Faith in Supervision and the Self-Enhancement Bias: Two Psychological Reasons Why Managers Don't Empower Workers

Faith in Supervision and the Self-Enhancement Bias: Two Psychological Reasons Why Managers Don't Empower Workers

By Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert Cialdini, Benjamin Hanna, Kathleen Knopoff
1997Working Paper No. 1432

The present study provides evidence for two psychological processes that may help explain managers’ reluctance to use worker empowerment practices such as delegation or self-managing teams: 1) a faith in supervision effect, which reflects the tendency of observers to see work performed under the control of a supervisor as better than identical work done without as much supervision; and 2) a self-enhancement effect, which reflects the tendency of managers to evaluate a work product more highly the more self-involved they are in its production. Because empowerment practices dilute managers’ individualized supervision of work, they can also reduce managers’ biased perceptions of work quality. Support for this argument was obtained in that 1) participants assigned higher quality to the identical work product as supervisory involvement increased, 2) they did so at elevated levels when they had more self-involvement in supervising the work, and 3) a team-based, empowerment orientation curtailed both biases.