If you are a loyal worker, you're likely to be an exploited worker.
That is the key takeaway from a new study conducted by Matthew Stanley, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Stanley's findings appeared in a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and the title of the paper pretty much states it all: Loyal Workers Are Selectively And Ironically Targeted For Exploitation. Stanley s research involved asking hundreds of managers to determine how much work is done among employees in fictional scenarios. The employee who was identified as loyal was asked to do unpaid work and take on additional job tasks more often than a worker who was described as disloyal in the experiments. The loyal employee was more often given unpaid work than the workers described as honest or fair. The more work a loyal employee did, the greater the chance that the employee would be asked to do, according to Stanley and his fellow researchers. It is a vicious cycle.
Stanley told MarketWatch that some managers may be exploiting loyal workers simply because they can, but it is not always that cut and dried. They may be blind as to what they are asking of loyal employees, and are worried about getting the job done.
Stanley said that it is natural to assume managers are malicious people.
Stanley said it may be tempting to say that workers would be better served by acting less loyal, but he stops short of making a statement. Stanley said that loyalty is still a valued trait and employees can benefit from going the extra mile in many situations.
In all circumstances, the message is not to do as little as possible, he said.
Employers should take heed of the conclusions of the study and build in checks and balances to make sure workers aren't exploited, Stanley said.
He concluded that it is a matter of setting up institutional barriers to prevent this kind of thing from happening.
Danielle Boris, a workplace expert, wasn't surprised by the findings. She suggested that if companies want to avoid the trap of overburdening loyal employees, they should think not just in terms of the amount of work they are asking of them, but also in terms of the kind of work.
Boris, founder of Sandbox, suggested that if the work is meaningful and helps the loyal employee feel a sense of accomplishment, it will serve both the employee and employer's purposes. She warned that the converse is also true.
She said that if we pile on work that is just random work, the employee may get burnt out.