Asymmetric power boosts extortion in the workplace


What do profit-driven bosses do if they are not satisfied with an employee's conduct? They use their strategic advantage to blackmail their subordinates: "If you don't want to do the job, I'm sure we'll find somebody else who does". Together with researchers from Harvard University and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön have found that asymmetrical power encourages extortionate behaviour. Both in a model and an experimental setup, such 'blackmailing' strategies proved successful for the extortionists. An especially surprising finding was that subordinates were in fact better off if they played along in the unfair game. However, extortionists shouldn't be too obviously selfish; they are only successful if they maintain a well-measured degree of friendliness.

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