In the Wake of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Dallas: What to Do Next?

The nation’s heart is heavy after learning of two new deaths of black men killed by police officers. Alton Sterling was killed this past Tuesday after being shot point-blank while held stationary by four police officers and a video of the encounter has spread like wildfire. In the same week, Philando Castile was shot during a routine traffic stop where he reached to get his license; the movement was interpreted as reaching for a gun, and so he was killed.


While these incidents may not happen every day (136 black people have been killed this year so far), they represent the reality that black Americans are policed at a higher rate (2.5x more than white neighbourhoods), are arrested at a higher rate, have longer sentences, and are killed by police at a much higher rate. This is not confined to any part of America; it happens from coast to coast and reflects a theme for policing across the country.


Further deepening the debate over police force change was the incident in Dallas that took the lives of 5 police officers. The suspect targeted white police officers, and claims to have been influenced by the ideas of Black Lives Matter movement, but was not affiliated. The irony is that Dallas was one of the most progressive police departments against police brutality and had worked hard to combat it.


What happened in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and St Paul was tragic and shouldn’t have happened, both for the Black community and the police community. Now is a time to grieve. But we can also look forward and try and change what we have so that these incidents don’t occur in the future. This is where I/O psychologists can help; wherever there is a systematic change that needs to be made to a group’s culture, organizational psychology can do the trick.


  1. Change police recruitment, selection, and training.


Police recruitment has often relied on its image of “being tough” to attract candidates, and because of this, it may attract people who are more likely to use force as a first means of defence. Recruiters and hiring managers need to be aware of this, and testing could be used to identify areas for concern in discrimination. In order to cut costs, a situational judgement test may be an option (Ruggs et al., 2015) and be used to create a national standard for recruitment across the country.


Training should continue to emphasize alternate non-violent options for de-escalation. More importantly, the use of this training should be emphasized on the streets; champions can be assigned from the police force to encourage others to use their training. Higher level police officers also need to stand behind the changes and make sure that officers understand why the changes are being made (Balogun & Johnson, 2004; Maitlis, 2005; Ruggs, Martinez, & Hebl, 2011); communication is essential. Demonstrate and train law enforcement on a regular basis to make sure that skills are up to date.


Training to identify bias is also essential. Studies have shown that perceptions of crime are higher where there is a larger percentage of black men, regardless of the actual rate of crime in the area (Quillian & Pager, 2001). Other studies demonstrate that in a virtual simulation where the player has to decide whether the suspect is armed or not, police officers are more likely to shoot the suspect when he is black than white. However, there is hope; after multiple practice rounds, this bias was reduced (Plant and Peruche, 2005), indicating that training and awareness can decrease unnecessary shots at innocent black victims.


  1. Community policing should be a part of the job requirement.


Community policing is a style of policing where police work alongside community members to understand their needs and has been proven effective in increasing the sense that police are serving their communities instead of working against them (Greene, 2000). In this style of policing, officers interact with those they serve both when things are going well and when they need assistance. For example, in the UK there are dedicated members of every police force who go around to local businesses and homes and just check to see if things are ok. They aim to build relationships with people, and this solves two of the biggest problems with police in the United States: police being  viewed as separate from the rest of the population, and police being linked to negative events. Increased contact can break down the barriers of stereotypes, and encourage both police and the community to see each other as human beings with families, friends, struggles, and complexities. It also breaks down the perception that police are trying to find a way to punish members of the community if they see them in a peaceful context, and can also encourage cooperation to keep the community safe. It also helps police members to see that their community is not full of criminals or lawbreakers, but everyday people who are good.


  1. Communication is key throughout the changes to come.


The police officers who died in the Dallas shootings were killed despite the Dallas Police Department’s commitment to reducing the use of force and low record of violence. Police Departments should make an effort to let people know that they are trying to change and adjusting policies to protect their communities better.


Perhaps even more important than spreading awareness of changes is to let people voice their opinions about how policing should change. Hold town hall forums where people can talk about what may be good ways to decrease the use of force or to design training around implicit biases. Have a committee made up of a diverse group of subject matter experts to discuss potential changes. Hold an open house day to demonstrate how the police force is changing its approaches. Under no circumstance should changes be made behind closed doors; remember that the black community is a major stakeholder in any changes to come, and as such should be involved in the process.


  1. Improve support services for police officers.


Police officers go through a lot and find themselves in tense situations that the average citizen may never encounter. Therefore, specialty services need to be offered to help them handle the situations they face. While it may be common for police officers to have access to counselling or psychological assistance, other job-related policies should be enacted to protect them. A period of time off after life-threatening situations may allow officers to process and handle them. Management should be trained to understand mental illness, particularly PTSD, and refer subordinates to the proper assistance.


Assistance can be made in other small ways that may not cost a lot of money; proper scheduling so that officers switch difficult shifts like the night shift or special events may be necessary. Offering additional time off or making sure that officers use all their time off may be necessary as well.

This is not a comprehensive list, and different departments may have different needs to serve their community. Regardless, using an I/O psychologist to help develop changes may be the answer that police departments need to change their image, respect the communities they serve, and ultimately protect their citizens more effectively.


Balogun, J., & Johnson, G. (2004). Organizational restructuring and middle manager sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 47(4), 523–549. doi:10.2307/20159600

Greene, J. (2000). Community Policing in America: Changing the Nature, Structure, and Function of the Police. Policies, Process, and Decisions of the Criminal Justice System. 3, 299-370.

Maitlis, S. (2005). The social processes of organizational sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal, 48, 21– 49. doi:10.5465/AMJ.2005.15993111

Plant, E. A., & Peruche, B. M. (2005). The consequences of race for police officers’ responses to criminal suspects. Psychological Science, 16(3), 180-183. doi:10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.00800.x

Quillian, L., & Pager, D. (2001). Black neighbors, higher crime? The role of racial stereotypes in evaluations of neighborhood crime. American Journal of Sociology, 107(3), 717-767. doi:10.1086/338938

Ruggs, E. N., Martinez, L. R., & Hebl, M. R. (2011). How individuals and organizations can reduce interpersonal discrimination. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 5, 29-42. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00332.x

Ruggs, E. N., Hebl, M., Rabelo, V., Weaver, K., Kovacs, J., Kemp, A. (2015). Baltimore is burning: Can I/O psychologists help extinguish the flames? Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice.  


I Don’t Feel Like It: Emotion Regulation and Emotional Labor

Throughout my life, I have held many customer facing jobs. I’ve worked in retail and also with college students on the brink of major life choices, and as a result, I’ve seen some pretty nasty situations. Imparting a positive image to the product you’re selling, complimenting customers, dealing with shoplifters or angry customers, students in a existential crisis, and even coworkers at times can be critical aspects of the job, yet these are rarely ever included in any kind of job description.


