Tag Archives: #backfire

How Initiatives Empowering Employees Can Backfire? (Psychology)

Strategies meant to motivate people in the workplace may have unintended consequences — depending on who’s in charge. Recent research from Michigan State University and Ohio State University shows that empowerment initiatives aren’t necessarily the answer for business leaders hoping to motivate their employees.

In recent decades, companies have increasingly implemented various forms of empowerment initiatives that assume empowered leaders will translate into empowered workers, the researchers said. ©Royalty-free via RawPixel.

“People tend to think of empowerment in uniformly positive ways,” said Nicholas Hays, study co-author and associate professor of management in MSU’s Eli Broad College of Business. “After all, humans crave independence and control so giving it to them at work should be a good thing. However, as people feel increasingly autonomous, they can also become unmoored from others’ needs, expectations and social norms.”

Hays explained that, in recent decades, companies have increasingly implemented various forms of empowerment initiatives that assume empowered leaders will translate into empowered workers.

The paper — published in Journal of Applied Psychology — found that, when properly implemented, empowerment initiatives can lead to heightened motivation, productivity and creativity. However, whether these initiatives are effective at all levels of the organization depends on the management style of the person implementing them.

Hays – along with Broad College of Business colleague, Russell E. Johnson, MSU Foundation Professor of management, and Hun Whee Lee, assistant professor of management at Ohio State University and lead author of the study — found that superiors who value being respected will respond to empowerment initiatives by, in turn, empowering their workers. But, superiors who value being in charge will, somewhat ironically, respond to empowerment initiatives by closely controlling, dominating and managing their employees.

The researchers conducted three separate studies measuring outcomes of empowerment initiatives that considered personality trait data and leader behavior.

“We found that leaders who really care about being respected by their subordinates tend to react to empowerment initiatives by ‘paying it forward’ with certain behaviors. This could include things like allowing subordinates to set their own goals or decide how to accomplish tasks,” Lee said. “In contrast, leaders who prefer to be in control and tell others what to do tend to react to these initiatives by doubling down on their desire for control. This is when we see things like micromanaging or setting specific goals for subordinates.”

If an employee is uncomfortable with a superior’s leadership style, the researchers say it may be beneficial to have a candid conversation between worker and boss.

“Many leaders are receptive to feedback and want to provide employees what they need to succeed at work,” Hays said. “If that doesn’t work, looking for different groups to join – either within an organization and with a different supervisor or even by changing organizations altogether – is sometimes the best option.”

And in the unprecedented workplace environment of 2020, Hays also offered insight into what he believes the paper’s findings may indicate for employees in real time.

“To the extent that leaders prioritize dominance and being in charge, they may go out of their way to micromanage employees by, for example, monitoring their online status and requesting frequent check-ins,” Hays said. “I wouldn’t necessarily characterize this as abusing an empowerment initiative, but certainly could rub employees the wrong way.”

References: Lee, H. W., Hays, N. A., & Johnson, R. E. (2020). To thine own (empowered) self be true: Aligning social hierarchy motivation and leader behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000813 link: https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fapl0000813

Provided by University Of Michigan

Shaming People Online Often Backfires (Social media / Mind and body / Neuroscience)

It happens every day on social media. A user posts something offensive, and then they log off. By the time they log back on, they’re trending — and not in a good way. We’ve all seen it happen, but how do we respond when it does? Do we feel sympathy for the person who made the horrible post? Do we feel angered by their ignorance? Or do we join in the flow of “viral outrage” in the hopes of correcting the person and anyone else who would make the same mistake? According to a recent study, it’s often a combination of all three, and it might not be helping anyone.

Viral outrage is defined by the researchers behind this study as the “piling up of online condemnation in response to offensive remarks.” Basically, it’s when lots of people get angry at one person on the internet all at the same time. And it’s common in the digital age.

When a single individual speaks out against racist, sexist, disrespectful, or otherwise objectionable behavior, it’s seen as noble. But turn that outrage viral by combining it with the voices of thousands or even millions of others, and it can be seen as bullying. For example, recent research has found that people see angry commenters more negatively when there are 10 of them than when there are two — that is, outrage that goes viral is seen as more mean-spirited than outrage expressed by only a few individuals.

But that’s the commenters. What do people think of the targets of this outrage?

To find out, two Stanford University researchers, Takuya Sawaoka and Benoît Monin, recruited 3,406 participants to find out whether viral outrage is effective. Can internet anger convince people that someone is guilty or deserving of shame and humiliation? Across seven studies, the researchers showed offensive social media posts to the participants — things like a concentration camp selfie or an anti-woman tirade. Some of the posts were made to look like they’d gone viral and others had just a few angry responses.

As it turns out, viral anger is a double-edged sword. As anger started to pile on, mass fury seemed more and more normal to the participants. They themselves grew angrier. But at the same time, they started to think the group anger was excessive and felt more sympathy for the target.

Interestingly, this was true regardless of how offensive the target’s post was. It also didn’t seem to matter if the person who posted it was a celebrity, a politician, or a regular Joe. In every case, people’s outrage and sympathy increased the more the post went viral. People also seemed to think that others were angrier and less sympathetic than they themselves were.

So, the short answer is no — viral outrage doesn’t accomplish anything good. According to the researchers on these studies, angry internet mobs aren’t that effective at convincing people that someone has done something wrong. Instead, it seems like mass anger makes us feel more sympathetic toward the offending party. Even as we say we’re mad on Facebook and Twitter, we feel bad for the person being vilified.

The next step, according to researchers, is figuring out what all of this means for us in a larger sense. Individual cases of internet outrage might make us feel more sympathy and more anger toward the offending parties, but what does that do to our larger understanding of offensive behavior? Can viral outrage change general attitudes toward bigotry and discrimination, for example — or will it backfire? In the end, it may be worth looking for more effective ways to fight the good fight.

References: (1) https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550619853595 (2) https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/bad-mobs-of-good-people-the-paradox-of-viral-outrage (3) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30091685 (4) https://digest.bps.org.uk/2019/11/13/the-paradox-of-viral-outrage-public-shaming-inspires-further-outrage-but-also-increases-sympathy-for-the-offender/