable, & Sherman, 2010), “anecdotal and case study evidence suggests that the display of passive face time by professional workers (e.g. salaried workers in corporate business environments) is interpreted positively by co-workers, supervisors, and subordinates who may observe it” (p. 738). “In fact, it appears that managers in corporate settings use passive face time to judge employees’ work contributions, creating a disadvantage for employees who are seen less often or are not seen as putting in adequate overtime” (p. 738).

Out of sight, out of mind is a real danger for remote workers,” writes J. Maureen Henderson (2015).

Question: It seems to me often to be the companies who push the home working for cost reasons rather than employees – is that your experience?

In the research article by Noonan and Glass (2012), they did bring up that by allowing employees to work remotely, employers increase their expectations of these remote workers by demanding that they (the remote workers) be available more (e.g., nights and weekends). In essence, when telecommuting parameters are unclear and telecommuting policies not firmly established, employees are expected to work more and be more readily available (via phone, email, text, chat, and so on).

This also brings up this view of an always-connected employee. Today’s employees, even ones who do not participate in remote work, actually may do so without even realizing it. Take our smart phones, for example. If you have access to your work email on your own mobile device, then it’s very easy to check it but it can also be stressful at the same time, especially if you check and/or respond to emails after work hours.

Companies are starting to see the connection between an always-connect worker and employee stress and burnout. In 2011, Volkswagen agreed to stop sending emails to its workers when they were off the clock.

Question: How have offices changed over the past 20 years and how will they change in the future?

When we think about how our electronic/mobile devices work and how they help us stay connected or keep us constantly connected (always “on”) to our companies/organizations, we can see that our “workplace” is now mobile. For those who use some type of collaborative tool or cloud storage, they can interact with colleagues and clients across the globe and retrieve information and materials in an instant regardless of where they are in the world, so long as they have access to the Internet and their mobile devices.

Our work is becoming much more dynamic and fluid, thanks to instant or near instant access to information, and in real time. There is a whole new level of collaboration with one another and access to information that 30 years ago would be unheard of. For instance, scientists and researchers today can collaborate on projects and research articles even though they are located physically very far from each other.

That said, I do not see the physical workplace going away any time soon despite the advances in technology. And, I also see and believe in the great value of the face-to-face interaction and collaboration. While I’ve been able to be very productive when working remotely, when I’ve done so for an extended amount of time, I really miss the human connection and my mind and my whole being craves the interaction with (or at least be in or around) a physical community. Even if I don’t interact with anyone, just being in a coffee shop or a coworking space helps inspire me to do great work and for me to see my work as meaningful and also that I have more control over my job.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership and Talent Consultant


BBC. (2012, March). Volkswagen turns off Blackberry email after work hours. Retrieved from

Dishman, L. (2013, January). The Future Of Coworking And Why It Will Give Your Business A Huge Edge. Fast Company. Retrieved from

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Elsbach, K. D., & Cable, D. (2012, June). Why Showing Your Face at Work Matters. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from

Forbes. 11 Tips For Being Part Of The Office Team As A Telecommuter. Latest Telecommuting Statistics. The Shifting Nature of Work In The UK (May 2011).

Henderson, J. M. (2015, August). Three Pitfalls Of Remote Work That You Probably Aren’t Thinking About. Forbes. Retrieved from

London Business School. (2012, August). Want to get promoted stay at your desk. Retrieved from

Nguyen, S. (2011). Virtual workplaces and telework. WorkplacePsychology.Net. Retrieved from

Noonan, M. C., & Glass, J. L. (2012). The hard truth about telecommuting. Monthly Labor Review, 135(6), 38-45. Retrieved from

Schindler, E. (2008, December). 17 Telecommuting Pet Peeves. Retrieved from

Spreitzer, G., Bacevice, P., & Garrett, L. (2015, May). Why People Thrive in Coworking Spaces. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Tsukayama, H. (2011, December). Volkswagen silences work e-mail after hours. Washington Post. Retrieved from

Locus of Control and The Zorro Circle


Photo Credit: Flickr

In his book, The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor talks about how by first limiting our focus on small, manageable goals, we can then expand our sphere of power from there. Achor used the movie “The Mask of Zorro” (starring Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins) as an example and describes what he calls The Zorro Circle. For those who have not seen it, there is a scene where young Alejandro (Zorro) is taught how to master the sword and other skills by first training in a small circle. Only after mastering control of that small circle was he then allowed by his master Don Diego to try other larger feats (e.g., swinging from ropes and fighting against his own master in a sword fight).