These work tasks associated with emotion are known as emotional labor, which is formally defined as the act of displaying certain emotions to reach a certain work goal (Ashforth & Humphrey, 1993). It is prevalent in most (if not all) customer-facing and service roles, including retail workers, bill collectors, flight attendants, customer service representatives, nurses, and many other positions. The emotions desired for a role may not always be positive; for example, debt collectors are encouraged to act gruff in order to achieve results, while therapists or judges are encouraged to display neutral emotions. There are norms associated with many jobs, and these are learned either directly (through employee handbooks or training) or indirectly through observation of other employees in similar roles (Grandey, 2000).


A key aspect of emotional labor is emotion regulation, which is the process by which we control emotions both internally and how we display them. Emotion regulation is defined as “the processes by which individuals influence which emotions they have, when they have them, and how they experience and express these emotions” (Gross, 1998, p. 275). Emotional labor can be divided into two kinds: deep acting and surface acting. Deep acting is the process of controlling the emotions we actually feel, while surface acting is the act of displaying a certain emotion even if we don’t truly feel it. Deep acting involves reassessing the situation or framing it in a different manner in order to change how you feel about it; for example, flight attendants in a study were trained to think of customers as children in order to be less surprised by their childlike behavior, or employees thought about pleasant events or activities during stressful periods of work. Surface acting on the other hand is simply displaying the desired emotion, while still allowing the employee to feel how they want, even if that feeling could be detrimental (Grandey, 2000).


How can it impact my employees and performance?


Emotion regulation is supposed to affect a number of work outcomes, including burnout, customer service performance, and withdrawal behaviors. Those who feel more pressure to convey a certain emotion that they do not truly feel may have to work harder at hiding it, leading to burnout, while some emotion may still “leak”(Ekman & Freisen, 1975) , leading to an impact on customer service. More importantly, in stressful situations where employees cannot feel like they can regulate emotion, withdrawal behaviors may be prevalent. Instead of facing the situation, it may be more appropriate for the employee to avoid it instead (i.e. leave the shop floor) (Bailey, 1996). Additional levels of work strain, which may be caused by high levels of emotion regulation, could also cause serious and long-term well-being issues like alcoholism, depression, absenteeism, and more.


It should be noted that while these reactions to emotional dissonance (feeling a different emotion than you want to display) may seem drastic, this is something that happens on a fairly regular basis. Every employee who interacts with other people will likely experience situations where you need emotion regulation (Briner & Totterdell, 2002). For example, if you worked in a shop and a close family member was suffering from bad health, you would still be expected to provide top-notch customer service. If you are a judge and just got married, you would still have to remain emotionally distant instead of joyous in order to do your job. Emotional dissonance is not something that bad employees deal with, it’s something that all employees deal with.


What can I do about it?


Many of the factors that influence emotion regulation are individual, meaning that the likelihood of controlling them (outside of the selection process) is slim (Grandey, 2000). However, one of the ways that managers can impact emotion regulation and help their subordinates handle emotions better is through social support (Schneider & Bowen, 1985). Encourage employees to talk about what they are going through, and provide outlets for emotions particularly if they are strong. Creating a positive environment will also help to make emotional dissonance less likely; if employees are feeling great about their work, they won’t need to act to convince anyone. In addition, social support has been found to lessen overall stress (Goolsby, 1992; Pines & Aronson, 1988), which may have been caused by emotional labor and other work factors.


Another way to assist employees is by giving them more autonomy; by giving them to ability to control their situation themselves, they can find an approach that lets them regulate their emotions best (Wharton, 1993). It also allows them to deal with stress better, minimizing one of the key effects associated with emotion regulation. If they feel like they are trusted in their role, they will be more invested in their job and the company and be happier (Morris & Feldman, 1996).


In fact, reducing autonomy and demanding certain emotions from employees, even if positive, may come with unintended consequences. A lawsuit was once raised against a grocery store that required employees to always smile; employees were then subjected to high levels of sexual harassment (Grandey, 2000).


Emotional regulation and emotional regulation is a common component of many modern jobs. As long as we need to work with people, we will need these skills to handle our emotions and the emotions we want to show others. Knowledge and understanding of the prevalence and effective management of emotions will help managers improve performance and have happier workforces, so it’s important to recognize how emotions work and how to step in (or give employees the space to deal with situations in the right way).


Works Cited:

Ashforth, B. E., & Humphrey, R. H. (1993). Emotional labor in service roles: The influence of identity. Academy of Management Review, 18(1), 88-115.

Bailey, J. J. (1996, April). Service agents, emotional labor, and costs to overall customer service. Poster presented at the llth Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, San Diego, CA.

Briner, R. B. & Totterdell, P. (2002). „The experience, expression and management of emotion at work‟. In P. Warr (ed.), Psychology at Work (5th ed.), 229-252. London: Penguin Books.

Ekman, P., & Friesen, W. V. (1975). Unmasking the face. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Goolsby, J. R. (1992). A theory of role stress in boundary spanning positions of marketing organizations. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 20(2), 155-164.

Grandey, A. A. (2000). Emotional regulation in the workplace: A new way to conceptualize emotional labor. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology,5(1), 95-110.

Gross, J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2(3), 271-299.

Morris, J. A., & Feldman, D. C. (1996). The dimensions, antecedents, and consequences of emotional labor. Academy of Management Review, 21(4), 986-1010.

Pines, A., & Aronson, E. (1988). Career burnout: Causes and cures. New York: Free Press

Schneider, B., & Bowen, D. E. (1985). Employee and customer perceptions of service in banks: Replication and extension. Journal of Applied Psychology, 70, 423433

Wharton, A. S. (1993). The affective consequences of service work: Managing emotions on the job. Work and Occupations, 20(2), 205-232


Understanding Millennials

“…Members of the labor force are thought to be less willing than previously to accept the Protestant Ethic and the necessity of work. In particular, attention has focused on younger workers, who are thought to hold work value systems significantly different from their elders (e.g. Jenkins, 1973) and to not respond to motivational techniques employed successfully with older workers.”

 -Taylor & Thompson, 1976


One of the most common questions I’m asked by people older than me is about millennials: how do we deal with them? Why are they lazy/ungrateful/entitled? As always, I don’t think the answer is simple. However, I do believe I can shed some light on the issue both from my experience being a millennial (and more importantly) through research that explores generational differences.

