How Optimism Bias Affects Workplace Productivity.

Attitude is everything. Or at least, this is the dictum that has infiltrated workplaces for decades, inspiring “yes we can” optimism as an element of company culture in a variety of environments. And while it’s true that your mindset determines much of your business success, there’s also such a thing as too much optimism.

[This is a guest post by Katie Brenneman. Thank you Katie for writing this for me.]

Optimism bias plays a role in workplace productivity. In some cases, this “nothing can hurt me” attitude can even lead to business paralysis and wilful ignorance. Because of the negative outcomes that can result from maintaining blind optimism, businesses must be on the lookout for optimism bias and how to correct it.

Optimism can help, but financial success takes a focus on the facts. Explore the ins and outs of a bias towards the positive and what it means in all kinds of operations. As a result, your workplace productivity will thrive.

What is optimism bias?

First, we’ll start by exploring what optimism bias is. This is a topic we tend not to talk about, and yet it is present in an estimated 80% of the population. Optimism bias is the tendency to overestimate one’s likelihood to experience positive events while underestimating negative likelihoods. In business, it can have devastating consequences.

It can have positive ones as well, but optimism bias is something best left to the marketing team. Even there, a close eye on audience metrics is necessary for success. The simple truth is that no business is immune to the pitfalls that have plagued and continue to plague competitors or predecessors. Risks exist in every element of a business, from workplace hazards to inventory loss. Pretending that these risks won’t affect you for one reason or another is the very definition of optimism bias, and it makes businesses more vulnerable to bad decision-making.

But what does optimism bias look like? How can you recognise it in the workplace?

These are a few of the warning signs:

  • Employee carelessness with inventory
  • Ignorance of safety precautions
  • Dismisal of sound data or evidence

When a workforce starts getting careless, that’s when you know you might have an optimism bias problem. Under these conditions, employees don’t feel as though they have to be cautious with goods since failure isn’t within the realm of possibility. Similarly, they’ll cut corners when it comes to safety inspections, PPE wear, and protocol. These all present liabilities your business undoubtedly cannot afford.

But perhaps the most substantial damage that can occur from optimism bias comes through its effects on productivity.

How optimism bias affects productivity

There are several ways that optimism bias affects productivity. Many of these have to do with the relationship between the organisational culture and productivity in general. For example, a productive culture depends on an organisation’s ability to listen and grow with feedback from all stakeholders in the operation. This means end-users as well as employees. Optimism bias directly impacts a business’s ability to respond to stakeholder feedback effectively.

That’s because optimism bias reflects a head-in-the-sand mentality. It crops up in refusals to acknowledge dwindling returns on an investment or a pattern in failed pitches. As a result, one cannot do the work necessary to improve faulty processes. Innovation that could create efficiency is denied.

And modern businesses rely on innovation to maintain a competitive edge. In fact, executives see innovation as the most important way for companies to accelerate the pace of change. For business processes to continuously improve, companies must acknowledge that they are susceptible to threats. Otherwise, the stakes are too low to invest in game-changing improvements.

Businesses caught up in optimism bias fail to perform even the protocols they have in place. Instead of innovating, they backslide. This results in inattention to detail on the job, carelessness, and negligence, all of which can lead to accidents. From here, staffing shortages, facility shutdowns, or — worst case scenario — fatalities interrupt lives and livelihoods. To maintain productivity, an awareness of the risks is needed at all times.

Top causes of workplace injuries include motor vehicle collisions and falls. This demonstrates the prevalence of optimism bias on the job. Business leaders must combat these risks through effective enforcement of regulations and consistent training. To achieve balance in the workplace, workers must first know what that looks like.

Maintaining balanced expectations

No workplace can expect the best all the time. Nor can they expect the worst. Maintaining balanced expectations is the best way to enforce productive work policies. Trained business professionals understand this. They cultivate inclusive cultures complete with diverse perspectives to better assess risks and opportunities.

One of the best ways to keep optimism bias from eating into your productivity is to build such a culture in your own organisation. Start by engaging with employees and fostering feedback. Then, reinforce the importance of safety procedures.

A productive workplace is a safe workplace. Fortunately, you can improve both productivity and safety by better balancing your optimism. These tips will help.

Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specialising in lifestyle, mental health, education, and fitness-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.

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Carl Pullein

Carl Pullein

I help people learn to manage their lives and time better so they can experience joy and build a life they are truly proud of.