Achor suggests that the first goal to regaining our internal locus of control (when we don’t feel in control) is to to become more self-aware. When you’re in a high stress situation or feel a high level of stress, identify how you’re feeling and put those feelings into words. Try writing down your feelings in a journal or share with a close friend or trusted colleague. “[V]erbalizing the stress and helplessness you are feeling is the first step toward regaining control” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

“Brain scans show verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of these negative emotions, improving well-being and enhancing decision-making skills” (Achor, 2010, p. 136).

After you’ve mastered the self-awareness circle, the next step is to identify which part of the situation that you do have control over and which ones you do not. The basic idea here is to see that there are things that are out of your hands that you simply have no control over; but also that there are things that you do have real control over and to focus your energy on those areas.

“By tackling one small challenge at a time—a narrow circle that slowly expands outward—we can relearn that our actions do have a direct effect on our outcomes, that we are largely the masters of our own fates. With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward” (Achor, 2010, p. 137).

The lesson is this: If you focus on and master the small, manageable goals first (the small circle), you can then expand your sphere of power to larger goals. Tackle one small challenge at a time and clearly see and let go of things that you do not have control over and focus your energy and efforts on things over which you do have control.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.

Workplace Bullying: It’s Not Employee Dissatisfaction and Why It’s Different from Schoolyard Bullying

stop bullying

Photo Credit: Flickr

This post is in response to an article titled “Thou Shalt Not Bully” that was posted on HCOnline, Australia’s online magazine for senior human resource professionals and corporate decision-makers.

In the article, the author said:

“[D]espite the best intentions of the [anti-bullying] legislation [in Australia], employers are faced with the prospect of an avalanche of complaints based on perceptions. Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.”

The author then proceeded to offer a case to illustrate why a dissatisfied employee led to the incorrect labeling of a manager as a “bully.”

“When we met with the employee, one of the first things he said when explaining the situation was ‘bullying is a too strong a word.’ He (the employee) went on to recount a conflict scenario that involved differing views about a project recommendation he had made, and described feeling intimidated and threatened. His complaint referred to the situation as bullying. When we met with his manager, she was distressed and felt pressured by the allegation. She was confused as to why she had been accused. She felt she had supported the employee, who she perceived him as being ‘difficult’ and requiring her intervention. The experience demonstrates the dangers of bullying becoming a catchall term for interpersonal issues.”

First, labeling someone in the workplace as a bully can have significant consequences (for both the instigator and the victim) so it is prudent to exercise care and caution before initiating claims of bullying.

Second, it should not matter if an employee uses the word(s) “bully” or “bullying” or not. As the author acknowledged, the employee, when recounting what happened, indicated that he felt “intimidated and threatened.” In others words, he felt that he was not able to defend/protect himself. Put it another way, people in positions of power may not realize or care that their higher/greater power within the company can engender bullying behaviors.

Third, something that was not mentioned in the article but is critically important to point out is that there is an important difference between schoolyard bullying and workplace bullying. While both forms involve victimizing another person and using power to do so, school bullies (sometimes cheered on by other students) do not have the support of teachers and school administrators. In contrast, workplace bullies, who often hold positions of authority, do have the support of peers, HR, and even upper management (Namie & Namie, 2009).

When targets (who participated in the 2003 Workplace Bullying Institute survey) were asked if they reported the bullying behaviors to others at work and what happened after that, here are the results (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93):

The results below summarize who knew about the bullying and what they did in terms of helping or hurting.

WBI 2003 survey

“It is clear that workplace “insiders”—co-workers, the bully’s boss, and HR—were destructive, not supportive” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 93).

Namie and Namie (2009) said it well: “[T]he child Target must have the help and support of third-party adults to reverse the conflict. Bullied adults have the primary responsibility for righting the wrong themselves, for engineering a solution” (p. 15).

Fourth, I strongly disagree with the author that “The proliferation of anti-bullying awareness campaigns has led to workplace conflicts too readily being labeled as bullying” or that “Bullying has become the catch-all term for employee dissatisfaction.” These statements are a disservice to people who have been or are currently victims of workplace bullying. And, these types of statements continue to perpetuate the myth that victims of bullying are too soft, complain too much, or just don’t have the backbone to stand up. This, in my opinion, minimizes the seriousness of workplace bullying.

