Archive for the ‘Law Office Management’ Category
It’s always tough to measure something that seems very subjective. Like ostracism. Are you being ostracized (excluded, left out, or shunned) or are you just way too sensitive? Intrepid researchers have pushed forward though and brought us the Workplace Ostracism Scale.
Ostracism is very much like incivility which is seen as very hard to objectively describe. What appears to be incivility or ostracism to you, may look very innocent to me. It is perhaps easiest to understand what incivility is if we think back to our childhoods and how a sibling or playground nemesis would say one thing out loud (in front of witnesses like our parents or teachers) but we “knew what they really meant”. That’s what incivility often boils down to–indirect and often ambiguous actions that result in one feeling excluded, not valued, or belittled but having a hard time describing the situation in behavioral terms without sounding petty or childish.
The research on ostracism and incivility is consistent–what may seem like ambiguous and immature behavior/reactions is actually harmful to workplace morale and individual well-being. So, in an effort to keep you up to date, here are some sample items from the 2008 Workplace Ostracism Scale (a 10-item measure of ostracism at work). The items are rated using a standard 7-point Likert Scale ranging from ‘Never’ to ‘Always’.
Your greetings have gone unanswered at work.
Others refused to talk to you at work.
Others at work treated you as if you were not there.
Others left the area when you entered.
You involuntarily sat alone in a crowded lunchroom at work.
It is easy to see how one might question this as a measure of the actual experience of ostracism. (After reading the researchers report on all the various tests for validity in the full report, we are of the opinion that it’s a sound measure.) But these items could be seen as complaints from a disgruntled employee who is inclined to blame others. On the other hand, they could also be signs that all is not well in your workplace. It’s a dilemma for the workplace. How do you address uncivil or ostracizing behavior when you can’t agree on how to interpret the problematic behaviors?
You cannot ignore the distressed employee.
You cannot “make” adults be nice to each other.
But, you can set clear expectations for behavior and communication and inclusion in your workplace. You can provide training to increase awareness of the impact of incivility and ostracism as well as the more familiar (and illegal) harassing and discriminatory behaviors at work. One way to get employees to take the idea of ostracism seriously is to have everyone complete a Workplace Ostracism Scale and score them and show them a slide of the ostracizing behaviors present in your workplace.
You will almost always be surprised at the frequency of the reports of employees that have experienced these sorts of isolating interactions with co-workers– but only if you ask. These are negative experiences that overall are greatly underreported and which undermine productivity and job satisfaction. Invite a conversation about how words can hurt whether they are illegal or not. Back that up with the research findings on how ostracism and incivility are related to problems in employee morale, employee turnover, and psychological and physical health. Even if you avoid being sued over it, it impairs productivity.
It really is no joking matter.
Ferris DL, Brown DJ, Berry JW, & Lian H (2008). The development and validation of the Workplace Ostracism Scale. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 93 (6), 1348-66 PMID: 19025252
What a choice. We have written before about incivility in the workplace and that sounds a lot like what these researchers are calling ostracism. To begin, let’s look at how the researchers define both harassment and ostracism. In brief, say the researchers, harassment is the presence of an unwanted behavior and ostracism is the absence of a wanted behavior.
The term harassment is used by these researchers to “capture a range of active verbal and nonverbal behaviors directed at a target that derogate or cause embarrassment to that target. Harassment (unlike ostracism) engages the target in a social dynamic with negative social attention and treatment.” Harassment is typically composed of direct verbal and nonverbal behaviors intended to demean, harm, minimize, embarrass or harm the target.
The term ostracism describes the opposite of harassment where the workplace colleagues “disengage a target with a lack of attention and treatment”. In other words, colleagues may “ignore your greetings, exclude you from invitations, stop talking when you attempt to join a conversation” and so on. Ostracism often stems from many different motives, including obliviousness of the actor and are not always intended to cause harm.
You may be thinking what many people think of when introduced to the concept of incivility in the workplace. It is very subjective. What I see as obliviousness on the part of a colleague, you may see as ostracism or a deliberate effort to undercut you. So these researchers decided to look at two things: one, do people see harassment or ostracism as more harmful and, two, are they right? The results are consistent with the bulk of research on incivility.
