It's only smart business for companies to hire the brightest talent, right? New research from the Carlson School of Management's Associate Professor Theresa Glomb suggests having a workforce comprised of high-cognitive ability individuals may have some unintended consequences.
Workplace victimization, which includes incidents such as incivilities, withholding information from coworkers, rumors, and gossiping behind people's back, is a common problem in organizational settings. While there has been extensive research on the topic, an area that had never been explored was whether smarter people, individuals who are high in cognitive ability, experience more victimization in the workplace much in the way gifted and talented students experience a higher rate of bullying at school.
In a paper titled, "Get Smarty Pants: Cognitive Ability, Personality and Victimization," recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Glomb and HRIR PhD student Eugene Kim discovered individuals who are higher in cognitive ability were, in fact, more likely to be victimized. However, it found the victimization was influenced by personality traits, specifically agency and communion.
Someone who is high in agency is someone who is self-oriented, dominant, very independent, and has high status consciousness. A person who is high in communion is more other-oriented and values community building, socialization, and harmony in the work group.
Examining personality measures and cognitive ability measures from pre-employment testing along with subsequent incidents of workplace victimization at a large organization, Glomb found the agency and communion personality traits influenced whether or not the cognitive ability-victimization link played out. Individuals who were high in agency and high in cognitive ability had far higher rates of being victimized. Individuals who were higher on communion had lower rates of victimization even if they were higher in cognitive ability.
"People who are smart might find themselves being victimized in a work setting because of envy, because of competition, etc.," said Glomb. "However, they are not predestined to be victimized. It has a lot to do with how they interact with their coworkers. If they are more of a team player, if they're concerned about the welfare of others in their workgroup, they're less likely to experience victimization. If they're more concerned about their own advancement, about dominating the workgroup, and about their own status it's likely to be even worse."
According to Glomb, organizations should continue to hire the most-talented individuals, but must be mindful of the environmental conditions within the workplace and be on the lookout for victimization.
"Are organizations creating conditions where there is more envy, and more competition, or are they creating conditions where it's important that people get along and that it's a harmonious workgroup?," added Glomb. "In situations where there is more competition and more envy you might expect more victimization."
In "Get Smarty Pants," Glomb recommends organizations attempt to modify individual behaviors by creating strong situations (e.g., human resource practices, organization culture) that minimize the link between cognitive ability, and victimization and that enhance positive reciprocity norms between employees.
Glomb also offered advice to individuals:
"There's a line from an old Jimmy Stewart movie [Harvey] that talked about whether you want to be 'oh-so smart or oh-so pleasant.' Our findings would suggest you want to be both. You want to be smart but you also want to be pleasant and that will prevent the victimization that might otherwise occur."