Monday, February 05, 2007

Can grumpy workers lead to better organizational performance?

One of the most interesting findings in industrial/organizational psychology is that the relationship between job satisfaction and job performance isn't particularly strong (although we have people looking into it).

Now, new research from Dr. Jing Zhou at Rice University may help us understand why.

Dr. Zhou gathered survey responses from 161 employees (granted, not a large sample) of a large oil-field services company and their supervisors. What she found was that people who experienced periodic bad moods tended to be more focused on detail, more analytical, and more creative--partially because they're motivated to get out of their bad mood.

Overly happy people, on the other hand, aren't likely to see potential problems until it's too late.

It depends on the job

Bob Hogan, of Hogan Assessment Systems, rightly points out that the type of person you want depends on the job. If you're hiring in advertising or product development, you might look for someone who gets agitated when confronted with a problem. On the other hand, if you're hiring for a call center, grumpy shouldn't be high on your list--instead you want the bright cheerful person who can withstand a lot of negativity.

And on the organization

Zhou and Hogan also both point out that it's not enough to have the right person--the organization must support the expression of these types of emotions and encourage change. If a frustrated person is constantly squashed or told to cheer up, those innovative ideas may never bubble to the top. There's also a tie here to perceptions of organizational justice, of which being able to voice your opinion is an important aspect.

There's grumpy, then there's GRUMPY

Of course you don't want someone who's grumpy all the time. As Zhou points out, there's not much you're able to do with someone like that. Chances are that's not a good job-person fit (although it always warrants a little investigation).

In addition, there's a distinction between grumpy and angry--after all, we want people expressing themselves appropriately, not with office furniture.

More about Dr. Zhou's research can be found in this interview.

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