Before we begin though, lets have a though exercise. Imagine what it was like when you were in your twenties, when life was brand new, you were doing things for the first time, and you often made mistakes. You thought you knew everything, and were frequently proven wrong. You didn’t have as many responsibilities as you do now perhaps (family, mortgage, etc.) but you probably did realize that you did need to plan for the future, especially since you learned that the world often hit you like wrecking ball when you least expected it. Despite all this, you had high hopes for what life held for you, and you wanted to change the world and make it better or thought success would be waiting for you soon.

Were you very different from a stereotypical millennial? If we’re being honest, probably not. The thing isn’t that millennials are significantly more spoiled or bright-eyed and bushy tailed than you are, it’s that pretty much all twenty year olds are that way. The world is new, you’re figuring out how your life fits into it, and you have to quickly learn (often in very unpleasant ways) that a degree does not guarantee you your ideal life.

These core characteristics pop up all the time in discussions about millennials, but they don’t necessarily mean that it’s a characteristic of millennials as a generation but rather an age. The quote at the beginning of this post is from 1976, but echoes many of the same concerns that people have about younger workers today. The irony is that the generation that the 1976 article focused on (Baby Boomers) is the same generation bringing up questions about millennials today; how quickly we forget what it was like to be new to the workforce.


Unique traits

While most of these issues are due to age and not their generation, are there actually any characteristics that are unique to millennials? Cross sectional data shows a few differences, but keep in mind that this data can only show current differences between younger and older workers; younger workers may change their ideals as they get older (and we can’t test those attitudes yet, unfortunately. I’m still waiting on my time machine.).

Work/Life Balance

Millennials do tend to put an emphasis on work/life balance, especially given that they have seen their parents burn themselves out and still be subject to layoffs (Loughlin & Barling, 2001). In addition, they have a higher level of education than their parents on average, and therefore tend to negotiate how they want to work (McDonald & Hite, 2008), and this is understandable.


It is true that Millennials may desire to be promoted fairly quickly (on average roughly 18 months after starting their first job) although this varies according to a number of factors. Expectations are lowered with increasing years of education, and women often do not expect to be promoted as quickly as men do Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyon, 2010).

Meaningful Work Experiences

Millennials seek work that is stimulating and rewarding; menial tasks will fail to attract many of them (Corporate Leadership Council, 2005). Corporate responsibility is also becoming an increasingly important factor in where millennials look for work, and social responsibility reputation has become a predictor of millennial job applications (Greening & Turban, 2000); however, it is ranked as far less important that job aspects such as development, pay, opportunities for advancement, and many others (Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyon, 2010).

Nurturing and Collaborative Work Environment

But Millennials don’t desire just to work on tough assignments; they want to be able to do them well and continue to grow as an employee. They value social collaboration, and they work well in teams (Corporate Leadership Council, 2005) . Their relationship with their boss is also crucial in their work satisfaction (Corporate Leadership Council, 2004).


On the whole, these requests don’t center on having water slides at work or being able to bring your dog in; these are requests that have been desired by employees at all stages, perhaps aside from promotion expectations (although younger workers tend to be promoted faster and more often anyways).



Another important difference (probably the most important) is the millennial generation’s diversity; this is one of the most diverse generations in terms of racial, ethnic, and socio-cultural backgrounds (US Census Bureau, 2014). This is yet another reason why the label of millennial has sold them short; every single member of the generation has had different experiences. The background of a son or daughter of immigrants will be vastly different from that of millennials who grew up middle-class in the suburbs, which will be vastly different from men or women who grew up in the inner city. Rising inequality has also created vastly different experiences, even though the typical Millennial is envisioned as a white young man or woman with an upper-middle class background. This is a fantastic chance for companies to hire more diverse workforces, and also to reconsider the success of diversity initiatives; a few employees of minority status will no longer be enough, especially since the number of minorities is nearly 38% of the population (US Census Bureau, 2014).


One Major Implication of Stereotyping Millenials: Training

In closing, I want to bring attention to a tragic trend among millennial workers: less training that is offered to them. A common explanation for offering less training in the workplace for entry-level workers and millenials is that “they’ll just leave and we’ll lose our investment.” In turn, this can begin a nasty cycle (employee joins, isn’t invested in and moves to another company where they be trained, meanwhile company blames it on them “being a millennial” and doesn’t realize that it may be because the company wasn’t fostering the skills they needed to perform the job well, even if they had talent.) The reality is that 50% of millennials desire to be with the same company for their whole life (Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyons, 2010). In addition, training is one of the key forms of increasing engagement and creating a loyal workforce; it is a time-tested method for showing employees that they are valued and that the company sees a place for them in the future.

Training is essential, especially in entry-level positions where workers have little job experience (even internships are often unhelpful at teaching hard job skills). Millennials will be moving up the ranks; it is absolutely critical not to skimp on training because you think it will go elsewhere. There are many (actually most) millennial workers who would more than gladly stay at a place where their skills are fostered and they grow to be a better and more productive employee. In fact, in a recent study, millennials said that training was their top desire in the workplace (Ng, Schweitzer, & Lyons, 2010). Just think of all the excellent talent you could attract with the promise of training and development throughout their career at your workplace!

In addition, proper training is absolutely necessary once the baby boomer generation retires; the younger generations need to be confident enough in their skills to move up the ranks and increase productivity enough to support the largest aging population that we’ve seen in the United States. Preparing them now is a step in the right direction.


This isn’t a comprehensive post; there have been books upon books (some good, some not so good) based on Millennials and how they are similar or different from previous generations. As a guideline, focus on ones that are research based and don’t jump to wild generalizations.

And lastly, be encouraged that the negative traits that millennials get pinned with are most likely temporary. Support them, guide them, and realize that there are fantastic millennials that don’t have those negative traits. Know that this is the most diverse generation that has entered the workforce so far; every single one of them is different, and sweeping generalizations will sell them short. They are not a lost cause, and have wonderful innovations, perspectives, and energy to create a better world for tomorrow.



Works Cited

Corporate Leadership Council. (2004). Generation X and Y employees.Washington, DC: Corporate Executive Board.

Corporate Leadership Council. (2005). HR considerations for engaging Generation Y employees. Washington, DC: Corporate Executive Board.

Greening, D. W., & Turban, D. W. (2000). Corporate social performance as a competitive advantage in attracting a quality workforce. Business and Society, 39, 254–280.

Loughlin, C., & Barling, J. (2001). Young workers’ work values, attitudes, and behaviors. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 74, 543–558.

McDonald, K. S., & Hite, L. M. (2008). The next generation of career success: Implications for HRD. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10, 86–103.

