A positive attitude and high expectations can benefit many areas of one’s life, but a newly published study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found that this “Pollyanna” view can actually be detrimental in the workplace, turning workers into what the study called “disaffected Pollyannas.”

Researchers followed 132 participants who completed full-time MBA programs. They first completed a Positive and Negative Affect Scale and reported what they expected for their highest lifetime salary. Researchers then checked back in with them four years and eight years later, according to Occupational Digest. The researchers found that participants with high “trait positive affect” (PA) expected a lot more than those with low PA, and they were in turn a lot more disappointed if these high hopes weren’t met.

“High PA individuals turned out to be far more responsive to low salary; at a standard deviation below average, they shifted through an average of four jobs, compared to two for their low-PA counterparts. This higher turnover was expected, as frustration of their higher salary expectations is more likely to lead to doubting their fit at the organisation. Moreover, they are more willing to believe the grass is greener elsewhere, and more able to make that step successfully, due to better social networks and an interview advantage due to infectious positive affect at interview.”

The researchers also found that changing jobs also felt maddening for the “disaffected pollyannas”:

“Measures of job and life satisfaction at a final follow-up eight years on showed that for low PA individuals, more frequent job shifts led to more satisfaction. The notion is that shopping around means that over time you get a sense of what is realistic and make your peace with what a reasonable job constitutes. But for high PA, the reverse was true, with more job shifts making them more frustrated, bemoaning the absence of the perfect job they are destined for.”

According to the authors, “the key to finding long-term satisfaction, then, may be managing expectations, rather than pursuing unrealistic ideals.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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