Thinking About Downsizing? Read This First!

Topic: Wellness, Work Environment

Publication: Human Resource Management (JAN 2011)

Article: The effects of downsizing on labor productivity, the value of showing consideration for employees’ morale and welfare in high-performance work systems

Authors: R.D. Iverson, C.D. Zatzick

Reviewed By: Rebecca Eckart

Images As economic conditions weaken, downsizing has become an increased reality for many organizations. Typically aimed at decreasing operational costs, often downsizing has the unintended consequence of also lowering employee productivity and morale.

To harness costs and increase efficiency, an increasing number of organizations are adopting High -Performance Work Systems (HPWS).These are typically defined by multiple separate but interconnected human resource practices aimed at increasing employee commitment, skills, and productivity. Examples include such practices as selective hiring, information sharing, job design, employee participation, and HR planning. HPWS center on encouraging and motivating employees to use their enhanced skills and knowledge to increase individual productivity and thus aid in the accomplishment of organizational goals.

HPWS are often a significantly large resource and cost expense for organizations, leading researchers to investigate HPWS in the context of downsizing. Iverson and Zatzick (2011) report that organizations with HPWS have lower levels of productivity following downsizing, but this relationship is more pronounced for those that give little consideration to employees’ morale and well-being during the process.

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Go Ahead, Take That Vacation – It’s Good For You…and Your Company!

Topic: Burnout, Wellness, Work-Life Balance

Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (JAN 2011)

Article: How long do you benefit from vacation? A closer look at the fade-out of vacation effects

Authors: J. Kuhnel and S. Sonnentag

Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Images We all look forward to vacations and other extended breaks from our hectic work schedules, and fortunately, the case is building for the importance of these hiatuses from work.  Research suggests that because normal work demands drain our limited physical and mental resources, employees need sufficient time to recharge their batteries if they are to operate at full capacity on the job. 

Research by Kuhnel and Sonnentag (2011) shows that vacation time can positively impact employees’ psychological well-being when they return to the job.  In their study of German teachers, vacation time was favorably related to work engagement and burnout after returning to work.  In other words, after returning from vacation, teachers tended to report high levels of work engagement and low levels of burnout.  The benefits of vacation time, however, dropped off after about one month back on the job.

But why exactly do the benefits of vacations wear off over time?  The authors found that job demands (e.g., student behavior problems, time pressures in this particular study) counteract the positive benefits of vacation time over time.  Said another way, while vacations help us recharge our batteries, job demands begin to take their toll and drain our limited resources after some time back on the job.  However, the authors found that experiencing leisure time following vacation helps preserve the positive effects of vacation on employee well-being.

Results such as these highlight the importance of taking vacation time. 

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When Mental Detachment from Work is a Must

Topic: Stress, Wellness, Work-Life Balance

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (AUG 2010)

Article: Staying well and engaged when demands are high: The role of psychological detachment

Authors: S. Sonnentag, C. Binnewies, and E.J. Mojza

Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

 

Index When we’re faced with high job demands at work, stress and emotional burnout often lurk right around the corner.  Regardless of the potentially harmful effects of high job demands, they’re a reality for many of us.  But before we  throw up our  hands in surrender when work piles up,  there are buffers against the dreaded consequences of excessive job demands.  One such buffer is known as psychological detachment, which is a fancy term for “leaving work at work” and devoting mental resources to non-work-related things while not on the clock. 

In a recent study, Sonnentag et al. (2010) explored how psychological detachment helps employees stay healthy and engaged over time when job demands are high.  The findings suggest that employees who do not detach themselves from work during non-work times experience increased emotional burnout over time (one year later in the study).  High job demands also have detrimental effects on employees’ physical health and work engagement, but only for those who do not psychologically detach themselves from work.  For employees who do “leave work at work”, high job demands do NOT appear to lead to lower work engagement, increased physical health issues or increased burnout.  

Sonnentag et al.’s study reminds us that preoccupying ourselves with work during our off time (e.g., evenings, weekends, vacations) can lead to health issues and lower work engagement. 

