Ep 216: Working Remotely – Psychological Advantages and Disadvantages

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The idea of working from home sounds great – but be aware of the downside. In this episode of The Psych Files I talk about what factors influence your job satisfaction and motivation when you work from home. I also discuss the interesting concept of “emotional labor” – what is it like when you know your boss is watching you and judging whether you are “acting happy” to customers? What’s the cost to you of acting in a way that is contrary to how you actually feel?

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Ep 194: What Do I/0 Psychologists Really Do?

What do I/0 psychologists do anyway? Are you interested in this subfield of psychology? Well, here are a few things they DON’T do: they don’t do “therapy in the workplace” and they don’t do “motivational speaking“. It’s not what you think. Industrial/Organizational psychology is practiced by professionals who’s goal is to make sure that employees are productive and – and here’s what I’ll focus on in this episode – that job applicants are chosen based upon the skills and personality characteristics that are relevant to the jobs they are applying for. Find out more in this episode of The Psych Files.
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Ep 193: Mindfulness Benefits on the GRE and at Work

There is a lot of talk about mindfulness among psychologists today. Find out what mindfulness is and how it differs from meditation in this episode of The Psych Files. What might you use mindfulness for? Well, in addition to what you might expect – reducing stress – mindfulness training is also being used to improve job satisfaction and productivity. Interested in increasing your score on the GRE? Being more mindful might also help out there as well.
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Ep 188: Psychologists Are Keeping You From Getting the Flu

Wash Your Hands to Avoid Illness

Didn’t get the flu this past winter? Thank a psychologist. What? Well, it could be that a psychologist was involved in helping health care professionals to do what they know they need to do (but sometimes don’t): wash their hands. The issue here is persuasion and motivation: how to we get people to do something – and keep doing it? Health care workers like doctors and nurses can fall prey to the availability heuristic: they can easily remember times when they didn’t wash their hands and they didn’t get sick so they might develop an “illusion of invulnerability“. How do psychologists get involved to solve this problem? Listen to this episode and find out.

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Episode 142: How To Make Jobs More Satisfying and Motivating

Do you have a dull job? Wonder how it can be made more motivating? That’s the challenge – how can we make jobs that are typically not much fun (like an assembly line job) more interesting to do? There is a lot of research on this important topic (check out The Five Drivers of Happiness at Work from the Wall Street Journal).

And Dan Pink wrote a good deal about this in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (you can hear him talk about work motivation in this interview called Dan Pink on the Modus Operandi of Motivation). This is one of the challenges facing I/O psychologists and in this episode I discuss the [easyazon-link asin=”0201027798″]Job Characteristics theory[/easyazon-link] by Hackman and Oldham and apply it to assembly line jobs in China where your iPhone is made and where a record number of suicides have occurred over the past few years. Can we use job redesign to make such jobs more tolerable?


1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?

5 Characteristics of Jobs that Affect Motivation

  • Significance: do the workers feel that the work they do every day is important in the grander scheme of things? To some workers it’s clear that their daily work is important (say, nurses), while others (say, assembly line workers who put together cell phone components) may not feel that their work is important. However, you can help cell phone assembly line workers get a connection to the significance of their work by reminding them of how important cell phones are to the global connections they enable between people and the role cell phones play (through photos and messaging) in changing the world. Here’s an article on the important role that leaders play in helping their employees find meaning in their work.
  • Identity: as opposed to putting one tiny piece onto something that other people put tiny pieces onto, it’s important for workers to be able to identify a whole task that they themselves created. Is there a way to redesign a job so that workers can put their names on something and say with pride, “I created that”?

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  • Variety: nothing kills motivation faster than monotony. How can you increase the variety of things that workers do? How can you let them tap into their skills or build new skills so that work can include some variety from day to day?
  • Feedback: employees need to know how well they’re doing their jobs. This helps with imparting a sense of pride as well. Feedback can come from a car that rolls off the assembly line and works perfectly (low defects) or it can come from a boss who tells the worker how well he/she is doing.
  • Autonomy: many employees benefit from having some say in how things are done. What aspects of the job can be supervised or redesigned based on input from employees? What decisions can they make on their own?


Episode 116: Social Loafing – Don’t Be a Sucker or a Free Loader!

Do you like working in a group? Most people don’t because they’re afraid that they’ll have to do most of the work (wind up being a sucker) and that other group members won’t do their share of the work (free loaders). Want to find out how to avoid this and make your group work productive? Learn how the Agile software development technique can be adapted to your help your next group project be a success.