Ng, E. S., Schweitzer, L., & Lyons, S. T. (2010). New Generation, Great Expectations: A Field Study of the Millennial Generation. J Bus Psychol Journal of Business and Psychology, 25(2), 281-292. doi:10.1007/s10869-010-9159-4

Taylor, R. N., & Thompson, M. (1976). Work Value Systems of Young Workers. Academy of Management Journal, 19(4), 522-536. doi:10.2307/255788

Differences and Similarities: Culture’s Role in the Workplace


In an increasingly global business society, one thing becomes very clear; you’re going to have to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds than yourself. Some of you are probably very excited about this (I know that many of the people I know love traveling and frequently fantasize about taking the next plane out). But while some may love the idea of being the only person from their country in the room, others may hate it and for good reason; it can be understandably uncomfortable to feel like you have little in common with people, and the fear of making a cultural misstep can be paralyzing. Even if you’re excited about going to other countries and interacting with foreigners, being in a completely new place where everything is new can be intimidating.


I’ve been reading Hofstede’s book on cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 1991), and while it’s not a perfect substitute for experience, it may be able to shed some light on broad cultural differences and similarities. He organizes cultures onto six dimensions:


  • Power Distance Index (PDI)
    • How is power distributed? Are specific cultures organized hierarchically, or does it strive to equalize power among all its members?
    • Examples:
      • Low PDI: Australia
      • High PDI: Russia
  • Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV)
    • Are people expected to only take care of themselves and immediate family members, or are they expected to view themselves as part of broader network?
    • Examples:
      • Low IDV: Taiwan
      • High IDV: United Kingdom
  • Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS)
    • Is the culture tough or tender? Does it value competitiveness, achievement, or material rewards over cooperation, quality of life, and modesty?
    • Examples:
      • Low MAS: Norway
      • High MAS: Mexico
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI)
    • Does the culture try to control the future through rigid practices or allow what happens to happen (que sera sera)?
    • Examples:
      • Low UAI: Hong Kong
      • High UAI: Brazil
  • Long-Term Pragmatic Orientation vs. Short-Term Normative Orientation (LTO)
    • Do cultures value innovative ideas and restrictive plans that look towards the future, or do they value traditions and norms over change?
    • Examples:
      • Low LTO: Egypt
      • High LTO: China
  • Indulgence vs. Restraint (IND)
    • Do they value “letting loose” and enjoying life, or do they value constraint and thinking before doing?
    • Examples:
      • Low IND: Vietnam
      • High IND: United States


Hofstede’s study to find these dimensions was one of the largest of its kind focusing on culture; it is widely cited and used by many to understand different cultures and how that may impact interactions in the workplace. If you ever find the book, reading it will be eye-opening; some cultural stereotypes are often shattered. This goes to show that stereotypes can often be misfounded and based on information that is often inaccurate.


Hofstede makes the point that it’s no longer good enough to assume that certain countries are “Western” while some are “Eastern” and assume the qualities associated with those stereotypes. Countries have different cultural expectations, and need to be approached differently (Hofstede, 1984).


These dimensions can be helpful in guiding key plans: for example, if an initiative to increase performance has a very top-down approach with lots of emphasis on authority, that may become a challenge for companies in countries that tend to have low power distance.


While it is descriptive, use of Hofstede’s work should be taken cautiously; these dimensions (by their very nature) are broad and somewhat unspecific. They will not predict specifically what someone from a particular culture will do next, and individuals frequently act differently than cultural norms. Hofstede’s work also did not look at every country in the world. These dimensions are probably more useful in constructing broad guidelines for company policy or to prepare yourself for responses you may encounter in certain settings, but once you are more familiar with the organization you will probably be more acquainted with how to approach things.

For more information, Hofstede’s book “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind” is recommended.



Hofstede, G. (1984). Cultural dimensions in management and planning. Asia Pacific J Manage Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 1(2), 81-99.


Hofstede, G. H. (1991). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind. London: McGraw-Hill.

LMX: Not an Airport, But a Leadership Theory

The biggest questions that managers can ask are about their relationships with their employees. How do you establish a connection with them that encourages collaboration, teamwork, and challenges them to do their best?

It is for this reason that LMX theory is so popular. LMX stands for Leader-Member Exchange and describes the dyadic (pair) relationship between leaders and their subordinates. It’s mostly focused on the interpersonal aspect of relationships, and encompasses the relationship outside of the workplace as well (because a great boss doesn’t just ignore you outside of the workplace) Instead of just focusing on the obligations required in the employment contract, good LMX relationships are more social in nature (Dulebohn et al., 2012), and there is an increased affective attachment between leaders and followers (Ferris et al., 2009; Maslyn & Uhl-Bien, 2001).

It’s no surprise that most of the effects of LMX are attributed to the leader instead of the follower, especially given the fact that they usually initiate and set the stage for many of the interactions that the pair go through (Dienesch & Liden, 1986; Liden et al., 1997). For this reason, I’ve focused on the leader factors that are closely related to positive and influential LMX in this post. While not the only factors that explain how LMX works and how it can be increased, these are the ones that are most likely to be useful.


Expectations of Followers

Pairs that have high LMX usually have clear expectations; leaders that expect much of their employees show that they trust them and know that they are qualified for the job. They treat them as if they are fully competent and know what they are doing, and challenge them to grow and expand their skill set. The more trust and confidence that leaders have in their followers, the more likely they are to dedicate time and resources to them that help them succeed, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy (McNatt & Judge, 2004, Wayne, Shore, & Liden, 1997).


Contingent Reward Behavior 

Leaders who create high LMX reward positive behavior often, quickly, and fairly. Consistent and frequent rewards systems should not only be thought of as forms of motivation but also serve as ways to clarify what is expected of employees and may be closely tied to the previous category of expectations. I should note that great contingent reward behavior doesn’t necessarily mean that rewards come through bonuses and performance evaluations; rewards may be as simple as a passing comment as feedback for a job well done (Cawley, Keeping, & Levy, 1998). This must be done consistently and fairly, if hard work deserving of recognition is routinely missed or given only to particular employees who may have a closer relationship with the supervisor, then this may be demoralizing and start to decay trust, respect, and mutual obligation which are all linked to high quality LMX (Brower, Lester, Korsgaard, & Dineen, 2009; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995).


