A new study has found that a good supervisor can easily detect the motives of an employee, discerning when an employee is sucking up to them out of personal ambition versus when an employee is motivated by what’s good for the company.
Supervisors play an important role in making decisions about rewards and promotions within a company, according to the researchers behind the new study. That means they should be able to distinguish between “good soldiers,” those employees motivated to help the company, and “good actors,” those employees who act only to further their own ambitions.
For the study, lead author Dr. Magda Donia, of the University of Ottawa, along with co-authors Drs. Gary Johns from Concordia University and Usman Raja from Brock University, tested whether supervisors can successfully spot a good actor from a good soldier.
They conducted the study in 21 branches of an English-speaking multinational bank in Pakistan. Surveys were completed by 197 bank tellers and cashiers and their 47 immediate supervisors.
The researchers found that supervisors know with relative accuracy when employees’ organizational citizenship behavior is selflessly or self-servingly motivated.
This finding helps dispels concerns that wrong judgments by supervisors might lead to the unfair reward or punishment of their subordinates, according to the researchers.
This study builds on the conclusions from past studies that show that supervisors tend to prefer good soldiers from good actors, according to the researchers.
They note that supervisors have good reason for this preference. That’s because there’s a marked difference in the contributions to the company from the selfless and the self-serving workers, they noted.
In light of this, Donia advises employees that it may be more meaningful for their own long-term advancement in a company if they selflessly work as a “good soldier.”
“Supervisors are able to accurately identify the motives behind their subordinates’ organizational citizenship behavior, and they are not fooled by good actors,” she concluded.
The study was published in Springer’s Journal of Business and Psychology.