The Dark Side of Workplace Loyalty: New Study Exposes Link to Exploitation

April 24, 2023
1 min read
The Dark Side of Workplace Loyalty: New Study Exposes Link to Exploitation

Quiet quitters might have had it right.

Quiet quitting – when an employee decides to stay at their job, but refuses to go above and beyond their normal duties – became a bit of a phenomenon in the post-Covid world. A quick Google search of the buzzword still turns back countless articles, from Forbes to the New York Times, covering the concept and its impacts.

DON’T MISS: What Is Quiet Quitting? Definition, Origin & Interpretation

A new study from Duke University – “Loyal workers are selectively and ironically targeted for exploitation” – approaches the phenomenon from a different angle.

The study – led by Mathew Stanely, a postdoctoral researcher at Duke – found that the only real reward for employees going above and beyond is more work.

“Companies want loyal workers, and there is a ton of research showing that loyal workers provide all sorts of positive benefits to companies,” Stanley told Duke Today. “But it seems like managers are apt to target them for exploitative practices.”

The Experiment

The study focused on a series of experiments centered around a fictional 29-year-old worker named John. In the scenario, John’s company is dealing with a tight budget; 1,400 real-world managers had to express their willingness to give John extra hours of unpaid work.

Loyal versions of John were given more unpaid work than disloyal ones. The study also found a link between perceived company loyalty and an employee’s history of willingness to do additional, unpaid work.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Stanley said. “Loyal workers tend to get picked out for exploitation. And then when they do something that’s exploitative, they end up getting a boost in their reputation as a loyal worker, making them more likely to get picked out in the future.”

The issue is a nuanced one, however, according to Stanely. This exploitation of loyal workers likely has more to do with ignorance than malintent. Though the study doesn’t propose a solution to the problem, Stanley suggested that making managers aware of their ignorance could be a big help. 


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