The negativity instinct
The negativity instinct is rather more self-explanatory. It has become common knowledge that we are innately conditioned to notice the bad over the good. In a world where bad news sells, we are rarely exposed to notions of improvement. Unfortunately, good news is not news, and gradual improvement is also seldom news. In the world of workplace, we are likely to be presented with negative aspects of the employee workplace experience—reports on disengagement, stress and detriments to our productivity—rather than feel-good stories of success.
Negative news is not always indicative of a situation worsening. In fact, 41.0% of workplaces we have independently measured after a workplace change had taken place received a Lmi score of 70 or above (the global standard for workplace excellence). Whilst sensationalist news would have us believe otherwise, slowly but surely workplaces are improving.
The generalisation instinct
We are continually generalising and categorising items—doing so is vital for our brain’s developmental process. Without generalisation and categorisation, our brains would very quickly get overloaded. But unfortunately, the process of categorisation can make it hard to distinguish within our own internal categories, meaning our brains will often make assumptions despite little corroborative knowledge.
In relation to the workplace, there is no instinct more apparent than the instinct to generalise. We see it time and time again—namely the sensationalism of research pertaining to open-plan offices. Take for instance, a single case study of an open-plan office. The report, which may have concluded that the employees were dissatisfied with their workplace environment, will inevitably lead to sensationalist headlines. Despite this being an isolated case study, a dominant narrative of open-plan being synonymous with low levels of employee satisfaction has been created.
First of all, open-plan offices are not one homogenous category of offices that all look the same; they come in all different variations. And second, just because one doesn’t deliver great employee experience doesn’t mean that none do. The same generalisation is also threatening office concepts with flexible seating—they’re not all the same, and even though some of them fail, it doesn’t mean that all do. So, let’s see what the data says.
Since 2010, we’ve collected data from more than 346 new workplaces (workplaces with ≥50 respondents). If we look at the average Lmi score in these workplaces compared to the proportion of employees who work from a work setting that is not assigned to them (i.e. a flexible setting), we see that flexible solutions, just like solutions with designated work settings, can be outstanding or they can be downright bad (see opposite). Next time you read an article about poor employee experience in an office with flexible seating arrangements, consider a wide range of data before you instinctively start to make generalisations.
The fear instinct
Critical thinking can always be difficult, but, when confronted with fear and uncertainty gaining clarity becomes nearly impossible. According to Rosling, we are so finely tuned to our fear, we subconsciously seek it out in our daily lives. To an extent we are defined by our fear.
In relation to the workplace, the fear instinct can provide us with useful insight into why there will always be some employees resisting change. Consider a workplace alteration in the form of an office move. Though many will welcome this as an opportunity to progress, others will instinctively fear and question the change. These change-critical employees will worry about what the new workplace will be like, how it will impact them, whether they will have their own desk, etc. And as the fear has kicked in, they will subconsciously pay more attention to sensationalist news articles that tell stories about how employees in unassigned workplaces are forced to go to the office early in the morning, just to find somewhere to sit for the day. Their brains will naturally adhere to this narrative, as critical thinking has been clouded by fear and uncertainty. As a result, even when presented with facts that describe the benefits, they will struggle to see any positive opportunities in the change.