Transformational Leadership

First, let’s define a transformational leader: it is where “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher level of morale and motivation” (Burns, 1978). A transformational leader is not one that treats interactions with subordinates as a give-and-take relationship (you do what needs to be done, I give you rewards, recognition, benefits, etc) but is characterized as an example of what needs to be done (Kuhnert & Lewis, 1987). Instead of trying to simply assign work, the transformational leader leads by doing the job well and often works alongside employees to accomplish a task. A transformational leader also challenges employees and supports them as they strive to set and achieve their goals.

It may also be helpful to note that working alongside employees, setting goals, and supporting them directly also gives more opportunities to interact with them and have a better understanding of their daily successes and challenges, which may also help even further and strip away an “us vs. them” mentality that may occur in a more traditional manager/employee setting.



Extraversion (or attempting to be more interactive with employees, if you wouldn’t describe yourself as a natural extrovert) is very helpful in developing conductive and productive relationships with employees; efforts to reach out to employees on a regular basis is a natural part of developing bonds with them and pushing them towards goals. Those who tend to be more extraverted also tend to be in leadership positions and be perceived as more effective in leadership positions (Bono & Judge, 2004).



Agreeableness is also important and goes along with the theme of interaction between leader and member. If employees don’t feel that they can bring up issues or be frank and open, then the amount of interaction and understanding goes down. Support, camaraderie, and challenge are important aspects of LMX; low levels of agreeableness can decrease all of these whereas high levels can increase them (Hogan & Holland, 2003; LePine & Dyne, 2001).


Benefits of high LMX

The benefits of high LMX include both perceptual and behavioral outcomes: LMX changes both how people view their work/leaders and how they behave at work. Some of the benefits include less turnover, better job performance, increased commitment to the organization, increased job satisfaction, satisfaction with pay, reduces role ambiguity, and more (Dulebohn, et al., 2012). It is clearly demonstrated as something that helps the organization as a whole and fixes a multitude of common problems that many organizations face.


 LMX Model


Challenges to LMX theory


However, no theory is perfect, and LMX is no exception. Critics draw attention to its focus on dyadic relationships (Dulebohn et al., 2012); it must be noted that LMX is not the only thing that can affect turnover intentions or organizational commitment. In addition, not every leader can have extensive contact with their employees; sometimes the nature of some jobs (telework, jobs that require travel, etc.) prohibits leaders from having contact on a regular basis.

Despite this, most traditional jobs still require interaction with a boss; LMX demonstrates that making an effort to have higher quality relationships with employees and leaders will make a big difference.




Works Cited:

Bono, J. E., & Judge, T. A. 2004. Personality and transformational and transactional leadership: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89: 901-910.

Brower, H. H., Lester, S. W., Korsgaard, M. A., & Dineen, B. R. 2009. A closer look at trust between managers and subordinates: Understanding the effects of both trusting and being trusted on subordinate outcomes. Journal of Management, 35: 327-347.

Burns, J.M, (1978), Leadership, N.Y, Harper and Row.

Cawley, B. D., Keeping, L. M., & Levy, P. E. (1998). Participation in the performance appraisal process and employee reactions: A meta-analytic review of field investigations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83, 615-633.

Dienesch, R. M., & Liden, R. C. 1986. Leader-member exchange model of leadership: A critique and further development. Academy of Management Review, 11: 618-634.

Dulebohn, J. H., Bommer, W. H., Liden, R. C., Brouer, R. L., & Ferris, G. R. (2012). A meta-analysis of antecedents and consequences of leader-member exchange: Integrating the past with an eye toward the future. Journal of management, 38(6), 1715-1759. doi:10.1177/0149206311415280

Ferris, G. R., Liden, R. C., Munyon, T. P., Summers, J. K., Basik, K. J., & Buckley, M. R. 2009. Relationships at work: Toward a multidimensional conceptualization of dyadic work relationships. Journal of Management, 35: 1379-140.

Graen, G. B., & Uhl-Bien, M. 1995. Relationship-based approach to leadership: Development of leader-member exchange (LMX) theory of leadership over 25 years: Applying a multi-level multi-domain perspective. Leadership Quarterly, 6: 219-247.

Hogan, J., & Holland, B. 2003. Using theory to evaluate personality and job-performance relations: A socioanalytic perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88: 100-112.

Kuhnert, K. W., & Lewis, P. 1987. Transactional and transformational leadership: A constructive/developmental analysis. Academy of Management Review, 12: 648-657.

LePine, J. A., & Dyne, L. V. 2001. Voice and cooperative behavior as contrasting forms of contextual performance: Evidence of differential relationships with Big Five personality characteristics and cognitive ability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86: 326-336.

Liden, R. C., Sparrowe, R. T., & Wayne, S. J. 1997. Leader-member exchange theory: The past and potential for the future. In G. R. Ferris (Ed.), Research in personnel and human resources management (Vol. 15): 47-119. Greenwich, CT: JAI.

Maslyn, J. M., & Uhl-Bien, M. 2001. Leader-member exchange and its dimensions: Effects of self-effort and other’s effort on relationship quality. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86: 697-708.


Taking the Personal out of Personnel Selection


Personality has increasingly become an important part of who we consider ourselves to be. From the increasing popularity of the Myers-Briggs to the seemingly infinite number of quizzes on Buzzfeed, finding out more and more about who we really are and how that guides our interactions with other is becoming a common topic of conversation.


However, while personality may be very important, it may not be as important in the work environment, at least not at certain stages, and an emphasis on it (particularly when selecting new employees) could lead to less than desirable effects.


First of all, there is usually more of an emphasis on finding the candidate’s personality characteristics, and less of an emphasis on finding out which characteristics are actually needed for the role. Certain personality characteristics can be seen as closely linked with certain jobs (introversion for librarians, openness to experience with daredevils or adventurous jobs), but these are often rooted in stereotypes that are hard to prove. Maybe extroversion in salespeople is just the norm, rather than an ideal trait, and maybe agreeableness is more important in leadership positions than people anticipate. However, it’s often difficult to understand how personality is relevant to particular roles without a job analysis, which is often a skipped step in the recruitment and selection process or done haphazardly (without multiple interviews or specific structures) (CITE).


Without a proper job analysis or competency framework, those inside the company run the risk of selecting for traits that may seem relevant but aren’t, and while this can sometimes be to their advantage, sometimes it isn’t. If no proper job analysis or competency framework is available, candidates will be selected because of how similar they are to the people who already work there, not necessarily who should be there or who would necessarily be the best fit personality-wise. It is extremely important to note that this isn’t necessarily intentional; I’m sure that very few employers go around intentionally searching for clones of themselves; but generally we get along with people like us, and according to the ASA model (Attract, Select, and Retain) model we tend to attract, select, and keep people who have a lot in common with us (Schein, 1992; Schneider, 1987).



