Previously I have discussed the connection between the way work is organized and positive psychological capital (self-efficacy, resilience, optimism and hope). Psychological capital is linked to performance, which has been demonstrated in various studies. (Newman, 2014).
Together with de Vliegtuigfabriek, 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.
After only 30′ of working at Skyboss, the more long-term indicator ‘hope’ is already affected! This 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.
Positive psychological capital empowers people, which in turn results in a higher performance of individuals, teams, and organizations. Additionally, leadership is an antecedent (= cause) for positive psychological capital.
It’s interesting to see what we found in terms of performance and leadership:
Fast Falcon managed to reach all targets and operated with fewer costs than Skyboss.
Conversely, Skyboss did not reach its targets.
In terms of leadership, Skyboss employees reported that their boss worked the hardest of all. She was running around from one department to another to share information, delegating tasks and attempting to keep the team on track. Her management style was viewed as very task-oriented by her employees. The manager reported she felt compelled to focus on the tasks, rather than on the people, even though this was not in her nature. At Fast Falcon, the employees reported they felt the leader was one of the team. The manager didn’t feel as though she had a lot to manage given that the team was managing itself.
In conclusion, we’ve found in our “experiment” that the way work is organized is an important antecedent for positive psychological capital. So, monitoring positive psychological capital within an organization is clearly a sensible thing to do, since the impact on performance has been found in a number of research papers. Self-managing teams create the conditions for active jobs and also allow managers to show transformational leadership, another important antecedent for positive psychological capital.
As a bonus, I add the beautiful visual harvest from our experiment, made by Rolf Resink of de Vliegtuigfabriek.
Do you want to find out how we can help you with raising psychological capital in your organization? Contact us today!
ALEXANDER NEWMAN, DENIZ UCBASARAN, FEI ZHU AND GILES HIRST (2014). Psychological capital: A review and synthesis. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 35, 120–138.