I do not agree that “anti-bullying awareness campaigns [have] led to workplace conflicts being labelled as bullying.” In fact, the two constructs (“workplace conflicts” and “workplace bullying”) sometimes get confused (as is the case in the author’s HCOnline article).

Conflicts – perceived differences between one person and another about interests, beliefs or values that matter to them (De Dreu, Van Dierendonck, & De Best-Waldhober, 2003).

Bullying – “situations where a worker or supervisor is systematically mistreated and victimized by fellow workers or supervisors through repeated negative acts like insulting remarks and ridicule, verbal abuse, offensive teasing, isolation, and social exclusion, or the constant degrading of one’s work and efforts” (Einarsen, Raknes, & Matthiesen, 1994, p. 381).

Results from the 2007 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey indicated that,

“37 percent of American workers have been bullied at work—13 percent said it was either happening now or had happened within a year of the polling, and 24 percent said they were not now being bullied but had been bullied in the past. Adding the 12 percent who witnessed bullying but never experienced it directly, nearly half (49 percent) of adult Americans are affected by it” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 4).

A follow-up 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey revealed,

“35% of the U.S. workforce (an est. 53.5 million Americans) report being bullied at work; an additional 15% witness it. Half of all Americans have directly experienced it.”

Thus, when we step back and examine these statistics on workplace bullying and the difference between the concept of conflict and bullying, as defined above, we can see that bullying is not just “employee dissatisfaction” as the author suggested.

Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


De Dreu, C. K. W., Van Dierendonck, D., & De Best-Waldhober, M. (2003). Conflict at work and individual well-being. In M. J. Schabracq, J. A. M. Winnubst, & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The handbook of work and health psychology (2nd ed.) (pp. 495-515). West Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons.

Einarsen, S., Raknes, B. I., & Matthiesen, S. B. (1994). Bullying and harassment at work and their relationships to work environment quality: An exploratory study. European Work and Organizational Psychologist, 4(4), 381-401.

Namie, G., & Namie, R. (2009). The bully at work: what you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, Inc.

Locus of Control: Stop Making Excuses and Start Taking Responsibility

Blame by Nelson Vargas

Photo Credit: Flickr

[NOTE: This post was updated August 2016]

In my former career as a mental health counselor, I encountered many clients who struggled with taking charge of their own lives. While their struggles might have differed, the idea behind helping them was almost always the same, and quite basic. We’re taught to guide clients from seeing themselves as being victims of life’s circumstances to being movers of those life events. In other words, help clients reach deep within to draw on their own inner strength and capacity to take charge.

There are two types of locus of control: internal (inside) and external (outside). Internal locus of control is the belief that you are “in charge of the events that occur in [your] life” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141), while external locus of control is the belief that “chance, fate, or outside forces determine life events” (p. 141).

Individuals with an internal locus of control believe their behaviors are guided by their personal decisions and efforts and they have control over those things they can change. Having an internal locus of control is linked to self-efficacy, the belief you have about being able to do something successfully (Donatelle, 2011). People with an external locus of control see their behaviors and lives as being controlled by luck or fate. These individuals view themselves (i.e., their lives and circumstances) as victims of life and bad luck.

“People differ in whether they feel they control the consequences of their actions or are controlled by external factors. External control personality types believe that luck, fate, or powerful external forces control their destiny. Internal control personality types believe they control what happens to them” (Champoux, 2011, p. 113).

In leadership and management, this concept of locus of control is the same. Whether it’s coaching top executives, middle management, or rank and file employees, the idea is to get them to stop making excuses and/or blame other people, events, or things (i.e. external locus of control), and instead start taking responsibilities (i.e., internal locus of control) for them.

If you really listen, you’ll often hear people describe their lives or work as spinning out of control or they felt they had very little control over or were not in control of their lives. However, when things improve, you’ll hear them say that they’ve started feeling more in control or regaining control over their lives again. “When the locus of control shifts from the external to the internal frame, clients find more energy, motivation, and greater confidence to change” (Moore & Tschannen-Moran, 2010, p. 75).