Social Loafing (free riding) occurs when…

  • …group members don’t value the group goal
  • …individual contributions to the group effort cannot be measured
  • …a group member’s effort is duplicated (or even surpassed) by someone else
  • …a group member feels that he or she doesn’t have a unique skill to devote to the group effort
  • …when a group member feels that what he or she has been asked to do is harder than what others have been asked to do
  • …a group member doesn’t think (or doesn’t know) whether or that others in the group are working on the task (or how hard they are working on the task)



  • Make sure that each group member has a different set of skills
  • Everybody has to believe that the task is important
  • Assign roles to group members (note taker, time keeper, questioner, reporter, etc.)
  • The group has to know exactly what is expected, i.e., how will you know when the task is “done”?
  • make sure that the groups break down the larger goal (write a paper, do a project) into smaller “phases”
  • Ask each person in the group to “grade” themselves and everyone else in the group
  • Make sure that the group meets as often as possible – if not every day then every other day. Once a week is probably not often enough
  • use some Agile methods in these meetings: a) what have you done since the last meeting?, b) what are you planning to do before the next meeting?, c) is anything blocking you?

Articles on Social Loafing

Resources on the Agile Software Development process


Episode 92: Passion For Your Work is Overrated

Everyone tells you that you should have “passion for your work”. Personally, I think that’s a bunch of malarky, balderdash and hooey. And much of it could be the fault of psychologists who have studied job satisfaction. You might actually enjoy work that you never dreamed could make you happy. In this episode I talk about what Mike Rowe of the show Dirty Jobs had to say about work and how that ties into the research of psychologist Dan Gilbert author of Stumbling on Happiness..

Just because things hadn’t gone the way I planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong…the secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way. – Ann Patchett in her book What now?

Resources For This Episode

  • Mike Rowe the host of Dirty Jobs, talks about the war on work in this video from his Ted Talks speech:
  • Dan Gilbert explains his ideas regarding how we all synthesize happiness in this video:
  • Here is a really interesting talk by Alain de Botton about factors that affect job satisfaction:
  • Job Characteristics Model (developed by Hackman and Oldham) states that an improvement in 5 aspects of a job can increase motivation and job satisfaction. They are:
    • Variety
    • Identity
    • Significance
    • Feedback
    • Autonomy

Episode 91: The Psychology of Effective Meetings


businessmeeting_smallDo you hate meetings as much as I do? How do you make them work? Business people and students often hate meetings and group projects because it’s hard to get everyone to participate and it’s hard to just get things done. In this episode of The Psych Files I show the many connections between a typical Introductory Psychology textbook and the everyday event of a business or group meeting. In the end I talk with professional project manager April Montana who shares with you some of her secrets to making group members get things done.

Thank you to April Montana for sharing her experience running meetings.

Episode 79: Models of Effective Leadership – Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great and Ginger the Chicken?

Picture of Ginger the ChickenWhat makes for an effective leader and how can you improve your leadership skills? Well, who’s the best role model for a leader? How about a chicken? In this episode of The Psych Files we examine Chicken Run to see how she embodies the best qualities of a leader. I know – sounds a little weird, but I guarantee you’ll come away with a better understanding of leadership and some of the top leadership theories.

Characteristics of Effective Leaders

  • Provides followers with a compelling vision for the future
  • Has Specific ideas and plans on how to reach that future
  • Provides followers with challenging goals (and feedback related to those goals) to help them reach the vision (Path/Goal leadership theory)
  • Emotional Stability
  • Persistence in the face of setbacks (a positive attributional style)
  • Willingness to take personal risks to get to obtain the vision
  • Principled
  • Can share power and credit with subordinates/followers
  • Knows his/her people well enough to delegate tasks according to follower’s talents, skills and desires
  • Tough but fair
  • Works alongside his/her subordinates to reach the goal

Resources on Leadership

  • Bennis, W.G. (1993). An invented life: Reflections on leadership and change. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley
  • Hogan, R, Curphy, G. J. & Hogan, J. (1994). What we know about leadership: Effectiveness and personality. American Psychologist, 49(6), 493-504.

Episode 71: Horse Sense or Nonsense? Clever Hans is Alive and Well

Can horses be used for corporate training or is this nonsense? If you listened to the NPR piece called, “Horse Sense: New Breed Of Executive Training” you might have had the same reaction I did: sounds a little “fishy”. Find out why “Clever Hans” just might be alive and well in the field of management training. You’ll also see some very subtle operant conditioning at work here. Here’s a recent article from the Telegraph – it looks like “Clever Hans” has been reincarnated – this time as a dog: Chinese dog is ‘maths genius,’ according to owner. Watch how the owner changes bodily position (or head position) when the dog reaches the right answer.

Resources for this Episode

Thank you to the following for permission to use their comments:

  • Dr. Debra Briihl, Dept. of Psychology and Counseling, Valdosta State University
  • Dr. Dennis Goff, Chair, Department of Psychology, Randolph College
  • Melissa R. Shyan-Norwalt, PhD, CAAB, Companion Animal Problem Solvers, Inc.
  • Dr. Gerald L. Peterson, Professor of Psychology, Saginaw Valley State University
  • Dr. Carol Devolder, St. Ambrose University

Clever Hans

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation