Does Your Boss Break Promises?
Psychologists say you may actually not mind so much.
Sept. 20, 2009 — -- Promises are made to be broken -- especially if you're the boss. Workers don't care so much about whether their employers deliver on specific promises, according to the latest research in organizational psychology. What matters most are the rewards and opportunities they end up getting, even if they were initially promised more.
Most psychologists have assumed that broken promises in the workplace spell serious discontent. But previous studies have tended to record workers' perceptions about such breaches, without determining what promises were actually made.
Half the students were informed that the recruiter made seven specific promises -- about bonuses, training, support with personal problems, and so on -- while half were not. Then the students read about what had happened to the imaginary employees three years down the line, when the employer had delivered all seven inducements, five of them, or just three.
More than 550 students clearly understood the scenarios described, yet their perceptions of the situations were influenced more by the number of inducements given than by whether any specific promises had been made.
Next, Montes and Zweig asked workers with a variety of occupations to fill in a questionnaire about their own expectations of how likely an employer was to deliver the same inducements, before running an experiment with the same hypothetical scenario.
Even after controlling statistically for prior expectations, more than 440 workers who completed the experiment delivered the same message: keeping promises matters much less than absolute rewards.
Montes argues that people's responses to such hypothetical situations -- where it is possible to manipulate the outcomes in an ethical way -- are likely to reflect what would happen in the workplace. "If you really get them to visualize themselves in that scenario, you can get very close reactions to how they'd really behave," she says.