Envy Sells: The Psychology of Instagram Marketing

Envy Sells: The Psychology of Instagram Marketing

As I aimlessly scroll through my Instagram feed, past the endlessly narcissistic #wanderlust and #foodporn snaps I begin to notice some pretty aggressive advertising crammed into my phone’s tiny screen. What triggered my curiosity was how unique this advertising is, nothing like other platforms like Twitter or Facebook, advertisements almost blended in with my feed of food snaps and annoying travel pictures. When Insta first became popular in Europe, I was skeptical about how successful it would perform as a marketing platform. My skepticism was evidently unfounded. 


If I don’t Instagram it, did I even have hot chocolate? 

In recent years, Instagram has seen phenomenal growth, with over 600 million users and over 8 million businesses using the site, (Lister, 2017).  Instagram is evidently an effective marketing tool, with 60% of users saying they have discovered a product through the site and over 120 million users have reported making direct contact with a company based on an advert they saw on Insta.

The increasing number of businesses jumping aboard the heavily filtered gravy train shows no signs of slowing. Research conducted by Nanigans has found that the number of companies advertising on Instagram is rising steadily, (Waber, 2016), pointing to significant marketing success. 

The Power of Envy:

So why is marketing on Insta so successful? My theory and the theory of many others is that is can all be traced back to one single human emotion: envy. As I scroll through Insta I am guaranteed to come across someone’s recent indulgences or gifts. The flood of a certain brand of watches on Christmas day with the tags #boydidgood and #spoiled are my personal favorites. The comments sections are of course usually filled with comments akin to “OMG, so jealous”.


How much envy do we feel while scrolling through Instagram?

The feeling of envy has three parts: we must be confronted with a person who has a greater quality than us, we must desire this quality and finally, we experience some negative feeling as a result, (Burton, 2014). Do we all want to be surprised by a shiny new watch at Christmas? Maybe not originally, but when its put in your face, a tinge of envy is a likely side effect. 

The pain of envy is not caused by a desire for the advantages of another but rather by the frustration caused by our sense of lack, (Buron, 2014). “Why don’t I have a huge spread on the 25th that I can slap a filter onto?” This is far from a nice feeling and can drive consumers towards purchasing the product to make these feelings go away and to rebuild a sense of pride (and of course upload a slightly better composed photo than Sarah did). 

So how can a brand sell envy?


By now readers may note that I find the whole Insta craze a little amusing and I met the idea of “influencers” with some major reservations. Despite my amusement, influencers have a major impact on sales. Influencers are essentially individuals with a large group of followers who promote products based on the deals they get, (Soldsie, 2015).


 Could #Wanderlust be a major marketing tool for travel companies? 

After some reading I quickly discovered that Instagram has its own ecosystem. Although celebrity advertising is commonplace on Instagram, what we might consider typical celebrities don’t have quite as much advertising power as expected on the social media site. Research by Djafarovaa & Rushworth (2017) found that although celebrities on Instagram do influence the purchasing behaviour of young women, “Instafamous” social media posters have a greater effect. This is because the interviewed users found Instafamous users more relatable and credible than traditional celebrities. Being envious of a celebrity may be considered normal and may not really impact users too much, but being envious of an influencer who seems more in reach and similar to ourselves could, hypothetically push consumers harder to buy a product. 

This may be because it is evident right away that a celebrity is being given a hefty cheque to sell skin cream whereas an influencer may be slightly better at hiding this fact. Either way, influencers appear to be a excellent method of driving sales.

Building a Brand Army:

Who hasn’t been mentioned in a comment under an Insta post at some point or another? Many Insta users either knowingly or unknowingly advocate for their favorite brands.


Build your #brandarmy

Previous research has found that consumers on social media are much more active compared to those exposed to traditional media, (Chu 2011; Kozinets et al. 2010 as cited in Kwon et al., 2017). At the touch of a button consumers can like, share, comment and invite connections to engage with a brand. My theory is that this has the advantage of adding familiarity to a brand. If a friend is invested in a brand, it removes any potential anxiety of the unknown. There is a real sense of trust evident. 

What makes a consumer provide a brand with free advertising? Kwon et al., (2017) found that social media advocacy behaviours were influenced by three perceived benefits: self-enhancement, community belonging and delivering benefits to others. So if a brand has enhanced my life, made me feel like I belong to something and I can share this to help others, then I am likely to pass the brand name on. Of course these perceived benefits are mediated by where the brand stands in society and individual factors.

On the other hand it was found that advocacy behaviours are less likely to occur when consumers fear social judgment from others and disapproval of behaviours undertaken as an advocate. Even though I love this brand of cologne, if I think people are going to tell me to get lost, then I won’t exactly jump at the chance to promote a brand.

My tip is that marketers should focus on creating some conversation around their brand that already loyal customers would be willing to pass on to their friends. Promotional offers that benefit not only the loyal customer, but also their friend could be an excellent way to achieve this (for example: 50% off each for referral). 

The Actual Photo:

Envy may be a major motivator on Instagram, but nobody is going to be envious of an obnoxious neon green post that screams “we hate to interrupt your scrolling, but buy this”What makes an photo stand out from the crowd just subtly enough so that it doesn’t cause consumers to think “ugh, another ad” and disengage? Waber (2016) suggests ensuring advertisements fit in with a standard Instagram feed by making them look organic, using minimal branding and sticking to the 20% rule regarding text.


Simplicity is the order of the day

Putting this into practice can take some research. Look at what your target audience is posting and come up with a text minimal, high quality image that stands out just a little bit. This may be through the higher quality or text, but ensuring it doesn’t scream marketing is key.


Instagram marketing has skyrocketed as a marketing platform, with 70.7% of US companies using the site to advertise, out taking Twitter for the first time, (Lister, 2017). It is forecasted that mobile ad revenues from Instagram will reach $2.81 Billion this year, accounting for 10% of Insta’s parent company Facebook’s global ad revenues, (Lister, 2017). It is uncertain how long this upward trend will last, but for now, Instagram is #marketinggoals.


Burton, N. (2014). The Psychology and Philosophy of EnvyPsychology Today. Retrieved 20 August 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201408/the-psychology-and-philosophy-envy

Djafarova, E., & Rushworth, C. (2017). Exploring the credibility of online celebrities’ Instagram profiles in influencing the purchase decisions of young female users. Computers In Human Behavior68, 1-7. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.009

Kwon, E., Ratneshwar, S., & Thorson, E. (2017). Consumers’ Social Media Advocacy Behaviors Regarding Luxury Brands: An Explanatory Framework. Journal Of Interactive Advertising17(1), 13-27. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15252019.2017.1315321

Lister, M. (2017). 33 Mind-Boggling Instagram Stats & Facts for 2017Wordstream.com. Retrieved 20 August 2017, from http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2017/04/20/instagram-statistics

Soldsie. (2015). Instagram Psychology: How Consumer Envy Can Drive SalesSoldsie. Retrieved 21 August 2017, from https://new.soldsie.com/blog/instagram-psychology-how-consumer-envy-can-drive-sales/

Waber, A. (2017). Instagram Advertising: What’s Working?Marketing Land. Retrieved 20 August 2017, from http://marketingland.com/instagram-advertising-whats-working-157977


Prosecco Pop! The Psychology & Future of Prosecco’s Success

Prosecco Pop! The Psychology & Future of Prosecco’s Success

As I sat in one of Dublin’s many new hipster bars a few nights ago (complete with frayed sofas and “aged” mirrors) I noticed a not so new trend. Five of the 10 tables had bottles of prosecco sitting on them with mandatory ice buckets and flutes. Customers were glugging the stuff bottle after bottle and no wonder, a bottle in this particular establishment was only €28 whereas the cheapest non-house chardonnay was coming in at €35. A bottle of champagne would have set me back €95 so when I want something a little more indulgent I proudly opt for prosecco to ensure my credit card won’t combust. Even in supermarkets this price gap is blatantly obvious with the cheapest champagne being €35 and the cheapest prosecco retailing at €8 per bottle.