In business and leadership, the benefit of having an internal locus of control is applicable to all individuals at all levels within an organization:

1. An internal locus of control is one of the key traits of an effective leader (Yukl, 2006).

“A leader with an internal locus of control is likely to be favored by group members. One reason is that an ‘internal’ person is perceived as more powerful than an ‘external’ person because he or she takes responsibility for events. The leader with an internal locus of control would emphasize that he or she can change unfavorable conditions” (Dubrin, 2010, p. 47).

2. An internal locus of control separates good from bad managers (Yukl, 2006).

“Effective managers . . . demonstrated a strong belief in self-efficacy and internal locus of control, as evidenced by behavior such as initiating action (rather than waiting for things to happen), taking steps to circumvent obstacles, seeking information from a variety of sources, and accepting responsibility for success or failure” (Yukl, 2006, pp. 185-186).

3. Employees’ locus of control affect leadership behavior in decision-making (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012).

“Internal-locus-of-control followers, who believed outcomes were a result of their own decisions, were much more satisfied with leaders who exhibited participative behaviors than they were with leaders who were directive. Conversely, external-locus-of-control followers were more satisfied with directive leader behaviors than they were with participative leader behaviors. Followers’ perceptions of their own skills and abilities to perform particular tasks can also affect the impact of certain leader behaviors. Followers who believe they are perfectly capable of performing a task are not as apt to be motivated by, or as willing to accept, a directive leader as they would a leader who exhibits participative behaviors” (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2012, pp. 544-545).

“There is also evidence that internals are better able to handle complex information and problem solving, and that they are more achievement-oriented than externals (locus of control). In addition, people with a high internal locus of control are more likely than externals to try to influence others, and thus more likely to assume or seek leadership opportunities. People with a high external locus of control typically prefer to have structured, directed work situations. They are better able than internals to handle work that requires compliance and conformity, but they are generally not as effective in situations that require initiative, creativity, and independent action” (Daft, 2008, p. 103).

“Path–goal theory suggests that for subordinates with an internal locus of control participative leadership is most satisfying because it allows them to feel in charge of their work and to be an integral part of decision making. For subordinates with an external locus of control, path–goal theory suggests that directive leadership is best because it parallels subordinates’ feelings that outside forces control their circumstances” (Northouse, 2013, p. 141).

The Importance Of Locus Of Control

Meta-analyses (the synthesis of multiple studies into a single study by summarizing the practical significance of each research finding into one combined effect) of 357 research studies “showed that an internal locus of control was associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and job performance” (Colquitt, LePine, & Wesson, 2015, p. 287) and “that people with an internal locus of control enjoyed better health, including higher self-reported mental well-being, fewer self-reported physical symptoms” (Colquitt et al., 2015, p. 287).

Takeaway Message: Having an internal locus of control can go a very long way in differentiating between effective and ineffective leaders, managers, and employees.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.


Champoux, J. E. (2011). Organizational behavior: Integrating individuals, groups, and organizations (4th ed). New York: Routledge.

Colquitt, J. A., LePine, J. A., & Wesson, M. J. (2015). Organizational behavior: Improving performance and commitment in the workplace (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Daft, R. L. (2008). The leadership experience (4th ed.). Mason: OH: Thomson/South-Western.

Donatelle, R. (2011). Health: The basics (Green ed.). San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

Dubrin, A. J. (2010). Leadership: Research findings, practice and skills (6th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western/Cengage Learning.

Hughes, R. L., Ginnett, R. C., & Curphy, G. J. (2012). Leadership: Enhancing the lessons of experience (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Moore, M. & Tschannen-Moran, B. (2010). Coaching psychology manual. Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yukl, G. (2006). Leadership in organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

An Employee’s Uncivil Behavior Can Harm Other Employees and Customers

word of mouth

Photo Credit: Flickr

More than three years ago (12/13/09 to be precise), I wrote about people with a situational value system. That post in December 2009 was about my experience as a waiter and my story about a rude customer, the wife of a famous baseball player, who snapped her fingers in a demanding way to get my attention.

The situational value system post has become the most visited post on WorkplacePsychology.Net. Over the months, and now years, that followed, I have tried to come up with a follow-up or related post. It’s not easy to do a follow-up to something that has been so well received.

Based on the number of visits and people who have shared the post or clicked on the “like” button, it seems many people can relate to or have their own stories about knowing, experiencing, and/or witnessing someone with a situational value system (i.e., an individual who treats people differently based on that person’s status).