In the first study, researchers asked 100 online participants (44% male, average age 32.64 years, average workplace experience of 5.29 years) what they thought more harmful in the workplace, harassment or ostracism? It is likely not surprising that the participants thought harassment more harmful and more inappropriate than ostracism in the workplace. Based on this finding, the researchers wondered whether ostracism was more common than harassment at work, and which (harassment or ostracism) is more damaging to careers.
In the second study, 1,300 working adults with demographics similar to the US population (49% male, average length of time in workplace 7.52 years) were asked to complete a number of measures (on ostracism, harassment, sense of belonging, personal well-being, and work-related attitudes) as well as some demographic information (e.g., gender and how long they had worked for their current employer). In this study, the researchers found ostracism more common than harassment, and perhaps surprisingly (if you are unfamiliar with the research on incivility) ostracism resulted in more negative physical and emotional symptoms, and more work-related negative attitudes to study participants than did harassment.
The third study used 1,048 staff members at a large university in Canada (26% male, average age 43.49 years, and average employment length of 11.59 years). This study supported the results of the second study. Ostracism was “more strongly related than harassment to employees’ sense of belonging, well-being, and work-related attitudes, and, more important, to employees’ actual turnover within three years. [The researchers define these as ‘harm’ but it is still a pretty subjective assessment.]
In short, say the researchers, workplace ostracism has more harmful effects than workplace harassment! They are quick to say they do not mean that harassment is not harmful, as it obviously is. Ostracism is particularly toxic and is much more prevalent and thus erodes away the target’s well-being.
With regard to the workplace, and particularly the law office–managers are likely to be more attuned to the presence of harassment and much quicker to intervene against such illegal and inappropriate behavior. This research, as well as the bulk of the research on incivility, says that organizations should also take the more prevalent situation on workplace ostracism seriously as well. A healthy workplace allows room for everyone and teaches communication and conflict resolution skills that manage tension and allow work to proceed efficiently.
O’Reilly, J., Robinson, S., Berdahl, J., & Banki, S. (2014). Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work Organization Science DOI: 10.1287/orsc.2014.0900
We’ve written about women and leadership before. While some new research shows female leaders handle stress more effectively than male leaders, we’re not going to write about that one today. Instead, here is a report on a study showing some other good news: women are no longer punished for behaving assertively in a leadership role!
It’s a positive change. The past research showed us that women who were assertive were seen negatively due to perceived violations of their gender role expectations. That is, men are assertive and women are sweet. And when women are not sweet, we call them witches (or something like that). So. The news that what these researchers call “agentic behavior” (i.e., acting like a leader) is now acceptable for women (as long as they are not aggressive and ruthless as they exhibit leadership behavior) is good news indeed.
Alas, though. Every silver lining seems to have a cloud and the battle is not yet won. As it happens, while women are now evaluated just as positively as men leaders for behaving assertively in their leadership role–women leaders who are tentative or submissive are rated much more negatively than are tentative or submissive men who lead. Leaders frequently fake their confidence and strength, but if a woman is seen as doing that, reactions they get are worse than those accorded to men.
The researchers used 185 participants (47% female, average age 28.3 years, either undergraduate students or graduates from an Australian university) who were told they were participating in a study on effective communication. The participants read a transcript of a speech (on climate change) which was identified as being given by an Independent (non-party-affiliated) candidate for national office. They were told the speech was given by a female (Annette Hayes or Susan Hayes) or a male (David Hayes or Andrew Hayes).
The speech itself was written in either an assertive voice (indicating dominance, confidence and strength) or a tentative voice (indicating deference, hesitancy, and a lack of confidence). After reading the transcripts, the participants rated the candidate’s likability and influence (i.e., how persuasive they were and therefore how likely to convince others of their position). They also rated the leaders on agency (i.e., how dominant, forceful and confident they were) and communality (i.e., how friendly, sensitive and warm they were).
Assertive female leaders were rated more likable than tentative female leaders but there was no difference in likability between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while there was no difference in likability between assertive male and assertive female leaders, tentative males were more likable than tentative females.