Nobody seems to be able to pinpoint exactly when the prosecco trade began its boom in Ireland but one thing is for sure: business is booming. The 2015 grape harvest saw the equivalent of 450 million bottles of prosecco being produced with 70% of those bottles being exported to foreign markets, (Collins, 2016).

Fizzing to the Top:

Sadly there isn’t a huge amount of data out there on how prosecco is performing in the Irish market but if the UK market is anything to go by things are bubbling to the top (sorry) and will continue to do so. The UK drinks 35% of the world’s prosecco, which is significant when compared to the U.S. which only consumes 17%, (Collins, 2016). In an analysis of sales in major supermarkets between February 2015 and February 2016 research giant IRI found that prosecco sales saw a growth of 34% compared to champagne which grew 1%, (IRI Worldwide, 2016). The same analysis also found that supermarket’s own brand prosecco occupies 12% of sales whereas the most popular non-own brand prosecco accounted for only 6% of sales, (IRI Worldwide, 2016). Consumers are thirsty and not too fussed about brands it seems, making prosecco one of the wine industry’s leading products. Let’s see why.

Luxury at a Reasonable Price:

Historically champagne has always been a symbol of wealth, success and celebration. Advertisements for various champagne brands sell us a life of exclusivity and excess. As a society exposed to celebrities and TV shows and films that glorify excess we are conditioned to think that this is what we should aspire to. Champagne is a symbol of this lifestyle and is thus in high demand. I think that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to this situation perfectly. Maslow (1943; 1954) suggested that once we meet our most basic physical and psychological needs (food, water, safety ect) we develop a drive to become better, to achieve mastery, status and prestige. As a nation out of recession but still in choppy waters many of us are ready to move from keeping things ticking over towards a sense of self-actualisation. Here is where society kicks in: we are fed the idea that our lifestyle is vital and that indulging in the finer things moves us up the pyramid. Although our economy is healing, we are not out of the woods yet and spending €95 on our weekly fizz is not doable for the vast majority of Irish people.

So what are we to do? Dan Hill, an expert in consumer behaviour states that when consumers are confronted with crazy prices our pride takes a blow and in an attempt to salvage it we settle for something else that is still a luxury but doesn’t carry the debt-inducing price tag, (Binkley, 2007). Ever notice how prosecco is sold right beside champagne? I imagine marketers have caught on to this this idea and placed €10 bottles of prosecco a few shelves down from champagnes ranging from €45 – €300. The result is brilliant news for retailers as they can help consumers save pride and climb the pyramid by giving them a reasonably priced luxury drink (flutes and buckets not included).

The Power of Bubbles:

Investing in prosecco is a no-brainer for Irish retailers given the success the UK market has enjoyed. A further factor worth a mention is Brexit. Coldiretti, the association of Italian food producers has expressed concern that Brexit may seriously harm trade relations between Italy and the UK as Britain consumes 1 out of every 5 bottles of prosecco produced, (Sheffield, 2016). Despite being traditionally seen as a beer drinking country Ireland consumes a significant amount of wine glugging 24 litres per capita which given the differences in our market power is comparable to the UK at 30 litres per capita, (Marian, 2014).This may open up the Irish market as a more attractive import destination for producers and enhance the Irish prosecco market significantly.

For marketers, investors and retailers however the main question is will the prosecco craze last? In terms of consumer psychology it seems that prosecco is here to stay. The main reason for this appears to be the association consumers draw between champagne and prosecco. If you have ever witnessed champagne advertising campaigns they are truly amazing: they unapologetically glorify wealth, excess and are far from shy when it comes to celebrity endorsements. The adverts are never just selling champagne: they are selling a lifestyle. Our climb towards prestige (and its associated wants) is an emotional journey and emotions themselves play a massive role in influencing our spending, (Murray, 2013). Champagne is out of many people’s price range but giving consumers a taste of the life they crave by selling them an image of luxury by using an alternative and visually identical product such as prosecco is a solid marketing practice.. In line with this theory, marketers may need to do more to ensure that prosecco isn’t thrown onto the heap with the other trends that have come and gone in Ireland. Using a more luxurious and exclusive image for prosecco may prove very effective as it taps into many consumer’s desires. Unless human psychology changes suddenly and significantly it seems that prosecco is indeed here to stay!


Binkley, C. (2007). The Psychology of the $14,000 Handbag. WSJ. Retrieved from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118662048221792463

Collins, G. (2016). Prosecco 2016 Output Seen Up as Much as 20% as U.K. Sales Surge. Bloomberg.com. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-07/prosecco-2016-output-seen-up-as-much-as-20-as-u-k-sales-surge

IRI Wordwide,. (2016). Prosecco keeps its sparkle as sales grow by a third in one year, with retailer own labels taking the- IRI. Iriworldwide.com. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from http://www.iriworldwide.com/en-SA/Insights/news/Prosecco-keeps-its-sparkle-as-sales-grow-by-a-thir-en

Marian, J. (2014). Wine consumption in Europe by country per year per capita. Jakubmarian.com. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from https://jakubmarian.com/wine-consumption-in-europe-by-country-per-year-per-capita/

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96.

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row.

Murray, P. (2013). How Emotions Influence What We Buy. Psychology Today. Retrieved 13 August 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/inside-the-consumer-mind/201302/how-emotions-influence-what-we-buy

Sheffield, H. (2016). EU referendum prompts prosecco panic in Italy. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/news/eu-referendum-brexit-wine-prosecco-italy-exports-champagne-a7097166.html#gallery

Notions: Marketing to Ireland’s Aspiring Middle Class

Notions: Marketing to Ireland’s Aspiring Middle Class

It seems that the days when Glenroe accurately depicted the vast majority of the Irish population are well and truly gone. In 2015 Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse found that over 50% of Irish adults qualified as “middle class” (i.e. a wealth exceeding €45,000), (Kelpie, 2015). We now live in an age where expensive suits, comparing overpriced cars and postcodes is becoming very, very common…is that a tiger’s roar I hear? Notions!

As our notions grow, so does our spending. Irish consumer spending rose by 9.7% in 2016 compared to 2015, (Visa Europe, 2016). On the whole Visa Europe found that we are splurging on luxuries a lot more than we were. For instance with a hypertrophy of notionism one often sees a rise in recreation and cultural outings (trip to the theatre anyone?) and Ireland has been no exception with consumers spending 20.7% more than they did in 2015, (Visa Europe, 2016). The spike in spending is depicted in the CSO’s statistics below, (CSO as cited by TradingEconomics, 2016).