What I have wanted to do since that time was to further explore mistreatment and uncivil behaviors in the workplace. Because my original post in 2009 talked about the impact that one customer had on me (an employee), this post in 2013 will be about the negative effects of employee uncivil behaviors on customers, coworkers, or subordinates (if the employee is in a managerial role). There’s quite a bit of research in this area, although my guess is that by writing about it, it will not be anywhere near as popular.

Harm to Customers Who Directly Experienced It or Were Witnesses to It And the Negative Business Effects

Customers Who Directly Experienced Uncivil Behaviors

Hawkins and Mothersbaugh (2010) outlined three coping strategies customers use when confronted with bad customer service (p. 381):

  • Active coping: Thinking of ways to solve the problem, engaging in restraint to avoid rash behavior, and making the best of the situation.
  • Expressive support seeking: Venting emotions and seeking emotional and problem-focused assistance from others.
  • Avoidance: Avoiding the retailer mentally or physically or engaging in complete self-denial of the event.

The customer might work with the organization to try to resolve the situation (active coping). Other customers might decide to vent their frustrations to the company (expressive support seeking) or they might tell their friends or broadcast it online about their bad experience (negative word of mouth [WOM]). The last case, avoidance, is also damaging because a customer might choose to avoid an organization completely or continue to be a customer but makes an effort to avoid the company (either physically or mentally), in which case the result will be lost sales (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010).

“Many times, however, consumers do not complain to the company, but instead take actions such as switching brands or engaging in negative word of mouth (WOM)” (Hawkins & Mothersbaugh, 2010, p. 636).

Customers Who Were Witnesses to Uncivil Behaviors

Porath, MacInnis, & Folkes (2010) found that when an employee mistreated or was uncivil (e.g., being rude or discourteous, ignoring or making derogatory remarks, passing blame for their own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, etc.) toward another employee, customers who witnessed it tended to “make negative generalizations about (a) others who work for the firm, (b) the firm as a whole, and (c) future encounters with the firm, inferences that [went] well beyond the incivility incident” (p. 292). What researchers discovered was that “consumers [were] also negatively affected even when they [were] mere observers of incivility between employees” (Porath et al., 2010, p. 301).

Harm to Coworkers or Subordinates

Pearson & Porath (2009) discovered in their studies that 1 in 5 employees reported being targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. Ten percent said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.

A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility from a supervisor or coworker (e.g., being treated rudely or discourteously, having a coworker or boss ignore or make derogatory remarks, being blamed for a colleague’s mistakes, being belittled, having someone set them up to fail, being shut out of a team, etc.) during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).

Lim, Cortina, and Magley (2008) found that (1) “uncivil work experiences also appear to have a direct negative influence on mental health” (p. 104), (2) employees who experienced incivility were more likely to be dissatisfied with their boss and coworkers than with the the job itself, and (3) those personal experiences of workplace incivility can lead to them eventually quitting their jobs.


An employee who engages in uncivil behavior (i.e., being rude, insensitive, or disrespectful) is harmful to: (1) other employees inside the organization, and (2) customers who are direct targets of such behaviors or who might simply be witnesses (from the outside) to uncivil behaviors between employees.


Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6(1), 64-80.

Hawkins, D. I., & Mothersbaugh, D. L. (2010). Consumer behavior: Building marketing strategy (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Lim, S., Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J. (2008). Personal and workgroup incivility: Impact on work and health outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93(1), 95-107. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.93.1.95

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.

Porath, C., MacInnis, D., & Folkes, V. (2010). Witnessing incivility among employees: Effects on consumer anger and negative inferences about companies. Journal of Consumer Research, 37(2), 292-303.

Economic Mobility and the American Dream

This video is from The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project which focuses public attention on the ability to move up or down the economic ladder within a lifetime or from one generation to the next.

The video shows the difference between two measurements of economic mobility. It’s important to note that there are two ways of measuring economic mobility: absolute and relative. As the video states, each offers an understanding of the health and status of the American Dream; however, neither measure should be taken in isolation for a complete picture of economic mobility in our country.

The example of being on the escalator (starting at the 1:58 mark to the 2:30 mark) is a great visual aid. As the Pew explains:

“For more than two centuries, economic opportunity and upward mobility have formed the foundation of the American Dream, and they remain at the core of our nation’s identity. As policy makers seek to foster equality of opportunity, it’s critical that their decisions be informed by a robust and nonpartisan fact base on economic mobility.”

