A new study conducted by the University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business shows that bosses likely build better-performing teams when they pick favorites among employees rather than focusing on fairness at all times.
“Conventional wisdom tells us that we should treat everyone the same to create a collegial and productive work atmosphere,” said Professor Karl Aquino, who co-authored the study which will appear in the Journal of Business Ethics. “But our research shows this can be a disincentive for workers who would otherwise go above and beyond on behalf of the team with a little bit of extra attention.”
In the study the researchers asked a group of 357 people to rate the amount of preferential treatment they felt their bosses gave them. The researchers then asked the study subjects to nominate a colleague to answer questions about their workplace performance.
The researchers concluded that respondents who reported receiving preferential treatment from bosses felt a heightened sense of self-worth in the workplace. The self-esteem boost translated to more productivity and fewer instances of anti-social behavior in the workplace, the researchers said.
“Bosses are in a tricky position,” said Aquino. “There’s a risk that treating some employees better than the rest can turn others off. The key is to find the right balance — treat everyone reasonably well, but treat those whose work counts most or who have been most productive just a little bit better.”