This is big news for Irish businesses as it means accounts are growing and there is money to be spent on luxuries consumers have deprived themselves of for years. The only question is: how does a business move these extra funds from the consumer to themselves? In this post we are going to examine the science behind marketing to an emerging middle class.

Keep it Complicated:

For centuries luxury items have been seen as sophisticated, complex and refined, but why? Turns out its all in the name. Psychologist Adam Alter coined the term “disfluency” which essentially means when consumers have to think about a product for longer than usual it creates a mystical feeling towards the product and a drive to consume it, (Wilcox, 2013). The best way to do this is through naming as it is often the first aspect of a product a consumer comes into contact with. Wilcox, (2013) describes names like Louis Vuitton and Häagen Dazs as perfect examples of disfluency as consumers have to think about how the product is pronounced leading to a sense of the product being sophisticated. I think, therefore I buy.

Taxing a consumer’s brain just the right amount might just boost sales as who wouldn’t feel smug showing off a pair of shoes from a fancy and impossible to pronounce designer? Shut up and take my money!

 Help them climb the Status Ladder:

The emerging middle class in Ireland is just that: emerging. They are not well off just yet but they aspire to be. Researchers have been dumbfounded by the fact that that those who are less well off tend to spend a larger proportion of their income on luxury goods compared to those with six-figure incomes. We may finally have the answer to why this happens, recent research has shown that the consumption of luxury goods boosts self-esteem significantly (Sivanathan & Pettit, 2010) which is often needed by all of us not in the 1%. Consumers constantly seek methods to boost self-esteem or dissipate vulnerability and a product that promises high status (maybe it is endorsed by a very well known rich and powerful celebrity?) becomes a necessity on an emotional level, (Tuttle, 2010).

I can’t help but recall a recent advert for a well-known cologne brand featuring a man in a perfectly tailored suit, a brand new shiny executive class car and a refined accent. The advert was about everything BUT the fragrance; it was homage to a better lifestyle that the stuff in the bottle was simply being associated with. They could have been advertising vinegar and I probably would have bought it. Show the growing middle class that your product is a stepping stone to a real life of excess and you might just be on to something.

Make Them Feel Smarter:

Now the term “notions” really applies. According to Willcoxin (2013) presenting seemingly complex information to consumers in a way they can easily grasp very quickly makes them feel like experts and a lot more in-the-know. He points to Nespresso as being a perfect example: consumers must learn a seemingly complex system of coffee types (in reality quickly learned) which makes them feel like regular coffee experts! This sense of mastery no doubt builds a sense of intelligence and in turn confidence. All key attributes of an ambitious and successful person (or so we are told).

Intelligence and refinement have long been associated with success and the upper portions of the middle class. Advertising a product in a way that ensures consumers a massive brain boost may be a magnet for Ireland’s aspiring middle class.

Ensure they are Keeping up with the Joneses:

Spending a large part of my life growing up in rural Cavan, I heard this expression more times than I care to mention (of course expressions like “it was far from X they were reared” and naturally “notions” quickly followed). Every time somebody in the area got a new car or wore a certain brand they were deemed to be trying to outdo the legendary “Joneses”. It turns out there is some science behind this expression.

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller argues that the consumer aspect of the human brain is underdeveloped and uses old school methods to pick out products, (Dooley, 2010). On the planes of a new world we wanted to appear “fit” so that our DNA could be passed down. However beating each other with clubs is generally frowned upon so Miller argues that we have simply adapted this desire to consumerism, (Dooley, 2010). Miller states that we buy luxury goods to show off how “fit” we are: we can consume the finer things and still remain in good condition which on an evolutionary level makes us more attractive, (Dooley, 2010). In a sense we have moved away from shouting the loudest and giving people the biggest clout to prove our fitness to ensuring we out do others and maintain our sense of “fitness”. From the caves to the high street tailor.

Products that are advertised to boost attractiveness, desirability and superiority all feed into this desire so it is little wonder why these luxuries sell so well. There is no logical basis for a €4,000 coat but that’s the trick: the primitive brain is anything but logical. Advertise it in the right way and logic is irrelevant.

Have a “Runner-Up” Prize:

I recently took a trip to a high end tailor where I browsed through suits, each one was finer than the last but with € 2,000 price tags I soon shied away from the racks and bought a more mildly priced t-shirt. I thought I was the only one but it turns out Prof. Barry Schwarz of Swarthmore College had a very similar shopping experience to myself which is recalled in the Wall Street Journal. Consultant Dan Hill weighs in by stating that consumers feel outrage at the high prices they have just been confronted with which damages their pride and leaves them feeling rather dejected, (Binkley, 2007). To remedy this, smart retailers will have some more “affordable” luxuries in place so that the consumer can soothe their damaged pride with a much smaller (but still branded) luxury, (Binkley, 2007).

Indeed branded accessories such as belts and sunglasses make up for a large part of the luxury market, (Binkley, 2007) so the importance of runner up prizes cannot be understated. The point made by Dan Hill is vital to reaching the aspiring Irish middle class who cannot yet afford the €2,000 suit but could maybe splurge on a €200 pair of sunglasses. Without the pride saving runner up prize they leave the store feeling dejected and are unlikely to come back.

Onwards & Upwards:

Feeding consumer’s drive towards what they feel they want to be reaches a deep psychological need. I believe that it feeds into Carl Rogers theory of self-actualization which states that humans seek to become their “ideal-self” and much of their behaviour is shaped by this drive, (McLeod, 2007). Advertise a product in a way that promises self-actualisation and it may just be a goldmine for businesses targeting the aspiring middle class. Growing up with shows depicting celebrities thinking nothing of $50,000 price tags, films that glorify excess and advertisements crafted towards black credit cards the aspiring Irish middle class wants a piece of the action. As our economy grows young professionals can now afford a bigger slice of the pie and businesses in the luxury industry can really cash in on this new found expendable income. Done correctly marketing in this area may bring massive growth.


Binkley, C. (2016). The Psychology of the $14,000 HandbagWall Street Journal. Retrieved 29 July 2016, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB118662048221792463

Dooley, R. (2010). Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer BehaviorNeuromarketing. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/spent-sex-evolution-and-consumer-behavior.htm

Kelpie, C. (2015). Half of Irish adults now qualify as ‘middle class’, says wealth survey. The Irish Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.ie/business/budget/news/half-of-irish-adults-now-qualify-as-middle-class-says-wealth-survey-34111412.html

McLeod, S. (2007). Carl RogersSimplypsychology.org. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/carl-rogers.html#self

Sivanathan, N. & Pettit, N. (2010). Protecting the self through consumption: Status goods as affirmational commodities. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 46(3), 564-570. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2010.01.006

Trading Economics, (2016). Ireland Consumer Spending. Retrieved from http://www.tradingeconomics.com/ireland/consumer-spending

Tuttle, B. (2016). Psych Study: When You’re Bummed, You’re More Likely to Buy. TIME.com. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from http://business.time.com/2010/05/07/study-low-self-esteem-makes-you-more-likely-to-buy-luxury-goods/

Visa Europe,. (2016). Visa Europe. Visa.ie. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from https://www.visa.ie/about-us/press-releases/visa-europe-s-irish-consumer-spending-index-9th-may-2016-55750?returnUrl=%2Fabout-us%2Fpress-releases%2Firish-consumer-spending-increases-by-9-7-in-april-as-ecommerce-fuels-growth-1398465.aspx

Willcox, M. (2013). Why a cognitive approach is key to luxury marketing. Luxurydaily.com. Retrieved 28 July 2016, from https://www.luxurydaily.com/why-a-cognitive-approach-is-key-to-luxury-marketing/

Strict Employers: When Workplace Discipline Goes Too Far

Strict Employers: When Workplace Discipline Goes Too Far

“Can I speak to you in my office for a moment?”

