Monday, January 14, 2008

Why Look for Bad Attitudes in the Workplace Rather Than Good Attitudes?

After all, if you are looking for good employees why not look for people with good attitudes? The simple answer is--it tends not to work. Looking for good attitudes does not identify individuals with bad attitudes.

I am reminded of a speech given by the president of a gold-mining corporation who stated “Our company must process two tons of dirt to find one once of gold.” An audience member then asked, “How is that possible?” The executive replied, “Well, you look for the gold, not the dirt.”

This is not as obvious as it first appears. For example, the goal of mental therapy is and was to develop well-adjusted happy individuals. Since Sigmund Freud, psychologists and psychiatrists tended to assume that the simple absence of mental illness equated to happiness.

It was Professor Martin E. P. Goldman of the University of Pennsylvania who did empirical research and turned this upside down. He developed a system that showed that happiness is not simply the absence of mental illness, rather it is a proactive phenomena based upon an individual’s beliefs and actions. He did not believe that happiness was the absence of mental illness and he began to look for the factors related to happiness, and a new branch of psychology was born called Positive Psychology. There is more info in his book “Learned Optimism” that was published in 1992.

I suppose it is possible to use Dr. Goldman’s system to identify individuals who score high on the happiness scale and this would likely produce happier workplaces. In fact, this may a good idea but there can be a few legal issues because pre-employment tests must be related to the workplace.

The Workplace Attitude Test focuses on identifying individuals who possess bad attitudes or warning signals that are related to disruption in the workplace and the test looks at a total of nine attitudes.

Without going into great detail, here are three attitudes that I found can be critical problems in the workplace. These include “judgmental” which involves a strong sense of right and wrong; “vindictiveness” which involves a zero-sum approach to relations with customers, fellow employees or supervisors; and “entitlement” which is somewhat self-explanatory. During our research to develop the Workplace Attitudes Test, when problem employees were interviewed it was discovered that these attitudes were almost always present in the extreme. Therefore, these attitudes - judgmental, vindictiveness, and entitlement – are included (among others) when we look for warning signals.

It would be wonderful if we could hire happy well-adjusted individuals every time but a more reasonable goal is to find people who don’t have a chip on their shoulders. For more details on Dr. Goldman’s research, see For more details about our Workplace Attitudes Test please see

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