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Haters Gonna... Be More Productive?

Your grouchiest employee might actually also be your most productive employee, suggests a new study. Does that make him any less irritating?
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Most of us have run across one in the course of our careers--that grouchy employee who never has a nice word for anyone, the one who seemingly dislikes everything and is first out of any competition for brightest ray of office sunshine. Maybe you employ one of these folks yourself. Maybe you're at the end of your rope when it comes to dealing with them.

But a new study published in the journal Social Psychology suggests that there might be at least one good reason to cut these haters some more slack. They might be miserable, but it looks like they also might be more productive.

The research out of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Pennsylvania sorted the world into 'likers' and 'haters', of if you prefer more scientific nomenclature, those with high or low "dispositional attitude" by giving study subjects a test measuring how many things they liked. Then the researchers tracked how the study subjects used their time over the course of a one-week period.

Those with low dispositional attitude (aka grouches or haters) and those with sunnier personalities did the same amount of stuff over that time. But the mix of stuff they did turned out to be quite different. While likers spread their time over many different tasks, haters zoned in only a few activities--presumably because these are the only ones these grouches enjoyed.

Miserable But Focused

That focus might make the office hater a bore to speak to about the latest in sports or pop music, but according to the researchers it actually has positive implications for them as workers. First, haters' tendency to focus may lead to increased expertise. The longer you spend doing one thing the better you tend to get at it, after all.

"Likers may adopt a jack-of-all-trades approach to life, investing small amounts of time in a wide variety of activities. This would leave them somewhat skilled at many tasks. In contrast, when haters find an activity they actually like, they may invest a larger amount of time in that task, allowing them to develop a higher skill level compared to likers," explains a release outlining the research.

But that isn't the only benefit of being a hater when it comes to productivity. Multitasking, as we hopefully all know by now, turns your brain to mush, so haters' selectivity about tasks may also help them concentrate, devoting more of their brains to doing fewer things better. Put simply, "because haters like so few things, they may be unlikely to be distracted."

Which of course doesn't make you any more likely to stop for a chat with the office grouch on your way to the coffee machine, but if the rough edges and surly disposition of your company hater are getting you down, maybe these findings will make putting up with their scowl a little more bearable.

In your opinion, are office haters generally worth the hassle?

Last updated: Jul 4, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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