by Mary Winstead
Stephan Dilchert links low cognitive ability with negative work behaviors
How can employers reduce problem behaviors in the workplace? One way is assessing the intelligence level of potential employees during the hiring process.
So concludes a study of the relationship between intelligence and counterproductive work behaviors published by Stephan Dilchert (Ph.D. '08) and Deniz S. Ones, Psychology Professor and holder of the Hellervik-PDI Chair in Industrial Psychology, in the March 2007 issue of The Journal of Applied Psychology.
The study was the first to comprehensively investigate the relationship between cognitive ability and counterproductive work behaviors. A century of research has documented intelligence as a potent factor in explaining a myriad of other work behaviors, including productivity and performance. Although increasing attention has been paid to the subject of negative behavior in the workplace, most other research has focused on personality or level of education as a predictor. Few studies have investigated the link between counterproductivity and cognitive ability. Working with a team that included Robert D. Davis and Cary D. Rostow of Matrix Inc., Dilchert and Ones conducted their research among 3,000 police officer candidates who were given an intelligence test at the time of application. Negative work behaviors were then measured using formal employee records of incidents like destruction of property and physical violence.
The study was inspired by criminological theories asserting that individuals with higher cognitive ability are better able to weigh the consequences of their behavior and are therefore less likely to commit crimes. Using this as a corollary, Dilchert and Ones hypothesized that the same mechanism would underlie behavior on the job. In other words, the higher an individual's intelligence, the greater the likelihood that he or she would realize that negative work behaviors (like skipping work), despite short-term benefits (like running errands on company time), weren't worth the risk (like making a bad impression on his or her supervisor).
"Our data clearly show that the higher the level of workers' intelligence, the lower the incidence of destructive workplace behaviors like theft or substance abuse. Millions of dollars could be saved and workplace safety could be improved if intelligence was taken into consideration before hiring," says Dilchert.
A native of Hamburg, Germany, Dilchert received the Steven Snyder, Meredith Crawford, and David Campbell Graduate Research Fellowships in Psychology. "This support made my experience at the University of Minnesota even more enriching. Because of the fellowships I received, I could travel around the country to present my work to other scholars and exchange ideas with them," he says. "I chose the University of Minnesota because it is known as the best program for industrial psychology. The faculty has a strong tradition of hard science and the best approaches to measurements and metrics."
Ones's research includes counterproductive work behaviors and issues related to personnel and staffing. "Over the past few years, I have worked on several projects that examine the usefulness of personality measures and integrity tests for absenteeism, turnover, and violence on the job," she says. "Recently, my focus in this area has been selection for public safety jobs (police officers, sheriffs, firefighters) as well as identifying effective executives and managers who avoid misbehaviors."
Completing his doctorate during the summer of 2008, Dilchert has taken an assistant professor position at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College (CUNY) in New York City. "I've had a first rate experience at the U." he says. "I feel well prepared for my career and I am thankful for and proud of my industrial/organizational psychology heritage at the University of Minnesota."