In a previous blog, I discussed the connection between the way work is organized and positive psychological capital. The latter being vital due to its link to performance, which has been demonstrated in various studies. (Newman, 2014).
On April 13th, we performed an experiment to further explore the connection between the two topics. We found that people in active jobs (high on demands and high on autonomy) maintain a positive psychological capital during work, while people in high strain jobs (high demands and low autonomy) end up feeling drained.
WHAT DID WE DO EXACTLY?
We set up two hypothetical airplane factories, in which ten people produced paper airplanes. Skyboss, the first “factory”, was organized in a traditional way: the primary process was divided into autonomous positions, giving people clear job descriptions, working on a specific task in the process, for instance folding the paper for the plane or putting on a logo.
These are the high strain jobs. At Fast Falcon, the second “factory”, employees work in self-managing teams, where people organize the work themselves. These jobs represent the active jobs.
Both companies had a manager to oversee the work.
We measured positive psychological capital both before and after the start of the experiment. This was done through four questions, which determined the degree of self-efficacy, resilience, optimism, and hope respectively.
WHAT DID WE FIND?
While both companies started out with an almost equal amount of positive psychological capital, the employees of Skyboss reported, after just 30 minutes, that they were feeling frustrated and stressed. On the contrary, Fast Falcon employees reported having fun and they even raised their positive psychological capital slightly.
More specifically the scores are represented here:
We definitely expected a visible effect, but we didn’t expect ‘self-efficacy’ would be affected as strongly as it was, nor did we foresee Skyboss employees’ dramatic score on ‘hope’.
It seems counter-intuitive that people would start to doubt their own competences so quickly when working in a poorly designed job. You would think they would cope by holding the organization justly accountable. However, and much to our surprise, people tended to blame themselves when they were unsuccessful.
The issue with hope is equally interesting. Of all four elements of positive psychological capital “hope” can be considered the most important. After all, a low score indicates that a person does not see the light at the end of the tunnel, nor does he or she see the steps that are needed to arrive there. In that sense, a low score on hope indicates a more structural issue in a person’s energy-stress balance. After only 30' of working at Skyboss, the more long-term indicator 'hope' is already affected!