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Heavy Workloads: Much More Than Just a Nuisance

Topic: Stress, Wellness, Work Environment

Publication: Personnel Psychology (Summer 2010)

Article: Psychological and physiological reactions to high workloads: Implications for well-being

Authors: R. Ilies, N. Dimotakis, and I.E. De Pater

Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Stress In a rather unique study by Ilies, Dimotakis and De Pater (2010), the authors found that heavy workloads can have negative psychological (distress) and physiological (blood pressure) effects that fluctuate depending on an employee’s daily workload.  The authors also investigated how daily changes in workload affect employees’ daily well-being when they get home from work.

Ilies et al. employed a sample of 64 technical, clerical and administrative employees at a large U.S. university. Employees were given PDAs and an apparatus to measure their blood pressure at several time points throughout the day for a period of two weeks.  On days in which employees reported having higher workloads, they also experienced higher levels of distress at work and had higher blood pressure readings.  Higher workloads were also associated with lower perceptions of well-being at the end of the work day.  The good news is that the unfavorable effects of workload tend to be much less dramatic for employees who perceive that they have more control over their work and employees who perceive that their organization values their contributions (i.e., perceived organizational support). 

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The Unemployment Blues may be More Serious than You Think!

Topic: UnemploymentWellness
Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior
ArticleUnemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses.
Author: K.I. Paul, K. Moser

Featured by: Benjamin Granger 

Unemployment Does unemployment CAUSE poor mental health?  After all, isn’t it possible that poor mental health can cause unemployment?  Seriously, what employer wants to hire a distressed, anxious, depressed employee with low self-esteem?

In an attempt to arrive at a firm conclusion about whether unemployment actually causes changes in mental health, Paul and Moser (2009) report on the results of two meta-analyses that included 237 cross-sectional studies as well as 87 longitudinal studies. In addition to their primary goal of uncovering the causal link between unemployment and mental health, the researchers also investigated a number of factors that might affect unemployment’s role in predicting mental health.

Overall, Paul and Moser’s results suggest that unemployement does indeed have a negative influence on mental health outcomes (e.g., symptoms of distress, anxiety, depression, self-esteem).  If this seems obvious, Paul and Moser also uncovered several factors that make some individuals more prone to poor mental health during unemployment.  For example, the negative effects of unemployment were greater for men than for women, greater for blue collar workers than white collar workers, and greater for the long-term unemployed than the short-term unemployed.

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The Researcher’s Advantage to Chilled-Out Survey Participants

TopicStressWellness
Publication: Journal of Organizational and Occupational Psychology 
ArticleToo stressed out to participate Examining the relation between stressors and survey response behavior.     
Blogger: LitDigger

Relax If you’re in the kind of work I’m in, your projects thrive off of survey response rates.  Yes, that is only one element to a successful organizational study, BUT CLEARLY response rates are a big deal to research! 

You probably have read some articles on how to boost your survey response rate (e.g., is handing out free candy or instilling guilt ACTUALLY effective to your cause?), but a recent article by Barr, Spitzmüller, and Stuebing (2008) takes a new perspective.  Instead of investigating the effectiveness of methods like initiating reciprocity or offering cash rewards, these researchers examined the impact of job stress on the likelihood that survey recipients would go ahead and complete the surveys.

There are many reasons why any given survey recipient may NOT complete a survey.  Some consciously choose not to respond (referred to in the study as “active non-respondents”) while others may instead get distracted by something else (maybe they’re in the middle of trying to make a quickly approaching deadline) and just so happen to not respond (the study refers to these people as “passive non-respondents”).  Note: look into Rogelberg, et al. (2003) for more information on the difference between “passive” and “active” non-respondents. 

What types of stress did they study?  Role stress.  The different role stressors they measured were role overload (having too much to do in too little time – yes, we can ALL relate to that), role conflict (having incompatible job demands, so it’s impossible to make everyone happy), and role ambiguity (not being entirely sure what is or isn’t your responsibility).

So, let’s get to it already: Is STRESS one reason why people may not respond to a survey?  Barr et al. conducted their 2008 study to find out.

As the researchers had anticipated, more overloaded respondents were less likely to respond to surveys (this showed for both active and passive non-respondents).  Not surprising.  The role conflict measure of stress did not show a significant relationship to unresponsive behavior. 

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Managing Grief in the Workplace

Topic: Emotional Intelligence, Wellness
Publication: Academy of Management 
Article:  Grief and the workplace. 
Blogger: Benjamin Granger

Sad man

To shed light on the issue of grief in the workplace, Mary Ann Hazen (2008) provided several suggestions for how managers and organizations can effectively respond to grieving employees.
  

Several suggestions provided by Hazen (2008) are presented below.

Managers can:

(1)  First, acknowledge that an employee is grieving (this seems simple, but it can have a major impact on the griever).

(2)  Make themselves available to listen to the griever if he/she needs to talk (this communicates compassion and caring and may lead to less strain on the part of the employee).

(3)  Recognize and make themselves aware of the common responses of grievers (e.g., understand how people typically respond as they move through stages of grief).

Organizations can:

(1)  Support and encourage the managerial behaviors listed above (managers cannot be effective without organizational support).

(2)  Provide opportunities for employees and managers to learn about the grieving process (provide courses, workshops, referrals and/or employee assistance programs).

(3)  And MOST IMPORTANTLY, recognize that although employee grief can hurt the organization as a whole (e.g., lost productivity), it’s not all just about dollars and cents!  Most successful organizations maintain “a sense of moral purpose, extra-organizational support, and excellent leadership” (p. 84), and this contributes to the emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of their employees.

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Doing what Simon Says Regarding Safety

Topic: Stress, Wellness, Work Environments
Publication: Journal of Business Ethics
Article
Ethical climates and workplace safety behaviors: an empirical investigation.
Blogger: LitDigger

Cmon you can trust me How do you know that you won’t trip on the telephone cord your coworker has stretched across the entryway of your cubicle?  You don’t (until the inevitable happens).  How do you know whether or not workplace safety behaviors are actually practiced in your organization?  A study by Parboteeah and Kapp (2008) says that the company’s ethical climate may provide some clues.

Although the link between safety and ethical climate hasn’t been examined to a great extent in previous literature, Parboteeah and Kapp found some evidence suggesting this link may exist.  The authors measured three different types of ethical climate: egoist (Edgar acts ethically because he knows it’s in his self-interest to do so), benevolent (Brittany acts ethically for the sake of the common good), and principled (Pete acts ethically because of the laws, rules, or professional codes surrounding him).

So which type of ethical climate did the authors find to be associated with workplace safety?  Of our three exemplified employees, we can aim our laser pointer on Pete.  Workplaces with stronger principled climates were more likely to have lower injury rates and higher safety-enhancing behaviors than workplaces with weaker principled climates.

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Oh give me a BREAK!

Topic: Emotional IntelligenceJob PerformanceWellness
Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Making the break count: An episodic examination of recovery activities, emotional experiences, and positive affect displays 
Blogger: LitDigger

Balance Do your customer service employees do work-like activities during their breaks or maybe even not take their breaks at all?  If you care about their ability to ‘put on the happy face’ for customers, then research by Trougakos, Beal, Green & Weiss (2008) says that breaks are important.  For those of you do-it-all-and-never-stop types out there, preparing for other work activities and running errands do not count as breaks.  Real breaks are activities that don’t take much effort, like socializing or relaxing.

The authors found that service employees who took real breaks during their work day were more likely to experience positive emotions, less likely to experience negative emotions, and – get this – more likely to display higher amounts of positive affect (e.g., smiling at customers).  Um, yeah, that’s customer service performance right there.

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Coffee Break, Anyone?

Topic: Wellness
Publication: Monitor on Psychology 
Article: Caffeine’s wake-up call.
Blogger: Larry Martinez

Coffee Break We all have that one person in the office who just can’t function properly until they’ve had their cup of coffee in the morning (maybe it’s you).  And who doesn’t get a boost out of a candy bar and soda around mid-afternoon?  A short article in the APA Monitor synthesized some of the most relevant research on America’s favorite and most widely accepted drug:  caffeine. 

Issue 1:  Is there a placebo effect for caffeine? 

Well, like almost any other psychological question, the answer is “it depends.”  Forty-five minutes after participants received caffeinated coffee but thought they were given decaf, they reported more physiological withdrawal symptoms than every other group in this classic placebo experimental design (got/didn’t get caffeine, thought they got caffeine/thought they got decaf)..…  That is, if they expected they would feel sluggish and tired, they reported that way.  However, after a couple of hours, the placebo effect wore off.  So, from a physiological point of view, placebo effects only work in the short term.  You can’t fool your body for long though; it’ll soon realize what’s up and respond accordingly. 

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