In a certain context this is the last thing an employee wants to hear. Recently I have come across numerous pieces which describe over-the-top “disciplinary procedures” in the workplace. These procedures range from a nasty court summons style letter to a hearing. Organisations attempt to justify pouring excessive resources into keeping employees in line as they believe it keeps them oprating at peak efficiency, but is this true? Excessive workplace discipline has become a major problem in Ireland with a 2013 report finding that 77% of employers had dismissed employees without even adhering to their own disciplinary procedures, (Hosford, 2013). This post examines when workplaces develop their own pseudo-legal system and the consequences of taking discipline too far.

Death by Paperwork:

Substantial evidence shows that when employees feel they have freedom at work they become more productive, committed and less likely to walk out of an organisation, (Gagné & Devasheesh as cited in Nauert, 2015). Despite this many employers ensure that on day one of employment employees sign a (usually) long winded contract and read an even more overwritten handbook which clearly outlines what happens when they put a toe out of line. While I accept that clear rules are needed to ensure employees aren’t stealing and coming in wasted many employers invoke harsh “procedures” for even the smallest mistakes. The problem with bombarding employees with rules and regulations on day one is simple: people hate being told what to do, (Jacobs, 2013). On day one of the job employees have lost that vital sense of autonomy (freedom) mentioned above which does not paint a positive picture of how they are likely to perform.

The Consequence of too much Authority:

“Absolute power corrupts absolutely”

When an organisation poorly versed in employee relations writes the over-the-top contract mentioned above somebody needs to enforce it. Enter the managers and supervisors. Most of these professionals are caring, empathetic and effective but some senior staff appear to have appointed themselves as workplace police and judges. Years of research in organisational psychology has shown us that nasty managers/supervisors are ineffective, (Hamel, 2016) and a thorn in the paw of any organisation.

So how does it happen? Psychologists have named this the “paradox of power”. To become a leader one must have certain traits such as politeness, being an outgoing person and honesty, but all good things must come to an end. The paradox of power shows us that when a person reaches a position of power they often lose these traits and become rude, reckless and impulsive, (Lehrer, 2010). Giving certain individuals excessive power in organisations is a dangerous move as those with a greater sense of power tend to advocate much harsher punishments in comparison to those who were more modest, (Wiltermuth & Flynn, 2013). To bluntly summarise: if certain managers and supervisors wish to act as if they are the law then perhaps they should hit the books once more and change careers.

The Consequences:

So we have established that overwritten paperwork and nasty management is ineffective (and this is painfully obvious). Sadly this is only the start of the problem. Excessive discipline may cause excessive deviance. Lawrence & Robinson (2007) suggest that excessive organisational power leads to a loss of autonomy, identity and a sense of injustice among employees which in turn causes frustration among the workforce. The authors also suggest that this attempt to keep employees in line actually does the opposite: it motivates employees to engage in deviance to get retribution for injustice. This retribution could be as simple as employees intentionally being unproductive. Annoy enough employees with excessive discipline and you may just find yourself in hot water.

One deplorable way some organisations ensure employees are following the rule book is through excessive monitoring. While an eye does need to be kept on employees to ensure things are up to speed, is breathing down their necks really necessary? Not only is it a waste of resources and a little creepy, it paradoxically damages productivity. A wealth of circumstantial evidence shows that excessive monitoring results in significantly increased anxiety and stress, (Roberts, n.d.) which aside from causing a toxic work environment directly harms employee productivity and increases absenteeism, (Towers Watson, 2014).

The Real Law:

Excessive workplace discipline is not only counterproductive but it may bring the law knocking on an employer’s door. I am no solicitor or legal expert but some reading found that in Ireland employees are protected from this sort of behaviour by law and employers have a duty to “prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk”, (Health & Safety at Work Act, 2005, sec. 8). An employee could easily allege they were being intimidated by a superior through excessive monitoring or over the top procedures which impacted their health and welfare at work. Dismissals can also be disputed and employers may find themselves in hot water under the Unfair Dismissals Acts (1977-2015). This also applies to constructive dismissals (where an employee has elected to leave their job due to the conduct of an employer). To put it bluntly: if an organisation acts like it is the law, it might just attract the law.


The idea that  running an organisation as a “tight ship” in regards to discipline is an outdated myth which has been shown to be very ineffective. Employees need a certain degree of freedom and respect if organisations wish to hold on to a productive workforce. Those enforcing codes of conduct must be carefully selected and monitored to ensure they are fit for purpose. The modern workplace is changing fast with employees becoming more critical and able to take real action against unfair treatment. This has become a priority for statutory organisations (who are the real law) so organisations attempting to put themselves in a position of excessive authority over employees may be simply overpowered and put in line.


Hamel, G. (2016). What Is a Bully Management Style?. Chron. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/bully-management-style-35804.html

Hosford, P. (2013). 77 per cent of Irish bosses have sacked an employee without following procedures. The Journal. Retrieved from http://www.thejournal.ie/employers-admit-firing-staff-and-not-following-procedure-1123384-Oct2013/

ISB,. (2005). Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Irishstatutebook.ie. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2005/act/10/enacted/en/html

Jacobs, C. (2013). Don’t Read This. Psychology Today. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/management-rewired/201305/dont-read

Law Reform Ireland,. (2016). Unfair Dismissals Act 1977. Lawreform.ie. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://www.lawreform.ie/_fileupload/RevisedActs/WithAnnotations/HTML/EN_ACT_1977_0010.htm

Lawrence, T. & Robinson, S. (2007). Ain’t Misbehavin: Workplace Deviance as Organizational Resistance. Journal Of Management, 33(3), 378-394. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0149206307300816

Lehrer, J. (2010). How Power Corrupts. WIRED. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://www.wired.com/2011/05/how-power-corrupts/

Nauert, R. (2011). Worker Autonomy Can Lead to Greater Productivity, Satisfaction | Psych Central News. Psych Central. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/01/25/worker-autonomy-can-lead-to-greater-productivity-satisfaction/22885.html

Roberts, A. Monitoring In The Workplace: Health Concerns. Stanford University. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/courses/cs181/projects/electronic-monitoring/health.html

Towers Watson,. (2014). Workplace stress leads to less productive employees. Towers Watson. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from https://www.towerswatson.com/en/Press/2014/09/Workplace-stress-leads-to-less-productive-employees

Wiltermuth, S. S., & Flynn, F. J. (2013). Power, Moral Clarity, And Punishment In The Workplace. Academy Of Management Journal, 56(4), 1002-1023. doi:10.5465/amj.2010.0960

Managerial Psychopaths: A Bad Investment

Managerial Psychopaths: A Bad Investment

We often think of psychopaths as dangerous criminals locked up and kept behind bite masks. While some psychopaths are indeed incarcerated many remain in society and in very successful careers. Psychopaths are often attracted to positions of power with management being a prime example as it gives them access to groups of people they can control to amuse themselves and exploit for personal gain. The prevalence of psychopathy in leadership positions is estimated to be four times higher than in the general population, (Whitbourne, 2015) which paints a grim picture for employees and organisations alike.

