Bosses, take note. You may receive considerably more blame for the negative consequences of your actions than an employee, according to a new study.
Theories to date had assumed that praise and blame were determined by the extent to which an individual is able to exercise causal influence over something.
“That means the reason why the boss is criticised more severely than the employee is because it was he who made the decision and, therefore, his causal influence over the situation was more significant,” said Kai Kaspar from the University of Cologne in Germany.
However, the study, published in the journal Philosophical Psychology, demonstrated that, unlike previously assumed, the acting person’s social status plays an important role when it comes to the distribution of praise and blame, rather than the extent to which an individual has influenced a given situation.
“In real life, a boss receives considerably more blame for the negative consequences of his actions than an employee,” added Pascale Willemsen, a researcher at the Ruhr-Universitatt Bochum in Germany.
On the other hand, an employee receives significantly more praise if his actions result in positive consequences than his superior, the findings showed.
According to this theory, his social role as the boss is irrelevant.
To test this assumption, the team conducted an online study with 209 test participants.
The participants were asked to state their position on the following situation: rather than the boss, an employee makes an important decision in the company.
Both employee and boss are aware that, while the decision is in the best interest of the enterprise, it will have a negative impact on the environment as a side-effect. Both explicitly state that they do not care about this side-effect.
In the experiment, the boss received more criticism than the employee, even though he did not personally make the decision.
“We now have ample reason to assume that the social function plays a significant role in determining how much praise or criticism we allocate to a person for any negative consequences of their actions,” the researchers explained.