In addition, while people may have tendencies and core personality traits, these don’t necessarily dictate what a person can or will do in a specific situation. Social forces and specific situations can hold a tremendous amount of sway (Roberts & Caspi, 2001); in the famous Milgram experiments, a surprisingly large proportion of participants (who most likely had different personalities and backgrounds) chose to shock a fellow participant to the point where they believed that the participant was having a heart attack. They did this simply because someone who looked authoritative told them to do so (Milgram, 1963); but this applies to specific occupations as well. For example, war photographers have often been asked about the role that ethics plays in their job; are they required to intervene when their subjects’ lives are on the line, or should they let the atrocities happen so that the public knows what’s going on? In fact, a large-scale investigation called the Leveson inquiry was undertaken in the UK to examine the “culture, practice, and ethics of the press.” (Sabbagh, 2012). One American war photographer, Greg Marinovitch, eventually came to the conclusion that it was ok in some circumstances to let the suffering happen in order to document it:


“And what I stuck to was really, why does it matter if you intercede to save somebody or not? And I did, on many occasions, attempt and sometimes succeed and sometimes not. It’s a very strange thing. It varies from day to day with what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling and what the situation is. To intercede, to change the picture, is unethical. To intercede at the cost of doing your job as a journalist, I think that’s a personal choice you make. And I have no issue with people on the other side of that divide.” (Two War Photographers, 2011)


I’m sure both Milgram’s research participants and this reporter were nice people, but what they did would be considered unethical to many; while these are drastic examples, they demonstrate the power that authority and the nature of the role can play in decisions. Personality is definitely a factor and a predictor of general performance, but it should be stressed that it exists alongside other factors and these factors can also predict actions in a particular role. Therefore, especially considering its interaction with such aspects of a job as role expectations and social factors, it is difficult to say (especially in the selection process where little is known about the candidate and they may not have experience with the team or role yet) how their personality will interact with these factors.


This isn’t to say that personality/culture fit shouldn’t be a factor at all in performance and job fit, it just is to say that it is difficult to pin down outside of the job (Morgeson et al., 2007).


HOWEVER, personality can be a very helpful thing to look at later on once the applicant is established in the company. It is especially helpful in training and development, especially when the results of a personality assessment can be discussed with someone trained to give the assessment. While an assessment can categorize a person and give a list of behavioral tendencies, a consultation with a trained professional can allow the employee to see how those personality tendencies may manifest themselves in the workplace in greater detail. Since the employee has tangible experiences in the workplace at that point, they can concretely see how their personality would interact with their role and with their co-workers (Morgeson et al., 2007). They can also discuss ways to use strengths to their advantage and see where weaknesses lie and how to either overcome those or let someone else complement them.


In summary, personality is important, but people are not perfectly predictable: no assessment can describe our next move. While assessments can be a guide, they are not an accurate enough indicator of who or what will be a great employee because there are other factors that determine how people act in particular circumstances and roles. However, their use in training and development is important and can be a great tool to show employees where they can improve and where they currently excel.


Works Cited:

Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 371-378.

Morgeson, F. P., Campion, M. A., Dipboye, R. L., Hollenbeck, J. R., Murphy, K., & Schmitt, N. (2007). Reconsidering The Use Of Personality Tests In Personnel Selection Contexts. Personnel Psychology, 60(3), 683-729. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00089.x

Sabbagh, D. (n.d.). Leveson inquiry: The essential guide. (2012, November 28) The Guardian.

Roberts, B. & Caspi, A.. Personality development and the person-situation debate: It’s deja-vu all over again.

Schein, E. (1992). Organizational culture and leadership (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Schneider, B. (1987). The people make the place. Personnel Psychology, 40, 437– 453.

Two war photographers on their injuries, ethics [Radio series episode]. (2011, April 20). In Fresh Air. NPR.

How Prince Can Make Your Business Better

Prince may not necessarily be the most obvious place to start for a business or I/O psychology blog, but I think there are some important lessons that we can learn from him. One of the main ones is his approach to creativity, and how it can help your business come up with new and revolutionary ideas.


First of all, you may be thinking that I’m crazy and that creativity can’t be changed. Well, there’s actually a lot of research on creativity, and it can be fairly malleable at least in an organizational context (Rose & Hsin-Tai, 1984); the simplest definition of creativity in the business world is that it is the ability to bring new ideas to the table (idea generation), and this can be increased. The biggest issue isn’t so much creativity itself, but the process afterward that hinders innovation (Scott et al., 2004; Kabanoff and Bottger, 1991).


The biggest obstacle is the acceptance of ideas: sitting together in an office in a group meeting can sometimes be the worst thing to do. This is because when you sit with a group of people who may or may not be on the same page, they may have a tendency to shoot ideas down before they have a chance to get off the ground. In anticipation of this, often people will suppress their own ideas in order to favor the accepted ones. This has probably happened to you before; have you ever waited to hear what other people were suggesting in a group meeting before thinking up your own ideas?


So what can be done? The biggest thing you can do is to encourage everyone to at least put all options on the table before making a decision to move forward with one (or more) ideas. To see what such a creativity exercise may look like, here are the steps from a well-known and much tested one, the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process (CPSI, 1998).


  1. Identify goals
  2. Gather data
  3. Clarify the problem
  4. Generate ideas
  5. Select and refine solutions
  6. Plan for action


Note that generating ideas is only the 4th step, and ideas are only selected from these after they are put out there. Ideas are not shot down immediately after they are presented; they are analyzed and selected only after all have been put forth. Aside from the formal process itself, members must reserve opinions about the ideas for later and encourage others to come up with as many ideas as possible, even if they are ridiculous. Ideas can be refined and selected at stage 5, but the important thing is to value all ideas at stage 4.


So again, let us look to Prince as our example for the central message of this post: Prince didn’t care what other people thought of his ideas. In a lot of ways, he wasn’t necessarily creative because he thought of new things, he was innovative because he did them even when conventional wisdom advised not to. For example, he was very prolific with his work, and at his prime released nearly an album a year. He convinced a film studio to produce his film Purple Rain even though he was a fairly new artist; that film went on to popularize many of his songs and win an Academy Award for the score. When he used a symbol as his name (there have been many cultures in fact who have done this before), he was innovative because he carried through with it. His costumes and performance style carried influences from varied sources; he was creative because he put them all together and went with it instead of following the norm. Maybe not all that he produced was fantastic or well-received, but by producing so much of it and championing his own ideas, he could produce a lot that was. His life goes to show that while there is a place for the way things have been done, if you want fresh ideas you should be let them breathe before they are narrowed down.