I am not for a second saying that managerial positions are overrun with psychopaths but rather highlighting the risk these people pose to organisations when they do get in the door. Many managers are kind, caring and effective but when they are not problems arise and fast. The best and most effective managers will earn employee’s trust, respect employee’s time and use a consistent style, (Lipman, 2013). Poor or nasty management styles have been shown to majorly impact motivation, (Bianca, 2016) which in turn destroys productivity. Management is the backbone of a healthy, happy and productive workplace. To clarify once more I am not saying that every nasty manager is a psychopath; they could just be a nasty person who was put in the wrong position through poor selection. The focus of this post is however on when psychopaths are managing employees, why this is organisational suicide and what to do about it.

The term psychopath is no longer used in psychology or medicine and has been replaced by the term Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) but for ease I will continue using the term corporate psychopath as it is most commonly used to describe this phenomenon.

 How to Spot a Corporate Psychopath:

Spotting a corporate psychopath can be hard as these individuals use their superficial charm to rise through the ranks quickly and go unnoticed due to the hectic nature of modern organisations, (Boddy, 2011). Thankfully research has isolated a few common characteristics. Cable (2013) & Eichner (2014) have put together excellent lists of warning signs to look out for.

These individuals may be likable, often too likeable, which can fool superiors and leave them with an attitude that they can do no wrong. Behind this charming façade can be a lack of empathy, a pleasure in undermining others, a love of causing conflict and confusion and taking credit for the achievements of others. Character assassination, blackmail and seduction are also commonplace. Attempts to correct these behaviours may expose the individual’s true colours very quickly. When corrected, these individuals tend to shift blame onto others (such as subordinates) in a seamless fashion, leaving superiors confused and duped. One often covert sign is outward displays of emotion followed by an immediate return to normal, which is possible due to psychopath’s inability to feel emotions properly or at all: returning to normal after crying is easy because it was all an act. Other things to look out for include fleeting friendships (which end once the individual gets what they want), constant requests to take into account extenuating circumstances for poor performance and unnecessary risk taking.

Any of these signs are red flags for organisations. Let’s see why.

 The Cost of Psychopaths:

One of the most common behaviours psychopaths in the workplace engage in is bullying. Boddy, (2011) found that organisations with no corporate psychopaths showed a bullying incidence of 54.7% whereas those with corporate psychopaths showed a 93.3% incidence. This unacceptable behaviour is expensive and is estimated to cost organisations €3 billion per year, (Harrold, 2015). This is due to a number of reasons such as high turnover, sick days due to stress and legal repercussions, (Parris, 2015). Psychopaths leading teams won’t do your profits any good it seems.

Psychopathic managers also breed toxic behaviours into employees with subordinates learning negative behaviours from these leaders (Boddy, 2013). This makes sense as managers are in a position where they are supposed to be setting an example for others to follow: unethical behaviour breeds unethical behaviour. Unethical behaviour can lead to legal issues, reduced productivity and a bad name for your organisation.

Not only do corporate psychopaths damage those they manage, they also directly damage organisational performance as they themselves may not be anything special and may underperform, (Mathieu et al., as cited in Whitbourne, 2015). Using superficial charm and manipulation these individuals may just convince organisations that they are performing at their best. A tailored suit and an easy smile go a long way. When things do go wrong and the blame is pointed at the psychopath they will easily find someone else to blame, and you will most likely be tricked into believing it, (Eichner, 2014).

If these behaviours are allowed to go unchecked employees will begin to talk and quite soon the reputation (and success) of an organisation can be in tatters, especially if the organisation relies on public consumption, (Fowler, 2012). A reputation for bullying, poor performance and unethical behaviour is unlikely to attract consumers and investors. This risk of destruction by word of mouth has no doubt risen significantly in the age of social media and can sink an organisation in a very short period of time.

Protecting your Organisation:

A central problem is that organisations seeking managers are attracted to intelligent, driven, energetic, charming and charismatic individuals who can influence others which are all traits commonly displayed by organisational psychopaths, (Babiak as cited in Eichner, 2014). So how can organisations separate psychopaths from those who are genuinely all of the above? Here are some tips which may be useful to organisations when selecting leaders:

Stay Informed:

Information is power right? Recruitment and HR teams need to be made aware of the above warning signs. Although it is unlikely recruiters or HR teams are psychologists or physicians some education on what to look out for may just be a stitch in time.

Prevention is better than the Cure:

Psychometric screening may detect anti-social traits during the recruitment phase. Inclusion of simple tests in standard batteries may stop these individuals from reaching positions of power. One of the most famous and used tests is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R), (Hare, 2003). Another short (20 item) test is the B Scan 360, (Mathieu, Hare, Jones, Babiak, & Neumann, 2013) which is specifically tailored to sniff out workplace psychopaths.


What are employees saying about leaders? The human ear is frustratingly underused in organisations. Remember that employees may see these traits on a daily basis and may be able to inform HR better than anyone else. Turning a blind eye to reports when they do come in makes employees feel undervalued and I don’t need to highlight what that does to productivity. Listen, investigate and act.


A psychopath is leading your employees, demoralising them and draining your organisation. I think the solution is pretty obvious: remove them from the organisation. Keep in mind that this may not be a walk in the park: psychopaths are experts in lying and manipulation and may convince organisations not to dismiss them. Rehabilitation is difficult when working with psychopaths; in fact it is one of the hardest conditions to treat, (Berger, 2014). Sensitivity training run by the HR department will be of little use here.

In conclusion: if years of Hollywood productions have taught us nothing else it should be that psychopaths are bad news. Organisations can become a playground for these individuals quite easily if nothing is done. A very expensive playground.



Berger, F. (2014). Antisocial personality disorder. National Institute of Health. Retrieved 17 June 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000921.htm

Boddy, C. (2011). Corporate Psychopaths, Bullying and Unfair Supervision in the Workplace. Journal Of Business Ethics, 100(3), 367-379. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-010-0689-5

Boddy, C. (2013). Corporate Psychopaths, Conflict, Employee Affective Well-Being and Counterproductive Work Behaviour. J Bus Ethics, 121(1), 107-121. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-013-1688-0

Cable, J. (2013). How to Spot a Psychopath in Your Workplace. Ehstoday.com. Retrieved 17 June 2016, from http://ehstoday.com/safety/nsc-2013-how-spot-psychopath-your-workplace

Eichner, B. (2014). 11 Ways to Spot a Psychopath at Work. RecruitLoop Blog. Retrieved 17 June 2016, from http://recruitloop.com/blog/11-ways-to-spot-a-psychopath-at-work/

Fowler, J. (2012). Financial Impacts Of Workplace Bullying. Investopedia. Retrieved 15 June 2016, from http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0712/financial-impacts-of-workplace-bullying.aspx

Hare, R. D. (2003). Manual for the Revised Psychopathy Checklist (2nd ed.). Toronto, ON, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.