Assertive female leaders were significantly more influential with participants than were the tentative female leaders. There was no difference in influence exerted on participants between the assertive and tentative male leaders. Further, while participants saw no difference in influence by the assertive women and assertive men leaders, they saw the tentative man as more influential than the tentative woman.
In other words, say the authors, women in political leadership will only be as effective as men if they are always confident, strong and decisive. When their behavior deviates from these male-stereotypic leadership ideals, they will be punished far more than their male counterparts. A follow-up study found the same pattern. The authors summarize their findings as follows:
“Based on men’s continued dominance in positions of power, expectations of women to show unwavering signs of confidence and strength will provide a considerable challenge. While a few women will be able to meet this expectation, the majority who cannot remain disadvantaged, with men avoiding similar penalties for equivalent non-agentic behaviors. Therefore, this subtle form of prejudice towards women demands our attention and effort if gender equality is to be achieved.”
It’s a societal double standard recently highlighted by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. When male leaders display emotion– even inappropriate emotion– it is often celebrated. When women display even a little emotion, it is interpreted very negatively. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as you consider the behavior and leadership potential of male and female attorneys. We are all subject to bias– until we pay attention to it. Merely by being conscious of its potential, it can become a much smaller problem.
Bongiorno, R., Bain, P., & David, B. (2013). If you’re going to be a leader, at least act like it! Prejudice towards women who are tentative in leader roles. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjso.12032
It is likely not a surprise to you that there is a significant public bias against the obese. Frequent flyers are familiar with the feeling of dread as a morbidly obese passenger approaches your row and seems to slow down. But fat bias doesn’t just happen in confined spaces. Workplace incivility is often directed at obese employees–referred to as employee adiposity in this research. Maybe that’s nicer than the other things it’s called.
As a reminder, incivility is rude, impolite or discourteous behavior that does not necessarily rise to the level of open hostility or aggression. Often used examples of incivility include things like not returning a greeting, interrupting a coworker when s/he is talking, failing to refill the empty printer after using up all the paper, and so on. In other words, rather than having a clear intent to harm (as with bullying), incivility is characterized by an ambiguous intent to harm. Therefore, the experience of incivility is at least somewhat dependent upon the target’s perception, and it is often harder to prove, especially if the target is not well liked. A circular problem.
The researchers conducted two studies, one with undergraduates and one with community adults who were employees. The two studies had many of the same findings but we are going to report the results of the community sample here. A sample of 528 community adults (53% female, 68% Caucasian, ranging in age from 20 to 63 years with an average age of 35 years, with tenure in current employment situation ranging from 6 months to 35 years with an average of 6 years, and 70% in non-management positions) was used. Participants provided their height and weight (from which researchers computed their BMIs) and demographic variables (such as sex and race) and also completed measures of workplace incivility, negative affect, burnout, and job withdrawal. And here are the (again, likely unsurprising) results:
Overweight individuals reported significantly higher levels of incivility than did underweight and healthy weight individuals. (Reported scores for incivility toward women were highest in the overweight and obese categories but highest for men in the underweight category!)
Black respondents reported significantly higher levels of incivility when they were underweight or healthy weight (this is surprising) but White respondents reported higher levels of incivility when they were overweight or obese. The researchers say that being overweight or obese is especially problematic for employees who are both white and female–the more overweight/obese–the higher the report of incivility.
Finally, there were links between adiposity and the respondents tendency to withdraw from their job emotionally. While the authors stress they are not blaming the victim, they recommend employers help employees reach and maintain healthy weights and thus have the resulting improvement in negative physical, psychological and professional outcomes associated with adiposity.
This is an interesting study for trial lawyers, law firms, and employers in general. They go beyond potential employment discrimination litigation, and offer a new approach to the evaluation of office culture. We all have biases we need to monitor and for organizations, paying attention to how we respond (directly and indirectly) to differences is a matter of both civility and liability.
