People who are highly prone to feel guilty for disappointing their co-workers are among the most ethical and hard-working partners, new research has found.
However, the research suggests that these highly guilt-prone people may be the most reticent to enter into partnerships.
Scott S Wiltermuth from the USC Marshall School of Business, along with Taya R Cohen at Carnegie Mellon University, explained how guilt proneness may prevent people from forming partnerships.
Understanding this phenomenon, managers can make the best decisions about team building and increase productivity.
People with a strong dispositional tendency to feel guilty for wrongdoings make valuable work partners because a concern about letting others down drives them to complete at least their fair share of the work, researchers said.
"Because of this concern for the impact of their actions on others' welfare, highly guilt-prone people often outwork their less guilt-prone colleagues, demonstrate more effective leadership and contribute more to the success of the teams and partnerships in which they are involved," Wiltermuth said.
However, these same behavioural tendencies may, in some instances, also lead these individuals to be reticent to enter into certain partnerships at work.
Wiltermuth and Cohen demonstrated that highly guilt-prone people may avoid forming interdependent partnerships with people they perceive to be more competent than themselves, because benefiting a partner less than the partner benefits them could trigger feelings of guilt.
"It may come as a surprise but our findings demonstrate that people who lack competence may not always seek out competence in others when choosing work partners," Wiltermuth said.
In studies where participants were asked with whom they would like to partner to complete a task, given information about their potential partners' expertise in that area, highly guilt-prone people with less knowledge or skill in that area were less likely to choose the most competent partner.
They were afraid to contribute less to the task than their partner and, thus, let them down.
In the studies, highly guilt-prone people were also more likely than others to opt to be paid on their performance alone and to opt to be paid based on the average of their performance and that of others whose competence was more similar to their own.
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.