Harrold, M. (2015). Workplace bullying costs money, trust and can even ruin lives. The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2016, from http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/workplace-bullying-costs-money-trust-and-can-even-ruin-lives-1.2141818

Holt, S. & Marques, J. (2011). Empathy in Leadership: Appropriate or Misplaced? An Empirical Study on a Topic that is Asking for Attention. J Bus Ethics, 105(1), 95-105. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10551-011-0951-5

Lipman, V. (2013). 5 Things the Best Managers Do — and Don’t Do. Psychology Today. Retrieved 15 June 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mind-the-manager/201309/5-things-the-best-managers-do-and-dont-do

Mathieu, C., Hare, R., Jones, D., Babiak, P., & Neumann, C. (2013). Factor structure of the B-Scan 360: A measure of corporate psychopathy. Psychological Assessment, 25(1), 288-293. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0029262

Parris, T. (2015). Business Costs of Bullying in the Workplace. Overcomebullying. Retrieved 15 June 2016, from http://www.overcomebullying.org/costs-of-bullying.html

Whitbourne, S. (2015). 20 Signs That Your Boss May Be a Psychopath. Psychology Today. Retrieved 15 June 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201509/20-signs-your-boss-may-be-psychopath

From Spoiled Brats to Savvy Shoppers: Psychoanalysis & Consumerism

From Spoiled Brats to Savvy Shoppers: Psychoanalysis & Consumerism

For the past few weeks I have been saving up for a new set of celebrity endorsed headphones and when that (ever delayed) pay check came in I finally bought them. I had told myself that I would stop spending money on “luxuries” as soon as I bought them. I would be truly satisfied if I got them and I was quite silly to believe myself. Now I am fighting the desire to invest in an overpriced chrome laptop and assuring myself that once I get that I’ll be satisfied. I can’t be the only one right!? Why do we keep spending? Maxing out credit cards and overdrafts in the process when we know all too well that we’ll just want something else shiny in a matter of days?

The demand for luxury goods defies the golden rule of economics: the law of supply and demand, (Economist, 2007). The demand for luxury goods in Ireland is on the rise as the economy makes a steady recovery, (Ó Fátharta, 2015), which means big business for many industries. The reasons behind our drive to consume luxury goods are poorly understood which is surprising given that it is the desire to consume that has kept many industries afloat. Understanding of this desire is vital to any organisation which dabbles in the luxuries field. I decided to turn to the controversial field of psychoanalysis to shed some light on this phenomenon.

 The Origins of Demand:

Our never ending demands for something new and shiny may have been there since the year dot according to psychoanalysis. Growing up is a stressful time. Becoming an adult human takes a lot of work and this process starts from the moment we enter the world according to the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. When we are born, we are made of demands. We want to be fed, to be played with or just to keep our parents on their feet to keep us happy; waiting for satisfaction is simply not an option. As we transverse the minefield of development the demands we make sometimes have to be set aside to ensure we become well rounded humans, (Daniel, 2009). We have to face the harsh reality of the world: “you can’t always get what you want”. This isn’t an easy thing to hear and can smart a bit. Freud (1915) suggested that humans push painful feelings experienced during development out of conscious awareness through a process known as repression. Repressing having our every whim unmet may help us develop but like anything we sweep under the rug: it comes back with a vengeance. Freud suggested that these repressed feelings of having demands unmet will come back in a distorted form, (Felluga, 2011). This distortion occurs to protect us from remembering exactly how painful it was to learn the lesson you can’t always get what you want, (Freud, 1900).

Our mind adds to this distortion process by using defence mechanisms whose primary function is to prevent anxiety, (McLeod, 2009) (a feeling we can all agree on is horrible). My theory is that one mechanism: sublimation may help us understand consumerism. Sublimation simply involves addressing an unconscious lack with something constructive, (McLeod, 2009). It is possible that our frustration at not being able to get what we wanted could be converted (sublimated) to a desire to consume. When we go out and buy those insanely priced headphones the purchase gives us a sense of satisfaction (which we had to set aside to become members of society) and calms our unconscious anxiety. As many of us know by now this feeling is short-lived and we will soon demand something else new and shiny. Why is this?

Never Ending Demand:

French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist Jacques Lacan did a lot of work to understand our never ending demands. Lacan as cited in Fink (2002) suggested that these demands are deeply rooted in our unconscious and thus cannot be readily accessed; he suggested that unconscious demands act as a massive driving force for our behaviours. Humans will strive to meet demands in many areas of life but as we cannot tap into exactly what we really want we can never truly be satisfied, (Lacan as cited in Fink, 2002). Our minds will continue to rationalise this sense of lack and sublimate it into various wants such as a drive to consume but it will be forever impossible to fully satisfy our sense of demand. Once we buy one thing we will want another and another and so on. I like to use the analogy of hunger to represent this never ending stream of demands: we could have the best meal of our lives which gives us total satisfaction in the moment but soon we will be hungry again, this sense of total satisfaction is temporary and will dissipate eventually.

This constant hunger is good news for marketers as it means that consumers are hardwired at an unconscious level to keep on consuming. One difficulty they face is convincing consumers that what they sell can satisfy consumer’s never ending desire. Another difficulty is that the demand for satisfaction is a very diverse concept which is distorted into many wants. The desire to be famous may see us running around buying the latest products celebrities endorse. The desire to be the best at something such as a sport may see us spending endless sums of money on equipment or the desire to be cultured and well-travelled can move thousands from our pockets right into the accounts of airlines and hotels. Consumers will be thrilled with their extended 5 star trip to some exotic island but very soon we will be hungry again (ever hear of the 21st century term “wanderlust”?) and will inevitably break out the credit cards once more. Marketers need to tap into what our minds have turned our unconscious desires into, once they do that, the sky is the limit.



Daniel, T. (2009). Sigmund Freud on Development. The Great Ideas in Psychology Podcast. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/great-ideas-in-psychology/id419204493?mt=10

The Economist,. (2007). As price goes up, so does demand. The Economist. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from http://www.economist.com/blogs/freeexchange/2007/07/as_price_goes_up_so_does_deman

Ó Fátharta, C. (2015, July 15). Luxury goods spend rises among Irish people. The Irish Examiner. Retrieved 13 June, from: http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/luxury-goods-spend-rises-among-irish-people-342531.html

Felluga, D. (2011). Introduction to Sigmund Freud. Modules on Freud. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from https://www.cla.purdue.edu/english/theory/psychoanalysis/freud2.html

Freud, S. (1915). Introductory lectures on psycho-analysis. London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-analysis.

Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fink, B. (2002). Ecrits. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

McLeod, S. (2009). Defense Mechanisms. Simply Psychology. Retrieved 8 June 2016, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html

It’s Not Me….. It’s You: Why We Quit Our Jobs & Why Employers Need to Listen up When Science Speaks

It’s Not Me….. It’s You: Why We Quit Our Jobs & Why Employers Need to Listen up When Science Speaks

“I’m so f#!@#ing done!”