Hopefully, this helps you encourage creativity in your workplace no matter what kind of workplace it is. New ideas are necessary for any industry and organization, and with this knowledge of how creativity works and can be encouraged, some new ideas will help your business grow and stay competitive.



Works Cited:

Kabanoff, B., & Bottger, P. (1991). Effectiveness of creativity training and its relation to     selected personality factors. Journal of Organizational Behavior J. Organiz. Behav., 12(3), 235-248. doi:10.1002/job.4030120306

Parnes, S. J. (1977). CPSI: The General System*. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 11(1), 1-11. doi:10.1002/j.2162-6057.1977.tb00582.x

Rose, L. H., & Lin, H. (1984). A Meta-Analysis of Long-Term Creativity Training Programs. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 18(1), 11-22. doi:10.1002/j.2162-6057.1984.tb00985.x

Scott, G., Leritz, L. E., & Mumford, M. D. (2004). The effectiveness of creativity training: A quantitative review. Creativity Research Journal, 16(4), 361-388. doi:10.1080/10400410409534549

Consider the Exam: In Support of Ability Testing in Selection


If you were administering performance evaluations, would you use let the employees write descriptions of their work and how they’re so great at it? Would you evaluate them without looking at the work they’ve produced or comparing them to their peers?

Unfortunately, something similar happens when we hire candidates based simply off of resumes, cover letters, and interviews…all of which are more high-stakes than a performance evaluation. All of these methods are self-report and don’t provide a direct link to actual work performance; they rely on a candidate’s ability to present themselves in a way that places them in the best light. While this may be a necessary skill in some jobs, it certainly isn’t the primary task in most, so a different way of approaching selection is often necessary. One of the best ways is through testing.

It is true that exams and testing are much maligned, and testing anxiety can run high. Assessments can also be expensive, considering that they sometimes require a certified proctor and the test itself costs money. However, with proper preparation and the use of testing as a tool alongside traditional selection techniques, testing and assessments can be a fantastic way to pick the best candidates and help solve some of the most common selection problems, giving you the most bang for your buck. Here are just a few of those issues that ability testing can solve:


1) It avoids illegal bias.

First of all, let’s start with this: all selection processes involve bias of some sort. You want to pick the best candidates, which means you are inherently biased towards better work performance, more education, and whatever other relevant criteria you choose. Aside from that, however, you are legally obligated to avoid unnecessary types of bias: bias based on race, creed, sexual orientation, and other categories that are protected (and rightly so) through equal employment laws.

Every selection method introduces some amount of unnecessary bias: however, ability testing involves the least by far (Murphy & Davidshofer, 1988). Because you only see candidates’ performance and skills, it’s much harder to judge based on appearance or extraneous background information. The recruiter/hiring manager doesn’t see a LinkedIn photo or whether the candidate went to an Ivy League school; they just see the candidate’s performance, which is ultimately what the organization wants.


2) Employees can be accurately compared with their peers.

When looking at resumes, interviews, or cover letters, it’s difficult to know whether all the skills that are necessary for the role have been assessed in exactly the same way. What if you get sidetracked during the interview and can’t ask all the questions you planned on? What if the candidate gets along well with an interviewer, but that takes emphasis away from job-related questions? What if the candidate is entry level and doesn’t have much concrete experience to list in his or her resume, but could still do an amazing job? A great way to accurately compare all of these candidates in a fair manner is to give them the same assessment that measures key job skills for the position. In addition, most ability tests can compare an applicant’s score to a norm group, which is a large group of other people in the same industry/experience level/region who have taken the assessment. This can give valuable information not only about how the candidate compares to other candidates, but to a larger pool of people in the industry.


3) Less emphasis on “clicking” with a candidate, more emphasis on skills.

As much as we think personality has something to do with job performance, it doesn’t in a lot of cases. While there are some exceptions, most jobs don’t necessarily require that the employee be extroverted or introverted, and hiring based on such traits could be detrimental for the organization in the long run by creating a homogenous culture with little new ideas or approaches. In addition, some candidates may not be as comfortable interviewing; fear can debilitate candidates during an interview and cause them to lose a job that they’d otherwise be perfect for (McCarthy & Goffin, 2004). A proven metric, like an assessment, could demonstrate that they can in fact be successful and prove that they have the skills necessary for the job even if their interview performance is lacking.


4) Hidden gems may be more apparent.

Maybe someone doesn’t have a degree in the preferred field but could still add something to a team that is invaluable; while recruiting software may not pick up on their qualifications, an assessment would. In addition, in fields such as foreign service where essential skills are required but a wide range of experiences and backgrounds are necessary, an exam can test for core skills like inquisitiveness and general knowledge.

In short, assessments give everyone an equal chance regardless of whether they put the right keywords in the application.


5) Most accurate selection method.

Intelligence and ability are the highest predictors of job performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 2004): much higher than resumes, cover letters, or even a structured interview. This makes sense when you think about it; the more someone can demonstrate or acquire a skill, the better they will perform on the job. These assessments also suggest flexible thinking and creative approaches to problems, which are also incredible skills to have in any career.


6) Tailored assessments for most occupations.

The best part about assessments is that you can find them for a wide variety of tasks and occupations, and even if you don’t find one specific for the job that you’re hiring for, one can usually be developed. Usually you pick a few that encompass the skills needed for the position; for example, an analyst would require one that measures basic math and statistics while a customer service representative might need a typing and customer service test. These assessments are tailor made for these specific skills.



In short, testing and assessments can solve many problems that hiring managers run into. They can be especially important for entry-level jobs where past work experience or work samples are few and far between, but candidates would still have a lot of potential. Most importantly, it is the single most accurate measure of job performance; in conjunction with other valid selection measures, it can allow you to have high confidence in the candidates you choose to work with.


Works Cited:


Mccarthy, J., & Goffin, R. (2004). Measuring Job Interview Anxiety: Beyond Weak Knees and Sweaty Palms. Personnel Psychology, 57(3), 607-637. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2004.00002.x

Murphy, K., & Davidshofer, C. (1988). Psychological testing: Principles and applications. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Schmidt, F., & Hunter, J. (2004). General Mental Ability in the World of Work: Occupational Attainment and Job Performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 86(1), 162-173. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.86.1.162

Team Huddle: Research on Teams may not be What it Seems


I’m going to let you in on a little secret: research into how teams work is not clear-cut. It seems simple on the surface, you just need to to send out a few surveys or observe a team for awhile to get a feel of how they work. But not every team works in a similar way, and team dynamics are notoriously difficult to ascertain. A simple survey may appear to be the answer, but even then it only measures a team at a certain moment in time (provided that team members have completed the survey at the same time).