In addition to this eye-catching video, one might also observe that economic mobility is linked to our salaries or compensations for the work we do. Interestingly,

“Many experts now believe that money is a much more important motivator than was previously believed, more because of its inherent or symbolic value than because of what it can buy. . . . One recent study found that people who are more highly paid have higher job performance because the higher paycheck makes them feel more valued in the organization (i.e., they have a more positive self-concept)” (McShane & Von Glinow, 2010, p. 167).


McShane, S. L., & Von Glinow, M. A. (2010). Organizational behavior: Emerging knowledge and practice for the real world (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Economic Mobility Project.

Cognitive Dissonance When Firing Family or Friend

Photo: Conflicts

I was contacted by a career advice reporter with, the jobs and career website of The Wall Street Journal, for my thoughts for an article about why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship. While I’m glad to see my name mentioned, I feel that much of what I shared with her was left out of the article. Two things did manage to make the cut – cognitive dissonance and the mention of the Parker and McKinley (2008) article. However, without offering more details, I’m afraid that readers of that article might miss my message.

Here is what I emailed her:

We spend a great deal of time working alongside others at work. In fact, if you consider that the typical worker spends 8 hours a day at work, it means that many of us spend more face-time with our colleagues than with our own families.

A more specific explanation of why workers struggle when they have to fire someone with whom they have a close personal relationship is something called cognitive dissonance. It’s a state of tension, which we want to avoid, that occurs when we perceive an inconsistency between our beliefs, feelings, and behavior.

So, if we spend a great deal of time with someone and have developed a close relationship with that person, then it is understandable that having to turn around and fire that individual would create conflicts or tensions between what we are required to do (i.e. the act of firing someone) and our feelings (i.e., that person I must fire is a friend or someone I care about).

Parker and McKinley (2008) wrote about how employees who assist in the implementation of layoffs at their organization (i.e., they help the company lay off other employees) experience cognitive dissonance. They maintained that the longer you spend with the employee being terminated, the greater the odds of you experiencing cognitive dissonance when you need to let that employee go.

Parker and McKinley (2008) said in order to help reduce cognitive dissonance, the one terminating (the agent) might subscribe to an ideology of shareholder interest (the belief that shareholder value should be the main criterion for management decision-making). If the layoff agent is a strong believer in this ideology of shareholder interest, he or she would regard the increase of shareholder wealth as the first priority of management and thus back or defend actions that enhance shareholder wealth.

Basically, according to cognitive dissonance theory and the article by Parker and McKinley, the person who must fire a coworker can change the way he or she thinks about firing or letting someone go and rationalize that while the layoff or termination of a coworker might harm that individual employee, it would have positive consequences for the overall organization.


Parker, T., & McKinley, W. (2008). Layoff agency: A theoretical framework. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(1), 46-58. doi:10.1177/1548051808318001

Citation to FINS article:

Eggers, K. (2012, June 29). How to fire your dad. FINS Finance – Career Advice. Retrieved from

Does Time of the Day Impact Moods at Work?

Photo: Monday again

It’s probably safe to assume that most, if not all, of us have at one time or another, wondered whether our moods are influenced by the time of the day or the day of the week. Well, wonder no more.

According to Robbins and Judge (2009), people are more likely to be in their worst moods (i.e., highest negative affect and lowest positive affect) early in the week and in their best moods (i.e., highest positive affect and lowest negative affect) late in the week.

What about time of day? Does it make any difference if someone is a “morning” person versus another who might be an “evening” person? Robbins and Judge said that no matter what time we go to bed in the evening time or when we wake up in the morning, our levels of positive affect peak about midway between the time we wake up and the time we go to sleep.

Watson (2000), in his book “Mood and Temperament,” said this:

“Although different people reach their acrophase [peak time or time at which the peak of a rhythm occurs] at different times and show somewhat different curves over the course of the day, our analyses have demonstrated that this basic circadian rhythm—that is, low Positive Affect at the beginning and end of the day, with a peak occurring somewhere in the middle—is remarkably robust and generalizable across individuals” (p. 116).

What implication does this have in the workplace? Well, as many of us can already confirm, Monday morning is not a good time to deliver bad news. And in terms of time of the day, employees will tend to be more positive from about midmorning going forward and (certainly not surprising) later in the week.


Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2009). Organizational behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Watson, D. (2000). Mood and temperament. New York: The Guilford Press.