The famous last (internal) words of many fed up employees. Then follows the overly polite resignation letter full of thanks, the usual it’s not you it’s me and I want to develop my ect ect….. Although quitting our jobs has become an uncertain endeavor in the past few years given the restricted job market (ever hear the one about the company who want a 25 year old graduate with 30 years experience?), we are still quitting. The worst hit by high turnovers are hospitality (20.2%), banking and finance (13.3%) and healthcare (13%), (CompData as cited in Bares, 2015)

Quitting costs employers big-time. They have invested a lot of money to train us and keep us working. When we leave employers need to spend time, money and effort to go out and find replacements who need to be trained and orientated, (John as cited in Ongori, 2007). Employees quitting is also very bad news for company performance as those seeing their workers flee in droves tend to perform poorly, (Park & Shaw, 2013). Not only does quitting mean having to replace someone, it also makes potential recruits less likely to want to want to fill that gap. The advent of social media also allows employees to rate employers in seconds and for these ratings to spread faster than ever before. Not only has the employee walked out, they have been sure to slam the door behind them.

Why we Quit:

We all know the scene: a dreary office kitted out in only the finest 90’s decor with a clock that is either broken or just never seems to move proudly perched on the clinically white wall to remind employees that time is money (the company’s of course). Also starring in this 21st century production are managers who remind us that we aren’t doing enough and impossible deadlines with a cameo from the ever broken coffee machine. Why in the name of god would we drag ourselves out of bed for THAT? The fact that that is an image a lot of us associate with the working world is a big problem; we hate the place before we even get there. The social science jury has returned with a verdict that proves what many of us assumed was fact: if we hate our jobs then we are a lot more likely to quit, (Markey, Ravenswood, & Webber, 2012). In Ireland a staggering 51.2% of workers report being unhappy at work, (Buckley, 2016), which is bad news for Irish organizations. So what is wrong with organizations that is making so many workers throw up their papers in a spectacular scene and walk out of the front door? Let’s look at three big causes of workplace misery (and thus turnover), some solutions and a game plan.

Rough Day at the Office?

Let’s start with the bricks and mortar that make up the workplace. This makes sense as what employee would work well sitting in a back breaking chair in a cramped cubicle surrounded by dull colours? Poor workplace design is known to contribute to falling productivity, (Haynes, 2008) making us feel dejected and organizations scratch their heads at falling morale. Even small aspects of a workplace may contribute to employee misery such as poor lighting, (Hameed & Amjad, 2009).

Making workplaces more comfortable may seem like a challenge as this can cost a bomb in the short-term depending on the shape of the workplace but in the long term productivity and employee retention is boosted meaning more profits.

Manager or Slave driver?

When we work, most of us will need some direction to ensure we are doing our jobs right. This throws up a big problem: humans as a species don’t like being told what to do, (Jacobs, 2013). To get around this problem organizations need to have a way of getting the job done without pushing employees to the point where they just halt and dig their heels in.  Enter the managers. Despite being a vital part of organizations management is a major reason people quit. While managers do not have an easy job and need to meet requirements sometimes the way this is “achieved” leaves a lot to be desired contributing to workplace misery and, you guessed it…swinging front doors.

The solution is simple: careful selection of managers and supervisors. Managers who are caring and supportive get the job done, (Moore, Cruickshank, & Haas, 2006). Managers with a human side who support each worker on an individual level are vital to performance, (Chandrassekar, 2011).  Having managers in place who use bullying and intimidation are a major cause of reduced morale and high turnover, (Hamel, 2016; Whipple, 2016). Keeping these people in place is organizational suicide. Check in with your workers to get some feedback and if managers are using intimidation or bullying then its time to retrain or remove them.

Life off the Clock:

A simple fact is that many of us work high pressure or mundane jobs to provide for living life. Many of us see jobs as a means to an end like getting to take our kids on a holiday or to be able to afford a treat or two.  Sit a 9-5 worker down and you may just hear a theme coming up quickly: a lack of hours in the day. Dig deeper and you’ll often find that we lament about not being able to have plain and simple fun. Speak to workers with a family or active love life and they will often tell you that getting time to focus on these vital aspects of humanity is not as easy as it should be. Research has shown that stress and work-life conflict make quitting your job a lot more likely, (Noor & Maad, 2009).

We live in an age where contact can be made 24/7. Work can email you whenever they please and ask you to get things done. Bringing work home used to be associated with very few professions but in the age of constant connectivity working 9am to 11pm is sadly very possible. Again the solution here is very simple and requires no elaboration: keep work in the workplace and appreciate that workers have a life outside of the office. Offering flexible schedules is a major way of boosting job satisfaction, (Shetrone, 2011).

Game plan:

So far it seems that keeping a workplace fit for human habitation, keeping nasty managers in check and letting employees live life are pretty important. With all this said and done, is there a game plan that employers can follow to keep their workers in the building?  Although a simple solution may be to offer more money this has not (on its own) been effective, (Chandrassekar, 2011), employees want more than just pay-outs.

Removing the obstacles mentioned above is vital to employee retention, but how does an organization keep happiness constant?  Schwartz & Porath (2014) following a study of over 12,000 white collar workers found that the keys to a happy and productive workplace boil down to four key needs being met:

  1. Physical: allowing employees to recharge and rest at work.
  2. Emotional: feeling valued for the work we do.
  3. Mental: allowing employees to focus on their most important tasks and allowing them to figure out how they work best.
  4. Spiritual: no, really. Giving employees a chance to feel connected to a higher purpose is key. Giving us a sense of why we are doing something may just make us last longer.

Even one of these needs being met boosts productivity. The more needs met the better your employees will work, (Schwartz & Porath, 2014) and stay in their jobs. Combine these findings with the three sources of misery mentioned above and one may just see a happier, larger and more productive workforce.




Bares, A. (2015). 2014 Turnover Rates by Industry. Compensation Force. Retrieved 23 May 2016, from http://www.compensationforce.com/2015/03/2014-turnover-rates-by-industry.html

Buckley, D. (2016). Irish workers unhappy, but productive. Irish Examiner. Retrieved from http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/irish-workers-unhappy-but-productive-388717.html

Chandrassekar, K. (2011). Workplace Environment And Its Impact On Organisational Performance In Public Sector Organisations. International Journal Of Enterprise Computing And Business Systems, 1(1), 1-19.

Hamel, G. (2016). What Is a Bully Management Style?. Chron. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/bully-management-style-35804.html

Hameed, A. & Amjad, S. (2009). Impact of Office Design on Employees’ Productivity: A Case study of Banking Organizations of Abbottabad, Pakistan. Journal Of Public Affairs, Administration & Management, 3(1), 1-13.

Haynes, B. (2008). The impact of office comfort on productivity. Journal Of Facilities Management, 6(1), 37-51. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/14725960810847459

Jacobs, C. (2013). Don’t Read This. Psychology Today. Retrieved 23 May 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/management-rewired/201305/dont-read

Markey, R., Ravenswood, K., & Webber, D. (2012). The impact of the quality of the work environment on employees’ intention to quit. Economics Working Paper Series, 1(1), 1-35.

