Study: Optimism in the workplace doesn’t actually affect performance

We’ve all been told to whistle while we work because a cheerful, hopeful worker is better at a job than one who isn’t. But is that really true?

Elizabeth Tenney, assistant professor of management at the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business, explored the subject in the paper she co-authored, “(Too) Optimistic About Optimism: The Belief that Optimism Improves Performance” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“I am interested in the question of when do people value optimism and think it is a really useful or good mindset for people to have, and when do they think that other mindsets might be better,” Tenney said. “I kept hearing about how optimistic mindset was so great, but then you think about all the times that striving for accuracy might be better for the individual.”

In the end, her study found that optimism didn’t help a person’s performance as much as people thought it would.

However, Tenney speculates that there are two places where others would value optimism. The first would be in a situation where business executives or leaders needed to motivate their employees.

The second situation would be when a business leader or entrepreneur needed to win someone over to a new idea or to invest in a new company.

“People are going to think that you need that optimism in order to perform, and they will expect your optimism and value it, but how much that optimism actually ends up helping you, well that’s another question,” Tenney said.

Listen to a podcast of Tenney discussing her findings here:

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