As I’m waking up most mornings, I usually enjoy a cup of coffee in front of the computer while scrolling through various social media sites, picking up the news, and marveling over the commentary. A while back LinkedIn started what it calls its “Daily Rundown” where it features select tidbits of business-related news and solicits comments. The skew is usually pro-business and pro-employer, although you will also see pieces that are neutral or pro-employee.
The other day they featured an article about some research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology titled “Who is Trustworthy? Predicting Trustworthy Intentions and Behavior.” The study used several economic games to measure the personality traits that predict if you can trust someone. And what they discovered was that “guilt-proneness” was a powerful indicator of trustworthiness.
They distinguished “guilt-proneness” from “guilt” by defining it as the tendency to feel guilty about wrongdoing, thereby avoiding that wrongdoing, versus the negative emotion experienced when someone actually commits some transgression. The gist of the article discussing the research was that if you wanted trustworthy employees, look for people with a high level of guilt-proneness.
The comments that followed ranged from equating guilt to perfectionism, extreme self-awareness, or having a conscience to guilt being a toxic form of shame that destroys self-esteem. Some spoke of religion using guilt to control people.
One gentleman said, “I don’t do guilt – such a loser’s emotion,” although later he said he was being “tongue in cheek.” One woman said, “Then employers should hire more young, white men. For 50 years feminism has portrayed them as being Guilty of Everything.” Oh dear, no backpedaling from her.
Yes, the commentary can get a bit dicey to say the least. And it’s important to note how most of us seized on the word “guilt” as opposed to “guilt-proneness,” and seemed to miss the distinction the researchers were trying to make. I looked at the verb form of the word myself.
Semantics can muddy the waters of any communication.
I’m not sure how an employer would go about measuring guilt-proneness. In fact, it seems you would have to entice people to do something wrong and then measure their reaction – avoidance or commission. Which is what the researchers did. How would you do that objectively in a job interview or in the workplace after hiring someone?
I do know an employer locally that requires applicants to take a personality test. I think that’s a bit extreme, and having worked for that employer in the past I imagine the purpose of the test is to screen out any non-conformists. They don’t want to hire anyone who might question authority or their profit motivations. I think they will end up screening out the most creative and adaptive applicants and end up with a hive of drones, but hey, that’s just my view 🙂 They may measure “trustworthiness” as a completely different concept – “blind loyalty.”
It is an interesting article and context is important. Like I mentioned, I looked at the verb as in “guilting.”
When I was a practicing RN, I did a literature review of nursing management journals. Forty articles out of four hundred – 10% – were dedicated to describing methods for employers to take advantage of, or abuse, their staff. One in particular was titled, “Manipulation, Making the Best of It.” The article focused totally on using guilt as a means to take advantage of the staff. Guilt is a powerful motivator for caregivers and management was encouraged to guilt their staff into working additional 12-hour shifts, accepting ridiculous patient loads, floating to units where they did not have expertise, not taking breaks, and even into not getting paid for their work.
One winter, after an extremely heavy snowfall, my ex was guilted by her employer into trying to go to work. We lived out in the country and the roads were impassable. She barely made it out of the driveway when she tried and had to put both of our cars in the ditch to finally absolve her of that boss-instilled guilt.
So while the article focused on how the propensity to feel guilt can be a reflection of the trustworthiness of employees, the question I would ask is if we can trust employers, or anyone else for that matter, not to use guilt as a weapon. Maybe that’s a better measure of trustworthiness 🙂
Photo: I wasn’t sure what pic to choose for this one, but decided this innocent, young buck was a good one. I was at a distance and made a slight noise to attract its attention. He warily observed me, not knowing whether he could trust me not to do him harm. Our eyes met for a spell, after which, he leisurely resumed his grazing. I guess I somehow communicated that I meant him no malice.