Workplace wellness programmes are an assemblage of wellbeing activities like yoga or cycling clubs, packaged together with diagnostic activities like biometric screenings; their aim is to reduce sickness, increase productivity and cut insurance costs for an organisation’s members. This is big business – in the USA, the market is around $8 billion – with a return-on-investment claim, thanks to a plethora of studies that tout the benefits of these programmes (for example, see this meta-analysis from 2010). But whether staff enter these kind of initiatives in the first place is usually up to them, making it hard to evaluate their effectiveness, as those who choose to participate may differ in key ways from those who do not. To assess the benefits of the programmes accurately therefore requires a randomised-controlled study. This is what the National Bureau of Economic Research published recently, and it leaves these programmes looking sickly.
Juggling home and work commitments is never easy, and yet there’s been surprisingly little research into how either demands – or support – at home or work may spillover into the other context. Does a frustrating or combative workday negatively affect family life that evening, for instance? Or if your partner is emotionally supportive when you both get home, will you “pass it on”, and be more supportive of colleagues the next day? And, are men and women affected in the same ways? A new paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, provides some provocative answers.
In theory, our personal traits and interests should affect the jobs we pursue and where we thrive the most. This assumption is baked into the Work Psychology theory of “person-environment fit” and it’s an idea that is foundational to services we depend on like vocational guidance and career planning. But one of its key implications has until now been untested: that people who share the same job role will also have similar job interests. Now a surprising new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior suggests that for many jobs, this simply isn’t true.
As well as their cost-saving appeal, the rationale for large open-plan offices is that they are expected to act as a crucible for human chemistry, increasing face-to-face encounters between colleagues to the benefit of creativity and collaboration. Unfortunately it’s well-established that most workers don’t like them, such is the fundamental human need for privacy and control over one’s environment. Now a pair of quasi-experimental field studies published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B suggest that the supposed collaborative advantage of open-plan offices also doesn’t pass muster.
Working an emotionally-demanding job can leave you frazzled by alienation, exhaustion, and confusion about whether you are doing any good. Clinical psychologists and psychotherapists live their day-to-day at the interface of their clients’ most difficult emotions and recollections, so it is no surprise that burnout is a leading cause of problems for those in the profession. To better understand the risk factors that contribute to therapist burnout, a new review article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology has examined findings from 30 years of research.
The idea that some of us experience “imposter syndrome” was first mooted in the 1970s by two US clinical psychologists who noticed the preponderance of high-achieving women who felt they had somehow cheated or fluked their way to success and feared being found out. Research on the syndrome has since exploded and it’s become clear that many men also experience similar fraudulent feelings. In fact, in their new exploratory paper in Personality and Individual Differences, a team of US and German researchers claim that, under pressure, imposter syndrome may hit men harder than women, triggering more anxiety and worse performance – a difference they speculate may be due to traditional gender norms that place a greater expectation on men to be competent.
The way parents and teachers praise children is known to influence not only their future performance, but how they feel about the malleability of intelligence. If a child has done well, focusing positive comments on their efforts, actions and strategies (saying, for example, “good job” or “you must have tried really hard”) is preferable to saying “you’re so smart”, in part because process-centred praise is thought to encourage kids to interpret setbacks as opportunities to grow, rather than as threats to their self-concept. In contrast, a kid who’s led to believe she succeeds because she’s “intelligent” may not attempt a difficult challenge, in case she fails.
Now – and somewhat remarkably, given all the praise and growth mindset research conducted on children – a new study, led by Rachael Reavis at Earlham College, Indiana, US, published the Journal of Genetic Psychology, claims to be the first to test the effects of different types of praise on how adults feel after failure.
Do chiselled features garner better pay? Researchers have previously found that income is associated with attractiveness, leading to the idea of both a beauty premium and an ugliness penalty. A common explanation is discrimination: employers seek out beautiful people and reject or ignore those harder on the eye. But in the Journal of Business Psychology, Satoshi Kanazawa and Mary Still have published research aiming to upset this. The biggest takeaway is that being perceived as very unattractive may not incur an income penalty at all.
The representation of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths) is increasing, albeit more slowly than many observers would like. But a focus on this issue has begun throwing up head-scratching anomalies, such as Finland, which has one of the larger gender gaps in STEM occupations, despite being one of the more gender equal societies, and boasting a higher science literacy rate in its girls than boys. Now a study in Psychological Science has used an international dataset of almost half a million participants that confirms what they call the “STEM gender-equality paradox”: more gender-equal societies have fewer women taking STEM degrees. And the research goes much further, exploring the causes that are driving these counterintuitive findings.
You may have seen the recent viral TV interview in which the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson claimed that an important part of the reason there are fewer women than men in leadership positions is to do with personality differences between the sexes. Specifically, he said that women on average score lower than men on traits, such as assertiveness, that are known to be associated with reaching senior roles, and higher on others that work against promotion, especially agreeableness and emotional sensitivity.
While these observations are largely backed byevidence, what’s far less clear – because the question simply hasn’t been studied much before – is whether women who reach senior management tend to share the traits of men in these positions, or if instead female bosses have a contrasting personality profile, indicative of an alternative, “feminine” route to the top.
These are pertinent questions for any one who would like more gender diversity in leadership roles because the findings could point to clues for how to ease the promotion path for women. For a new paper in Journal of Vocational Behaviour, a team led by Bart Wille at the University of Antwerp has investigated.