A research study conducted by a Duke University expert investigated the decision-making processes of numerous managers in assigning tasks. The findings of the study could be of interest to “loyal” employees.
A recent study suggests that company loyalty can have both positive and negative effects. On one hand, loyal employees may be favored by managers when assigning unpaid work and additional job responsibilities, while less committed colleagues may be overlooked. However, this practice can also be seen as a disadvantage for loyal workers, who may end up shouldering more work without appropriate compensation or recognition.
According to Matthew Stanley, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, companies desire workers who display loyalty, as research indicates that such employees provide many benefits to organizations. However, managers may be inclined to subject these loyal workers to exploitative practices.
“Companies want loyal workers, and there is a ton of research showing that loyal workers provide all sorts of positive benefits to companies,”Matthew Stanley, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the new paper and postdoctoral researcher at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business
“But it seems like managers are apt to target them for exploitative practices.”Matthew Stanley, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the new paper and postdoctoral researcher at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.
According to a group of researchers, including Stanley and father-and-son duo Chris Neck, who work at Arizona State University and West Virginia University, respectively, a series of experiments they conducted led them to a particular conclusion.
According to an article published on January 6 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Stanley conducted a study involving approximately 1,400 online managers. The participants were presented with a hypothetical scenario in which they were required to make decisions regarding a 29-year-old employee named John, who worked for a company on a strict budget.
Specifically, the managers had to determine how much extra work and responsibility they were willing to assign to John without providing additional compensation. Stanley compensated the study participants $12 per hour for their involvement in assigning the unpaid work.
Stanley and his colleagues found that no matter how they presented the situation, labeling John as “loyal” always resulted in managers being more likely to ask him to take on unpaid labor. This led to the exploitation of John, as managers were more willing to exploit his loyalty compared to a hypothetical “disloyal” John. Additionally, when a group of managers read a letter of recommendation about John, those that praised him for his loyalty were more inclined to recruit him for unpaid work compared to those that praised him for his honesty or fairness.
The study found that John’s perceived loyalty was influenced by his reputation for accepting or refusing extra hours and workload. If John was viewed as someone who willingly took on more work, managers rated him as more loyal compared to John who was seen as someone who declined the same workload. However, John’s agreeableness or refusal did not affect how he was perceived in terms of honesty and fairness.
The findings suggest that loyalty is boosted by a history of doing free labor but is not closely linked to other moral traits. The lead researcher, Stanley, noted that this creates a harmful cycle where loyal workers are more likely to be exploited, and if they do something exploitative, they are viewed as even more loyal, making them vulnerable to further exploitation in the future.
According to Stanley and his team, managers often singled out loyal workers for exploitation because they believed that loyalty required such workers to make personal sacrifices for the company. However, this behavior may not necessarily be entirely malicious, as it could also be attributed to a lack of awareness, or what psychologists refer to as “ethical blindness.” Despite the fact that many individuals strive to do the right thing, they may still engage in actions that contradict their values or principles without realizing it.
According to study, it may not be possible to completely eliminate exploitative practices by employers, but one potential solution is for managers to acknowledge and address their ethical blind spots. While being loyal to a company can have negative consequences, the study’s author, Dr. Emily Stanley, advises against completely abandoning work commitments or avoiding unpaid overtime.
Loyalty is generally considered a positive trait, but it can have unintended consequences, similar to other aspirational traits such as generosity. Dr. Stanley emphasizes that the takeaway from the study is not to completely avoid loyalty, as it is valued and often rewarded, but rather to recognize the complexity of the issue.
”Loyal Workers Are Selectively And Ironically Targeted For Exploitation,” Matthew L. Stanley, Christopher B. Neck, Christopher P. Neck. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Jan. 6, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2022.104442