Status inconsistency, which refers to situations where there is a mismatch between someone’s income and their background, can lead to various employee workplace outcomes both positive and negative. A recent study examined the relationship between status inconsistency and the personality traits of agreeableness and dominance to determine, and if the relationships differed by gender. The results found there were indeed differences in the level of status inconsistency depending on levels of agreeableness and dominance, and that these effects differed by gender.
Key Topics: Agreeableness; Dominance; Gender; Status inconsistency
Title of Reviewed Article: All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others: dominance, agreeableness, and status inconsistency among men and women
Researchers: Michal Biron (University of Haifa), Renee De Reuver (Tilburg University) and Sharon Toker (Tel Aviv University).
Publication: European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 2016, Vol. 25 No. 3, p.p. 430-446.
Setting the Scene
Concepts such as social exchange and reciprocity (Blau, 1964; Gouldner, 1960) suggest that employees’ rewards, such as job level and compensation, should correspond to what the employee brings to the company, in the shape of such factors as education and experience (i.e. their human capital). However, in reality there can be inconsistency between these factors, and is referred to as status inconsistency (Blocker & Riedesel, 1978).
This status inconsistency can occur in two ways, 1) status enhancement whereby an employee’s return is higher than their input (e.g. a CEO without a college education) and 2) status detraction whereby an employee’s return is lower than their input (e.g. an engineer employed as a technician). Status detraction has been linked with the likes of increased stress (Bacharach et al., 1993) and turnover (Creed & Saporta, 2003). On the other hand, status enhancement has been linked to increased performance and diligence (e.g., Wisman, 2009). Additionally, such status inconsistency can be considered from an objective and subjective perspective. Objective status inconsistency uses objective peer related information to determine inconsistency, while subjective status inconsistency is based on the subjective evaluations made by the employee.
In recent years there have been an increasing number of studies conducted which link personality and reward. Agreeable employees are typically cooperative and motivated to develop positive relationships ((Costa & McCrae, 1992). Research however suggests that agreeable employees are more likely to be in lower salaried jobs (Mueller & Plug, 2006). Dominance, on the other hand, which is similar to social self-esteem and extroversion, is linked to competitiveness and a striving for greater rewards (Barrick et al., 2002).
Additionally, despite receiving growing attention, research suggests that salary disparity between genders continue to exist (e.g. Jagsi et al., 2012), which potentially could relate to status inconsistency. Social role theory suggests that gender disparities relate to societal perceptions of women as agreeable and self-effacing, while men are more typically dominant and self-assertive (e.g. Kark & Eagly, 2010; Prentice & Carranza, 2002). Research also suggests that deviation from these stereotypes can lead to a “backlash effects”, through economic reprisals.
This study looked to further build on previous research by examining the relationship between status inconsistency and gender and the personality traits of dominance and agreeableness. As such, the researchers proposed the following research questions:
Hypothesis 1a - “Agreeableness is positively associated with objective status detraction.”
Hypothesis 1b - “Dominance is positively associated with objective status enhancement.”
Hypothesis 2a-b – (a) Agreeableness (b) Dominance is positively associated with subjective status enhancement.
Hypothesis 3 - “Objective status inconsistency partially mediates the associations of (a) agreeableness and (b) dominance with subjective status inconsistency.”
Hypothesis 4 - “Gender is associated with objective status inconsistency, such that women are likely to undergo objective status detraction, whereas men are likely to undergo objective status enhancement.”
Hypothesis 5a - “Gender moderates the association between dominance and objective status inconsistency, such that dominance will be associated with objective status enhancement among men, and with objective status detraction among women.”
Hypothesis 5b - “Gender moderates the positive association between agreeableness and subjective status enhancement, such that the association between agreeableness and subjective status enhancement will be stronger among women, compared to men.
Hypothesis 5c - “Gender moderates the association between dominance and subjective status inconsistency, such that among women, dominance will be associated with subjective status detraction, whereas among men, dominance will be associated with subjective status enhancement.”
Hypothesis 6 - “Gender moderates the mediation of objective status inconsistency such that the indirect associations of (a) agreeableness and (b) dominance with perceived status inconsistency by way of objective status inconsistency are less likely to be observed among agreeable women than among men or among dominant women.”
