A prima donna or an obsessive worrier: Which is more difficult to manage in the workplace?
Psychology major Choe Shannon '12 decided to determine which personality trait creates more problems on the job. Working with Paul Harvey, assistant professor of management, Shannon compiled a survey to measure how entitled and neurotic employees perceive they are treated by management and colleagues.
"Choe was looking at different factors that might predispose people to view a workplace situation as less fair," says Harvey, "even though they and their coworkers were all experiencing the same thing, the same supervisor, the same rules."
One of the biggest issues bosses now face in the workplace, Harvey said, is employees with an exaggerated sense of entitlement. In previous studies, Harvey has shown that Gen Y workers (people born between 1980 and 2000) tend to have unrealistic expectations when compared to their older colleagues.
"There are various theories about the reasons for the inflated sense of entitlement," Harvey said. "One is that because this generation has been marketed to so heavily, they are more focused on the intrinsic reward. They've got their eye on the prize instead of the actual achievement itself."
Despite her professor's previous research, Shannon figured a neurotic employee would pose a greater challenge in the workplace than someone with a swelled ego.
Shannon surveyed nearly 300 UNH undergraduate and graduate students, asking them about their previous work experience and how they would handle hypothetical scenarios on the job.
To garner clues about personality traits, she asked the respondents to rate how they felt about certain statements such as:
Great things should come to me. If I were on a sinking ship, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat. I demand the best because I'm worth it. I can't stop thinking about how I was wronged by this person. I have a hard time getting rid of thoughts of how I was mistreated.
"This was my first attempt at research," said Shannon of Rochester, N.H. "One of the things I learned was to narrowly focus what you're looking for. At the beginning, I had a lot of big ideas, but several things I expected to find out didn't happen."
After analyzing the survey findings, Shannon discovered the opposite of what she hypothesized: A prima donna or a person with an inflated sense of entitlement is more difficult to deal with than someone who has obsessive or neurotic thoughts.
"It seemed like neurotic people, they put the blame on themselves," Shannon said. "Where as entitled workers put blame on others."
Regardless of the findings, Shannon learned that there is a lot more to research than making conclusions.
"Going through the process of research and interpreting data helps students realize you can contribute to the creation of knowledge as opposed to just absorbing it," Harvey said.
This fall, Shannon expects her UNH research will bolster her confidence as she pursues a PhD in workplace psychology at University of Albany.
"Getting a PhD is all about doing research," Shannon said. "And it's good to know that I can accomplish that."
—Barbara Walsh '81
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