When the boss steps up: Workplace power, task responsibility, and engagement with unpleasant tasks

Melissa J. Williams, Gabrielle Lopiano, Daniel Heller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

All jobs, managerial or entry-level, inevitably require unpleasant tasks. Traditional research on power's corrupting tendencies might suggest that powerholders, given their reduced constraints and greater self-focus, would put minimal effort into undesirable work. Yet drawing on theorizing and evidence regarding power as wielded in organizations, we posit that structural power will instead yield feelings of task responsibility, fostering increased engagement with unpleasant tasks. In two correlational field studies, employees’ structural power predicted responsibility for and, in turn, engagement with, a real-life work task. This indirect effect was stronger for unpleasant than pleasant tasks. In two experiments using a vivid virtual team context, a team-leader role increased participants’ felt responsibility for and, in turn, their engagement with, an unpleasant task. These findings illuminate the tendency of workplace power to promote the pursuit of shared goals and therefore engagement in tasks that are important for organizations, yet undesirable to complete.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104140
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Volume170
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Keywords

  • Power
  • Task responsibility
  • Unpleasant tasks
  • Work engagement

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