How the research was conducted
The researchers collected data from 375 participants, who were all employees of a large international Netherlands based electronics company, and worked across various departments. Participants took part through the completion of a survey.
The personality traits of dominance and agreeableness were measured using sections of the HEXACO-60 questionnaire (Ashton & Lee, 2009).
The researchers also tested for objective and subjective status inconsistency through their questionnaire, as well as collecting information on control variables such as education, age, tenure, and employment type.
Key Research Findings
Hypotheses 1a and 1b were supported by the results, as agreeableness was found to be associated with objective status detraction, while dominance was found to be associated with objective status enhancement.
The results indicated that agreeableness was associated with subjective status enhancement, which supported Hypothesis 2a. On the other hand, support was not found for Hypothesis 2b, as a relationship between subjective status enhancement and dominance was not found.
Consistent with Hypothesis 4, women were found to undergo objective status detraction more than men.
Support was not found for Hypothesis 5a, as the researchers could not establish that gender moderated the relationship between dominance and objective status inconsistency. The results did support Hypotheses 5b and 5c, however, indicated that gender had a moderating effect on the relationship between agreeableness and subjective status inconsistency, and between dominance and subjective status inconsistency.
Finally, Hypothesis 6 was supported, with the researchers finding that, for men, the effects of agreeableness and dominance on subjective status inconsistency were mediated by objective status inconsistency. For women, this mediating effect was only found with agreeableness.
In relation to objective status inconsistency dominant men were found to experience objective status enhancement, while agreeable men experienced objective status consistency, which suggests that agreeable men are more likely to be subjected to a backlash effect.
It was found that women are more objectively status-detracted, although interestingly, for dominant women, in comparison to agreeable men there was no such backlash observed, and as dominance in women increased it became less likely they would be objectively
While agreeable men were found to be objectively status-consistent, they actually perceived themselves to be status-enhanced, similar to agreeable women, who also perceived their status to be more positive than it was objectively. The researchers suggest that this lack of objectivity may be a result of agreeable individuals wishing to maintain a harmonious work environment.
The interplay between personality and gender in influencing subjective status inconsistency is interesting. Men, as well as agreeable and non-dominant women, perceived themselves to be status-enhanced, while dominant and non-agreeable women perceived themselves to be status-consistent. Additionally, objective status inconsistency was found to mediate the relationship between dominance and subjective status inconsistency for both genders, but objective status inconsistency was found to mediate the relationship between agreeableness and subjective status inconsistency for men only. The results differ from previous research finding which did not identify a relationship between gender and personality (e.g., Costa, Terracciano, & McCrae, 2001).
The results also suggest, in line with previous research, that agreeable women may conform more to the female stereotype that leads to low career expectations (e.g. Moore, 2006). So while agreeable women are objectively status detracted they don’t perceive themselves to be.
Organizational and Reward Implications
This study highlights various individual differences across gender and personality which should serve as a reminder to practitioners that a nuanced approach to HR policy, which accounts for such differences, is likely to yield better results than a one size fits all approach.
The finding that women and agreeable men receive less relative compensation than dominant men is an important one, as it is a belief often held anecdotally. For policy makers, it is important to consider the behaviors that are being rewarded either implicitly or explicitly and whether the advancement of primarily dominant over agreeable individuals is desirable. Ensuring that performance management reviews are objective and robust would be an obvious starting point.
The suggestion that certain employees, such as agreeable men and women, may feel status enhanced when in fact they are not, is an interesting challenge for companies. On the one hand it could be seen as beneficial to have to essentially give less for more, but would likely have negative implications in the long term. In order to bridge the gap between objective and subjective status, companies could consider greater transparency in relation to their compensation and HR practices.
This study indicates that gender and personality traits have an effect on employees’ subjective and objective reward inequalities, a finding that is of particular relevance given the growing focus on diversity and equality in the workplace. However, given that this study was undertaken using employees from one company in the Netherlands, the generalizability of the results should be treated with caution; further research across a broader dataset would be useful in extrapolating these findings to other groups.
Source Article: Biron, M., Reuver, R. D., & Toker, S. (2016). All employees are equal, but some are more equal than others: Dominance, agreeableness, and status inconsistency among men and women. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 25(3), 430-446.
Published by: Routledge / Taylor & Francis Group
For further details and access to the full journal article Click Here (subscription or payment may be required).
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