How “Organization” Can Weaken the Norm of Reciprocity: The Effects of Attributions for Favors and a Calculative Mindset

How “Organization” Can Weaken the Norm of Reciprocity: The Effects of Attributions for Favors and a Calculative Mindset

By
Peter Belmi, Jeffrey Pfeffer
Academy of Management Discoveries. June
1, 2015, Vol. 1, Issue 1, Pages 36-57

Why are employee loyalty and effort sometimes not reciprocated by employers? Five experimental studies tested the hypothesis that people feel less obligated to reciprocate in an organizational as contrasted with a personal context. Studies 1A and 1B showed that participants felt less obligated to reciprocate the favors of others when they imagined themselves in an organizational rather than a personal context, in part because they were less likely to think that people’s motives for helping were genuine and reflected the other’s true character. Study 2 demonstrated that in an organizational context, individuals were more calculative, deciding to reciprocate or not depending on the favor-doer’s anticipated future usefulness. Studies 3 and 4 extended these results using two different behavioral measures of reciprocating. The findings suggest that the norm of reciprocity may be weaker in organizational contexts in part because such settings elicit more contextual rather than personal attributions and more calculative and future-oriented decision frames.