Sliter KA, Sliter MT, Withrow SA, & Jex SM (2012). Employee adiposity and incivility: establishing a link and identifying demographic moderators and negative consequences. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17 (4), 409-24 PMID: 23066694
We’ve written about this a lot both here on the blog and over at The Jury Expert. So it isn’t news to us, but evidently it continues to surprise experts in other fields. Business journals are still urging differing management strategies for members of different generations in the workplace. But, as in other research, today’s authors find their data does not support this popular recommendation. So we offer this research review in the hope that someone will bring it with them to work. Here we go again…
Researchers wanted to test three generational stereotypes in the workplace to see if data would support common assumptions. Specifically, they examined:
Whether Baby Boomers change jobs less often than Gen X or Millennials (“job mobility”);
Whether Baby Boomers comply more with workplace rules than do Gen X or Millennials (“compliance with work rules”), and
Whether Gen X members are either less motivated or lazy, thus less likely to work overtime than either Baby Boomers or Millennials (“willingness to work overtime”).
These are all common stereotypes (i.e., younger employees job hop, they do not comply with rules, and are unwilling to pull their weight if it’s inconvenient) and, stereotypes often exist for a reason. Sometimes it is due to facts. Other times it is due to the holder of the viewpoint being kinda grumpy and annoyed with the subgroup in question. But, other times, stereotypes simply do not accurately describe the nuances, or even the reality of situations.
The researchers used a huge sample of 8,128 people who applied for jobs at two different hospitals located in the southeastern United States. The sample was composed of Baby Boomers (N = 1,641, 20.2%), GenXers (4,972, 61.2%), and Millennials (1,515, 18.6%). On average, Boomers were 48.5 years old, GenXers were 30.8 years old and the Millennials were 21.5 years old (these are tilted toward the younger end in all 3 groups). The group was racially heterogeneous with 301 Native Americans (3.7%), 116 Asian/Pacific Islanders (1.4%), 237 Hispanics (2.9%), 3,955 African-Americans (48.7%) and 3,211 Caucasians (39.5%). A total of 308 (3.8%) did not disclose race. The sample was 83.2% female, 15.8% male and 1% did not disclose their gender. So, although each of these demographic cells is large enough for meaningful interpretation, the profile doesn’t perfectly match the national profile or the workforce. Asian and Hispanic participants are under-represented, African-Americans are over-represented, and it is a much more a female sample than a male sample. But with that said, a study this big allows for skewing like that without sacrificing validity.
As part of their application process, participants were required to complete a questionnaire on their historical workplace behaviors, and researchers used this data to identify their findings.
This research, unlike most prior research on generations at work, focused on historical job behaviors self-reported by the applicants (as opposed to a self-report of individual attitudes and values). While there were differences in the three areas assessed, the differences were small. The authors caution readers to understand that the typical recommendation to apply different management strategies to each separate generation in your workplace is likely not a good use of funds for improving your particular workplace. In other words, this study (of more than 8,000 people) did not support the idea that you should practice different management strategies for employees from different generations–the differences found were just too small statistically.
Here is what the researchers found about the common generalizations held about the various generations in the workplace.
Job mobility: Boomers actually do stay in jobs longer than GenXers and Millennials and it isn’t just that they are older and no longer moving about for their careers. On average, Boomers stayed at a job a bit more than 2 years longer than GenXers, and 4 years longer than Millennials.
Compliance with workplace rules: Older employees do have a slight tendency to adhere more to workplace rules concerning attendance and appearance. They also have less experience with having been fired (or quitting in lieu of being fired). However, this difference was not so much about generation per se as it was about age since individuals in all generations tended to comply more with workplace rules as they get older (and presumably matured).
GenXers will work less overtime: This one is also actually true (and we’ve written about how GenXers are actually living out their values). GenXers were less likely to work overtime than Boomers and Millennials. (There was no difference between the Boomers and Millennials in terms of a history of working overtime hours.)
The researchers emphasize that the differences in the target workplace behaviors don’t warrant different management strategies for different age groups. The differences are simply too small statistically. Instead, the researchers recommend that HR representatives build in flexibility to HR practices and strategies to address the needs of all employees rather than a single generational group. It’s what consultants often say when they are training managers about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Good management is good management. You don’t tailor based on generation. You manage based on the individual and the demands of the job.
It bears repeating: Good management is good management. Stereotypes are not good management, even when well-intentioned.
Becton, J., Walker, H., & Jones-Farmer, A. (2014). Generational differences in workplace behavior Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44 (3), 175-189 DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12208