While this post may not provide clear advice, hopefully it will allow a better framework for understanding teams a bit better.

First of all, let’s talk about team composition: what are some of the key traits of  the people who make up the team? Moreland and Levine (1992) categorized team composition according to 1)characteristics, 2)distribution, and 3)context/consequence.

  1. Characteristics
    1. Size (How big is the team?)
    2. Demographics (What backgrounds do its members have?)
    3. Abilities and Skills (What experiences do they bring to the table? Are the alike or different? How can they develop or share them?)
    4. Personalities (Think outside the box of introverted/extroverted. Are they work-oriented? Out-of-the box thinkers? Rule-following? How might this affect dynamics? Caution: How personalities interact is not well understood, so decisions about who to place on what team should not be based on personality by any means.
  2. Distribution (is the team more alike or different?)
    1. Central Tendency (Is the team more alike, with only a few members with different qualities?)
    2. Special Configurations (Was the team created with diversity of backgrounds, or was it created to have like-minded members? Sub-groups to address facets of the issue or project at hand?)
  3. Team Composition: Context or Consequence?
    1. Consequence of social/psychological processes OR
    2. Cause that influences structure, dynamics, and/or performance (This is a more conceptual problem: does the team create the way it works, or is the way it works create the team? Chicken or the egg problem.)

While this is helpful, we are still left with little description of how the team actually functions. A team of 5 people may function in a completely different way when working on a work project than when completing an outdoor obstacle course; this needs to be taken into consideration and lends even more complexity.  Kozlowski et al. (1999) suggests five categories for describing the actual work that a team does: (1) task, (2) goals, (3) roles, (4) process emphasis, and (5) performance demands.

  1. Task (What is the team doing?)
  2. Goals (What do they want to accomplish? Do they even have goals?)
  3. Roles (What functions do each of the members have?)
  4. Process Emphasis (How do the work? Primarily alone with intermittent meetings? Together all the time? Telework with no physical meetings whatsoever?)
  5. Performance Demands (Is the a tight time constraint? Is there more emphasis on taking their time for quality? Does it have to be done well or does it just have to be done?)

As you can probably see, this makes studying teams very difficult for researchers. All of these categories apply to every team, and every category may change the team in a fundamental way. No longer does the forming, storming, norming and performing model work completely anymore, and that may be for good reason. Teams are complex, and more research is needed on the issue as no team is exactly alike.

All of this leads to an even bigger question: are teams always better than individuals? Classic psychology research suggests that groups of people may hold too much sway over people’s ideas and encourage conformity (Solomon Asch’s line experiment being a prime example). However, given that teams play such a big role in work today, we need to understand how they work better. Hopefully these categories will help to identify the specific challenges and setbacks that teams may face.

Info from:

Kozlowski, S. W. J., & Bell, B. S. (2003). Work groups and teams in organizations. In W. C.              Borman, D. R. Ilgen, & R. J. Klimoski (Eds.), Handbook of psychology (Vol. 12):                          Industrial and Organizational Psychology (pp. 333-375). New York: Wiley.


Co-rumination: No, it Has Nothing to do With Cows


Today, I’ll be talking about a topics near and dear to my heart: the potentially reckless discussion between co-workers about issues that bother them. Ahhhh…sweetness.

Co-rumination is the repetitive and problem-focused discussion between friends, which happens all the time. How often have you been in a tough situation at work and relied on a co-worker to listen to your woes? What was their reaction? Did they sit and listen to you for 3 hours, or did they tell you to go on your way?


Amanda Rose came up with the concept of co-rumination early in the 2000’s in her research on adolescents (Rose, 2002). She was finding that social support (the general support you get from friends and family) had mixed reactions for depressive symptoms. While it helped some teenagers, it hindered others; she discovered that social support was too broad a category to talk about. It included too many variables and facets to really describe what was going on between a teenager and his/her social circle. Rather than measure broad swaths of social interactions between people, co-rumination serves as a more specific facet: discussion between people which is problem focused and repetitive. Whenever you come to a friend with a problem and want to discuss it, you’re most likely co-ruminating. It certainly feels cathartic, but does it really help?


From a managerial perspective, is co-rumination bad or good?

As a manager, co-rumination may pose even more problems. There are many jobs that inherently ask difficult things from their employees. Many jobs ask their employees to work long hours, or interact with customers with a smile on their face even if their dog has passed away.


If the issues your employees discuss stem from your management or their role, you probably want to help them best cope with the issue or change it in some way to minimize negative effects. Co-rumination, if it helps, may be a low-cost solution to help them do such. If it doesn’t, then it can be harmful to their ability to fulfill their duties and could negatively affect other employees who may not have been affected otherwise.

people talking

What can be done?

My research showed a mixed bag, so be careful in interpreting this information. Regardless, there are some takeaways even if your company may not fit in the below categories.


If the company, department, or team you are managing is very tight-knit, co-rumination may actually be a good thing. It may be more cathartic, and allow for opportunities to fix the situation. However, for companies with low relationship quality, co-rumination would not be recommended. It may require a certain level of trust and acceptance which may not be present in groups with low relationship quality, and given co-rumination’s link with depressive symptoms, it could have some disastrous effects. (A word of caution: it is often difficult, especially if you are a manager who has limited interaction with your team, to gauge precise social dynamics. A consultation with an organizational psychologist is recommended.)



If you’re not sure whether you would say the group you are managing is close-knit or not, I would stray towards discouraging co-rumination, especially given its links with depressive symptoms. However, there is hope for employees to deal with work stressors in a conducive manner: encourage them to take action steps to fix whatever problem they face (Starr, 2015). Granted, this will most likely include your participation as well; become an advocate for whatever problem they face and try to help them find solutions. If they have a bad day and have to work on the shop floor providing top-notch customer service, give them a little extra break to process and do what they need to do to feel better. If they are having a disagreement with a co-worker, try to schedule them at different shifts or hold a mediated discussion to work out their disagreement. If they have an issue with you, invite them to speak with you honestly and try to work on a mutually agreeable solution. Whatever the issue is, the best solution is not to let it fester, but figure out what the next steps will be to make the future a little better instead of the same or worse.

Works Cited:

Rose, A. (2002). Co-rumination in the friendships of girls and boys. Child Development, 73(6), 1830-1843.

Starr, L. (2015). When support seeking backfires: Co-rumination, excessive reassurance seeking, and depressed mood in the daily lives of young adults. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 34(5), 436-457.

Other information from my masters dissertation.