Navigation path

Themes
Agriculture & food
Energy
Environment
ERA-NET
Health & life sciences
Human resources & mobility
Industrial research
Information society
Innovation
International cooperation
Nanotechnology
Pure sciences
Research infrastructures
Research policy
Science & business
  Other
Science in society
Security
SMEs
Social sciences and humanities
Space
Special Collections
Transport

Countries
Countries
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Botswana
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Finland
  France
  Gambia
  Georgia
  Germany
  Ghana
  Greece
  Hungary
  Iceland
  India
  Indonesia
  Ireland
  Israel
  Italy
  Jamaica
  Japan
  Kazakhstan
  Kenya
  Korea
  Latvia
  Lichtenstein
  Lithuania
  Luxembourg
  Madagascar
  Malaysia
  Malta
  Mexico
  Montenegro
  Morocco
  Mozambique
  Namibia
  Netherlands
  New Zealand
  Nigeria
  Norway
  Panama
  Peru
  Poland
  Portugal
  Romania
  Russia
  Senegal
  Serbia
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  South Africa
  Spain
  Sri Lanka
  Swaziland
  Sweden
  Switzerland
  Taiwan
  Tanzania
  Thailand
  Tunisia
  Turkey
  Uganda
  Ukraine
  United Kingdom
  United States
  Vietnam


This page was published on 29/04/2005
Published: 29/04/2005

   Science & business

Last Update: 29-04-2005  
Related category(ies):
Innovation  |  Science & business

 

Add to PDF "basket"

Trust goes a long way in the workplace

Relations between employers and workers are typically characterised by conflicts of interest, with bosses often using carrots and sticks to try to influence and control worker behaviour. But European researchers have discovered this ‘controlling behaviour' signals distrust and could be counter-productive.

Trusting employees – experiment shows that workers who don't have someone looking over their shoulder are still efficient and productive. © PhotoDisc
Trusting employees – experiment shows that workers who don't have someone looking over their shoulder are still efficient and productive.
© PhotoDisc
The impression that average wage earners will do only as much as they have to is being thrown into doubt in a new study, called ‘Distrust: The Hidden Cost of Control', by the Universities of Bonn (DE) and Zurich (CH) which shows people do more than they have to – unless they have someone breathing down their neck. The conclusion: over-supervised workers' motivation and efficiency nosedive.

In a simple experiment, the researchers observed how nearly 150 Swiss students reacted to being supervised. Acting out roles, the students were split into pairs: a ‘boss' and an ‘employee'. At the beginning of the role play, the employee was given 120 points in a virtual account, while the boss started with a 0 balance.

The employee could then ‘invest' some of the points corresponding, metaphorically, to the work done. The boss's account would then be credited with twice the amount invested by the employee, representing ‘earnings' or profit. But before the point scoring started, the boss decided whether (s)he wanted to give the employee a free hand, or to ‘dictate' a minimum workload of 10 points – ensuring the boss did not leave completely empty-handed.

Adding a real-life touch to the gaming exercise, the researchers told the players that the final amount in their accounts would later be turned into hard cash – participants were given 20 Swiss centimes per point.

A bird in the hand
Typically, economic logic should result in the boss choosing a more supervised structure, thus guaranteeing at least 10 points. “Surprisingly enough,” explains lead researcher Professor Armin Falk of Bonn University, “the amounts the employees invested dropped as soon as the boss started to supervise them.”

On average, the ‘supervised' employees gave only 17.5 points to their bosses. When they had more flexibility, this amount was a third higher, even though every point given away represented real money and many of the subjects were struggling students.

“After the game, a lot of the participants [said] that they had interpreted the insistence on a minimum amount by their boss as a lack of trust,” says Falk. The prevailing attitude was, “why should I do more than is absolutely necessary for somebody if they do not trust me?”

Meanwhile, the bosses who chose the authoritarian path admitted that they had fixed the minimum amount because they were afraid that they would otherwise go away with nothing in true ‘bird-in-hand' style. Falk calls this a classic example of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Another characteristic also shone through in the experiment. Bosses who fixed a higher minimum amount of 20 points received, on average, as many points as those giving employees a free hand. “If there has to be supervision, it should be done properly,” Falk concludes, otherwise the negative effects take over.

As the EU re-launches its Lisbon Strategy, aimed at making Europe the most powerful knowledge-based economy, research showing employers how to maximise worker efficiency through more enlightened management practices is perhaps worth noting.

Bonn University

Convert article(s) to PDF

No article selected


loading


Search articles

Notes:
To restrict search results to articles in the Information Centre, i.e. this site, use this search box rather than the one at the top of the page.

After searching, you can expand the results to include the whole Research and Innovation web site, or another section of it, or all Europa, afterwards without searching again.

Please note that new content may take a few days to be indexed by the search engine and therefore to appear in the results.

Print Version
Share this article
See also

The original findings(discussion paper)
Growth and Jobs – A new start for the Lisbon Strategy

Contacts
Research Contacts page
  Top   Research Information Center