It’s often tempting to think that when projects go well, bosses hog all of the glory for themselves, but is that really the case? A new study from researchers at the Universities of Bochum and Cologne suggests the opposite might actually be the case.
The researchers conducted an experiment into the role social status plays in the distribution of both praise and blame. The findings suggest that status plays a much bigger role than expected, and indeed is more important than the actual influence an individual exerted on proceedings.
“In the field of ethics, it is typically assumed that the degree of praise or blame a person deserves is determined by three factors: what he did, how bad the consequences of his action are for other people, and what his intentions were,” they explain. “But this is not how it works in real life.”
In reality however, managers were found to get more than their fair share of the blame, and less than their fair share of the praise. The findings represent a break from previous work suggesting that praise was largely meritocratic. Previously it was thought that praise and criticism were largely causal things, so bosses received more of both because they had a greater role in how things unfolded. The social position of the boss was largely irrelevant.
The team found that this assumption didn’t really hold much water when scrutinized. They placed participants into either the role of boss or employee, and then asked the employee to make a crucial decision for their company. Both groups were made aware that the decision was in the best interests of the company, but it will have a negative side-effect on the environment (something both groups say they’re fine with).
The data revealed that bosses received more criticism than the employee, even though it wasn’t them personally that made the decision. The authors suggest this is because social function was playing a role in determining how praise and criticism are allocated.
“In the field of philosophical ethics, the social anchorage of ethical judgements has so far been disregarded,” they say. “Even though empirical findings clearly indicate that humans make moral judgements in a way that does not comply with the ideas of moral philosophers.”