Scarcity in the Workplace

What’s driving ineffective employee behaviors in your workplace? Is too much time spent putting out fires? Do you lack time to focus on long-term projects that could make a big impact?

Scarcity may be a part of these workplace challenges. Researchers from Harvard and Princeton Universities found that when people perceive they lack something important (time, money, food) a scarcity mindset takes hold that limits their cognitive abilities. Human minds have limited processing capabilities, thus when a specific concern preoccupies the mind (e.g., “I don’t have enough time to do all my work! I need more time!”), a scarcity mindset creates a domino effect that makes circumstances even worse. Here’s how it may look on a personal level:

• You perceive a lack of something important in your life, which leads to …
• tunnel vision that consumes your mental energies, which prompts …
• losing sight of the big picture and what really matters in the long run, which …
• reduces your ability to effectively manage challenges, and …
• encourages short-term actions that create bigger problems.

In the workplace, this mindset can undermine employees’ ability to effectively do their jobs. If widespread throughout an organization, its ability to innovate and respond to challenges is severely weakened.

To break the scarcity cycle you may see in yourself or others, research suggests these interventions:

• Plan time for reflection and evaluation. Make this a priority in scheduling.
• Seek discussions to question the status quo, and inspire fresh approaches to challenges.
• Seek external assistance: coaching and skilled observers can provide fresh perspective.
• Don’t allow a problem in one part of the workplace to overwhelm all the other parts. Perceived or real failures that pre-occupy the mind (“My speech did not go well!”) must be compartmentalized; open up “brain space” for successes (“Everyone loved the training I facilitated!”) that invite new opportunities to succeed (“My next presentation will be great!”).

Whatever is holding you or your workplace back from attaining that “next level” of excellence, call MSEC. We are here to help with coaching, training, and consulting.

Recent thought-provoking additions to the MSEC Library Collection:

Guide to Information Graphics: The Dos and Don’ts of Presenting Data, Facts, and Figures
HR professionals who aspire to be valued business partners need to use data effectively to secure support from Leadership for their initiatives. This user-friendly book from The Wall Street Journal will improve anyone’s ability to tell a clear and compelling story with data.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Faced with obstacles, frustrations and even failures, why do some people quit while others persevere and ultimately prevail? Grit explores this difference and how everyone can enhance their own ability to deal with and recover from life’s setbacks.
Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World
Today’s economy requires many employers to continually innovate or face extinction. How can employers and employees foster more workplace creativity and innovation to remain viable? Originals uses real life stories to illustrate how this is possible.
For assistance with MSEC Library resources, please contact me at or 800.884.1328.