Book Review-The Advantage

I was excited when I received Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage” on my doorstep. I eagerly opened the box, removed the book, and began reading. Truth be told, I initially struggled because I am accustomed to theories and research-based books and had to fight off that mentality because Lencioni’s “The Advantage” isn’t based on research, and wasn’t meant to be. As he explains, “Because I’m not a quantitative researcher, the conclusions I draw here are not based on reams of statistics or finely crunched data, but rather on my observations as a consultant over the past twenty years” (Lencioni, 2012, p. xvii). I appreciated his upfront honesty.

Lencioni said that most organizations have plenty of talent, intelligence, and expertise to be successful. What’s more, he contends that almost every organization has access to the best ideas and practices about technology, strategy, and many other topics because information is everywhere and easy to locate. However, what many organizations lack is organizational health.

Organizational health is about integrity—whole, consistent, and complete. An organization is healthy “when its management, operations, strategy, and culture fit together and make sense” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 5).

Healthy organizations have the following qualities:

  • Minimal Politics
  • Minimal Confusion
  • High Morale
  • High Productivity
  • Low Turnover

What “The Advantage” is, is a call to action and a blueprint about how to go from an unhealthy to healthy organization. It’s simple and practical, and it won me over. The real-world examples and true client stories were particularly compelling because they reinforced the concepts and brought them to life.

Lencioni offered his “Organizational Health Model” which consisted of four disciplines: (1) Build a Cohesive Leadership Team; (2) Create Clarity; (3) Over-Communicate Clarity; and (4) Reinforce Clarity.

In addition to the emphasis on creating and maintaining a cohesive team, Lencioni contends that there are six critical questions that a leadership team must rally around and clearly answer. They include:

  • Why do we exist?
  • How do we behave?
  • What do we do?
  • How will we succeed?
  • What is most important, right now?
  • Who must do what?

“Most organizations are unhealthy precisely because they aren’t doing the basic things, which require discipline, persistence, and follow-through more than sophistication or intelligence” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 148).

By eliminating politics and confusion from an organization’s culture and environment, a healthy organization will almost always find a way to thrive and succeed because, without politics and confusion, it will tap into and use every ounce of “knowledge, experience, and intellectual capital that is available to [it]” (Lencioni, 2012, p. 11).

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the pastor of a medium-size church, or the president of a small volunteer group, Lencioni’s “The Advantage” is your road map to both the ins and outs of what healthy organizations do and the costly mistakes that unhealthy organizations make.


Lencioni, P. (2012). The advantage: Why organizational health trumps everything else in business. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Disclosure: Although I received Lencioni’s “The Advantage” as a complimentary gift, my review and recommendation were given as if I had purchased it.

A Positive Mindset and Happy Attitude Help You Succeed at Work

happiness is” by Melissa Deakin

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage” (2010) Shawn Achor asserts that happy employees can actually help improve an organization’s bottom line. Achor says we often think that if we work hard and become successful, then we’ll be happy. But, he argues (convincingly I might add) that the formula is backward. Instead of success first and happiness second, it should be happiness first, and then success.

In a related Harvard Business Review article, Achor (2012) cites a meta-analysis of 225 research studies that found happy employees have about 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and three times higher creativity! As he says in his book, “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy” (Achor, 2010, p. 21).

The best part is that we can all adopt a more positive way of thinking and a happier attitude. The human brain is amazing because it possesses something scientists call neuroplasticity, a big word meaning that our brains are malleable—capable of changing and adapting throughout our lifetime.

One great tip Achor offers in his book is a technique called “The Tetris Effect,” a way to train the mind to concentrate on the positives instead of the negatives in our daily life. He recommends this:

Write down THREE good things in your job and life that happened today (do this each day). This forces your mind to look back on your day for positives, potentials, and possibilities. These three things can be simple, small things—things that made you smile or laugh, things that brought a sense of accomplishment or hope, etc. It doesn’t have to be anything deep or profound, only specific.

While this exercise might seem silly, Achor (2010) cited a research study that found people who “wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups” (p. 101). That’s incredible!

The lesson is this: The better we become at scanning our world for good things to jot down, the more good things we’ll see, by habit. To help you stick to this exercise, pick the same time each day to do this.


Achor, S. (2012). Positive intelligence: Three ways individuals can cultivate their own sense of well-being and set themselves up to succeed. Harvard Business Review, 90(1/2), 100-102.

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Publishing Group.