Moore, K., Cruickshank, M., & Haas, M. (2006). The Influence of Managers on Job Satisfaction in Occupational Therapy. The British Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 69(7), 312-318. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/030802260606900703

Noor, S. & Maad, N. (2009). Examining the Relationship between Work Life Conflict, Stress and Turnover Intentions among Marketing Executives in Pakistan. IJBM, 3(11). http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/ijbm.v3n11p93

Ongori, H. (2007). A review of the literature on employee turnover. African Journal Of Business Management, 1(3), 49-54.

Park, T. & Shaw, J. (2013). Turnover rates and organizational performance: A meta-analysis. Journal Of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 268-309. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0030723

Porath, T. & Schwartz, C. (2014). Why You Hate Work. Nytimes.com. Retrieved 23 May 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/opinion/sunday/why-you-hate-work.html?_r=0

Shetrone, A. (2011). 7 Ways to Improve Employee Satisfaction. INC. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from http://www.inc.com/guides/201105/7-ways-to-improve-employee-satisfaction.html

Whipple, B. (2016). Why Bully Managers Last. Leadergrow. Retrieved 9 May 2016, from http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/211-why-bully-managers-last





A Craft Lifestyle: The Psychology & Marketing of the Hipster Culture

A Craft Lifestyle: The Psychology & Marketing of the Hipster Culture

As I sit in a cafe on a regenerated street on Dublin’s Southside sipping a €5 coffee I wonder to myself: “why did I buy this?” –  payday is still miles away and my account does not look healthy….I looked around and noted the artwork on the walls, the 90’s alternative band posters, the kitschy design and the lump of wood my coffee was presented on. I had walked past at least 10 chain cafes turning my nose up at each for some bizarre reason (coffee is coffee after all) before picking this one. As exhilarating as it sounds, I began to do a little research.

The advent of “hipster” culture in Ireland has brought with it a flood of beards, craft beers and artisan foods (the definition of which remains broad to say the least). While I shamelessly indulge in all of the above, (well aside from the beard, I’ve never had much success with that one) it has made me wonder two things: what is behind it and what implications can this have for Irish markets? In the U.S. there has been a 300% rise in specialist coffee shops since 2002, the craft beer industry now accounts for 19% of the U.S. beer market and between 2003-2014 the sales of organic foods have doubled to $29.4 billion, (Daneshkhu & Whipp, 2016). The demand for high quality artisan products has without a doubt risen due to a rise in millennials seeking higher quality and unique products, (Daneshkhu & Whipp, 2016). This effect has been seen in the decreasing of sales from “mainstream” brands which we all know and previously loved and the explosion of sales in brands which cater to more obscure tastes, (Sherman, 2008).

Sherman, (2008) observes that today’s hipster is driven by consumption as opposed to previous subcultures who were driven by music or group opinion. Is there an explanation for this? A few social scientists have given it a shot with some interesting results.

The Hipster Effect:

In-depth interviews with those deeply immersed in urban culture have revealed that many of us are rejecting shallow, boring or easy trends and prioritising authenticity and individuality, (Michael, 2013). One fascinating piece of research by Touboul (2014) discusses the “hipster effect”. The long and short of it is that we are all hipsters, all striving  to be unique in some way as we all want an identity different to Joe Bloggs across the road (and Joe feels the same way about you). As we all frantically scramble to be different we ironically create patterns and start to become the same while searching to be different. Drinking that craft beer and only buying that brand of artisan, hand-made organic cola may instil a sense of uniqueness for now, but how long until everyone else catches on to being unique in that way? Sadly it seems, our battle to be unique takes constant change and effort.

Although at first glance the desire to be different could be seen as a total rejection of the idea of social groups but I have a hunch that the development of the hipster subculture is a good example of social identity theory. This theory holds that social groups are often a source of pride and boost self-esteem as belonging to the “in” group is much better to being like Joe Bloggs in the “out” group, (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Being in the “in” group makes us feel better about ourselves because we are part of something be it a club, sport or even a lifestyle. So having a love for fine craft beers, artisan coffee served on hunks of wood and other exquisite edgy tastes puts us in a much better group than those poor souls caught up in widely known brands and international chain restaurants. Of course we aren’t part of a group in our own eyes….we are….unique, but unconsciously we love being in this refined edgy group of non-conformists.

The Cost of Identity:

Psychologists specialising in consumer behaviour have concluded that people will not only spend money on things to keep them alive such as food and water, but also on items or services which help them express identity, (Wise, 2010). Previous research has demonstrated that people will consume in line with their sense of self, (Escalas, 2012).

Going back to Sherman’s (2008) statement that the hipster culture is driven by consuming in a way never previously seen in the history of sub-cultures we may begin to see just why buying is so prevalent in this group.

Shopping feels good, retail therapy IS a thing and has been shown to boost mood, (Atalay & Meloy, 2011). Having an identity feels good too, (Tajfel & Turner , 1979). Donnelly, Ksendzova & Howell, (2013) wonderfully demonstrated that valuing material goods, shopping to boost mood and looking for products that bolster a sense of identity have a major influence on compulsive buying.

Identity has many emotional connotations, to be “us” is a journey that is deep in everyone’s heart. It could be that this emotional aspect of being us also plays a role in our spending. Margalit, (2015) discusses the idea that our decisions to buy can also be influenced by the deep rooted and often unconscious emotional responses we have to certain items and that these emotional responses will make us buy and buy fast. If an item that tugs at our desire to be unique or helps to define us as people is sitting on the shelf we will probably buy it.

The desire to be unique and edgy comes at a cost of course, that artisan cedar wood infused gin is not going to be cheap…read the label for god’s sake, it was handmade and aged for 3 years! If you want this look and identity you had better have the capital to back it up it seems sadly. Taking craft beer as an example, you could buy 12 bottles of mass produced macrobrew for the price of six craft beers, (Satran, 2014). Another example is the introduction of the gluten free craze. Being gluten free has become a major trend, even in those without a medical diagnosis of coeliac disease, (Marsh, 2016) and an expensive one at that. The price of these goods is rising fast as demand grows with consumers seeking a gluten free alternative having to spend almost 3.5 times more than the regular gluten infused (god forbid mass produced) product, (Irish Examiner, 2013).

The Future of the Hipster Euro:

Despite the price hikes, it seems the desire for identity has a bottomless bank account. Going back to Touboul (2014)’s findings on the hipster effect, could it be that every time uniqueness runs out (Joe Bloggs drinks that coffee now too…goddammit) we will strive to find a new way of showing how unique we are and of course spend even more money? Excellent news for marketers! It is my opinion that in order for businesses to cash in on this trend they will need to adopt a very dynamic model where each product has a limited life-span. Once this product has caught on and is nearing mass indulgence it becomes mainstream and loses its identity giving powers. A new and even more obscure one will need to take its place to ensure profit margins keep rising.

Hipsters are an attractive demographic for marketers for a number of reasons. One major reason is that us hipsters are young (and thus not able to spend real money just yet) and represent a massive segment of consumers with it being suggested that hipsters are more powerful than any previous counterculture, (Danziger as cited in Sherman, 2008). As this counterculture grows up and enters high end employment its spending power may just increase which is very good news for the artisan coffee house which used to be a derelict jam factory AS LONG as it stays dynamic.



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