Research on Employee Wellness, Telework, and Team Effectiveness

12/10/2018 8:54 AM | Anonymous

Author: Seth Kaplan

I am an associate professor of IO psychology at George Mason. I have a few different streams of research. Here are brief descriptions of my research in these areas.

Improving Employee Wellness

My main program of research focuses on improving wellness at work. Colleagues (including many graduate students) and I have completed various projects trying to enhance wellness. One strategy involves developing and evaluating workplace positive psychology exercises. In this research, we use experimental designs to evaluate the effectiveness of simple activities that can facilitate the everyday thoughts and behaviors that ultimately lead to greater well-being. These activities include: maintaining a workplace gratitude log, changing social interaction patterns (e.g., fostering new workplace social ties, reducing workplace interruptions), and “job crafting” by making small tweaks to one’s job and how to perform it. In a series of studies, we have found that these activities can lead to better work-related mood. Interestingly, though, the activities do not seem to translate into higher ratings of job satisfaction. We suspect this is because the activities impact the everyday experience of working, but job satisfaction measures more so capture overall evaluations of the job.

A second strategy we have begun to purse entails highlighting inaccuracies in predictions about reactions to different work events. Thus, for example, we may overestimate the disappointment we will feel from failing in a challenging work task but undervalue the experience of having tried the task at all. Following from these ideas, we are developing ways to make people aware of these discrepancies and, in turn, to change their corresponding thoughts and behaviors.

Improving the Implementation of Telework Programs

Another area in which I do research – and a potential way to improve well-being - is by improving the implementation of telework initiatives. Although the majority of large U.S. organizations offer formal telework programs and most jobs are amenable to at least some amount of teleworking, most employees telework very little, if at all(1). Thus, a paradox seems to exist wherein organizations offer telework programs but employees cannot utilize them. If nothing else, this situation has the potential to create unrealistic and unmet expectations. Using various methodologies, colleagues and I have found that direct supervisors are the “bottleneck” who do not assent to their direct reports’ requests to telework. Moreover, we found that supervisors’ views about particular employee’s conscientiousness drive these decisions. Other factors (e.g., the availability of technology allowing for enhanced virtual contact) matter much less than do these interpersonal attributions.

In other studies, students and I have examined whether telework actually does translate into the presumed gains in well-being and performance. Using a within-person design, we showed that employees exhibit higher objective performance on days they are teleworking than when working in the office. We also have demonstrated that whether or not people experience better moods while teleworking depends on their personality. Thus, teleworking appears not to be universally beneficial for well-being.

Enhancing Teamwork in High Reliability or Extreme Contexts

My other main research stream focuses on enhancing team effectiveness in high reliability and extreme contexts. Through this work, my colleagues and I seek to understand fundamental team phenomena and to make practical improvements for these specific teams/contexts. Colleagues and I have studied various different kinds of teams/settings, including nuclear power plant control room crews, trauma teams, cockpit crews, mine rescue crews, and surgery teams. Most of our work has centered on team communication, in particular. Repeatedly, this work has demonstrated that the pattern of communication, not the amount of communication, relates to team outcomes/ effectiveness. For instance, we have shown that, during non-routine events, teams are more effective if they hold frequent, brief, unplanned meetings versus, longer planning meetings at regular intervals.

Also, colleagues and I recently have explored strategies for enhancing surgical team effectiveness by considering the composition of the team. A few studies in the surgical domain have shown that teams composed of more familiar members (those who have worked together more frequently in the past) tend to be more effective than less familiar teams. We extended this work by examining for which particular pair of team members familiarity is most important (e.g., familiarity between the surgeon and the scrub versus familiarity between the surgeon and the anesthesiologist). Our findings showed that the pair that is most important in terms of surgery length and patient length of hospital stay differed across procedures and healthcare systems. Thus, recommendations to hospital administrators need to be nuanced – apparently depending on contextual factors.

My graduate students and I always are looking for collaborations and for ways to use this research to enhance individual and organizational effectiveness. . . so please feel free to reach out to me at

Thanks for reading!

(1) WorldatWork. (2015). Survey on workplace flexibility. Retrieved from WorldatWork website

Sample Articles on these Topics

Kaplan, S. Bradley-Geist, J., Ahmad, A., Anderson, A., Hargrove, A., & Lindsay, A.

(2014). A test of two positive psychology interventions to increase employee well-being. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29, 367-380.

Kaplan, S., Engelsted, J., Lei, X. & Lockwood, K. (2018). Unpackaging manager

mistrust in allowing telework: Comparing and integrating theoretical perspectives. Journal of Business and Psychology, 33, 365-382.

Stachowski, A. 1, Kaplan, S.A.1, & Waller, M.J. (2009). The benefits of flexible team

interaction during crises. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94, 1536-1543.

These and other articles can be found here:

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