Power Corrupts. Or At Least Causes You to Say ‘Thanks’ Less Often

From today’s Dan Ariely column in the Wall Street Journal:

Dear Dan,

This past year I’ve worked alongside a wonderful group of colleagues. I am so thankful to have worked on this team. I’ve just been promoted and will now manage the same group. I worry that this will change my relationship with its members. Do you have any advice? —Erika

and here is Dan’s response:

In your new role, make sure to continue to express gratitude toward your colleagues. Their support will be crucial to your success, and words of appreciation can go a long way in motivating people.

Sadly, research has shown that when people get more power, they tend to express less gratitude, even though more power might come with more to be grateful for, such as a higher salary. One study looked at the acknowledgment sections of academic papers and found that authors with high-ranking titles expressed less thanks than their junior counterparts did. A study of Wikipedia editors found the same effect: Senior editors made fewer thankful comments than junior ones.

These results suggest a link between power and expressing less gratitude, but perhaps more powerful authors and editors expressed thanks less often because they received less help. A controlled lab experiment helped to identify the causal mechanism. Participants were offered help on an annoying task from someone they were told was either their boss or their employee. As in the previous studies, people were less thankful for help from a subordinate than from their manager, perhaps because they felt entitled to help from a lower-status worker.

People with more power are less prone to give thanks. Try to fight this tendency as you take on your new role with your old team.

No surprise, really. If you want people to treat you with respect as their boss, then you need to show them respect as well, and that starts with the simple act of gratitude for what those individuals have done.

Since I really do not have any “boss” responsibilities, I guess I’ll just be on the lookout to make sure my bosses show me some gratitude when I do something helpful.

I guess first, though, I have to figure out how to do something helpful…

*image from More Thank You Notes

68 thoughts on “Power Corrupts. Or At Least Causes You to Say ‘Thanks’ Less Often

  1. I’ve always thought that the less you pay someone, the better you should treat that person, if you want to keep that person in your employ. But higher ranking managers tend to have managers working under them. And since managers get paid more than regular employees, maybe there’s less need to treat them as well as their need to treat their employees well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just don’t understand why it should matter. If the person is higher or lower ranking in the company compared to you should make no difference. “Thank you” doesn’t require vascular cessation upon utterance. JUST SAY IT, and freaking MEAN IT!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. One of the hardest things to say sometimes is “thank you.” There is personal strength in those words. To be able to ask for help, receive it, and handle it graciously, are all a lot harder than demanding assistance and pretending like you did it on your own. Any two year old can do the second.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. For many , this is true. For me, I find that they are both not too difficult. I’m sorry when I’m sorry. I appreciate help that is given so I’m thankful.

        The only one that I get tongue tied on is the opposite statement to “you’re wrong!” LOL

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I like to think I am pretty good at saying thank you and I’m sorry as well.

        Your tongue-tied situation reminds me a of a Happy Days episode where Fonzie couldn’t say “I was wrong”


      4. Honestly, I was born short on sanity, long on a vast expanse of nuttiness. So, I have a good solid death grip on what sanity I have. It’s managed to make it through these last 2 years, although I don’t honestly know how. I just need it to hold out a few months more. Then I will happily check myself into Shady Pines Asylum for the Cracked Eggs. As long as there’s a padded room, I’m totally in 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Space? As in the bar or the expanse? I’m just kidding

        Oh, it will only be a few more months. I am not talking about COVID or anything like that. I’m talking about how long until I go completely mad. I just have to make it past the holidays, past my father’s birthday and past my aunt’s birthday, my mother’s birthday and my birthday. Then I can crack like the fractured egg I already am. And off to Shady Pines I go!


  3. A couple of my best principals I worked for didn’t just preach teamwork—they demonstrated it in how they treated everyone on the staff with respect. They showed their appreciation for the custodians, lunchroom monitors, playground supervisors, bus drivers, etc., publicly recognizing their efforts. A higher position shouldn’t entitle one to be less civil.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There are two ways to reward the work of subordinates. One is raises; the other is recognition. One costs money, and the other doesn’t. Any budget can afford a little appreciation shown to the employees. Great post, Jim!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Saying Thank you has a lot of power because appreciation goes a long way. And it shouldn’t matter what position you are in. Managers and their employees both need to show appreciation. Human beings in general need to show their appreciation instead of taking things and people for granted.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What is so hard about saying “Thank you.” ??
    Another human complexity! It does mean a lot to know you are appreciated. The last manager I worked for was not good at all with that, which would explain that when she started up a daycare at another location, barely any of her employees followed her. We got new jobs instead…where we were appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a good reminder for bosses and all of us. Bosses (and just about everybody) should say thank you more than they do. Although it is part of an employees normal duties to perform tasks for the boss, a thank you always helps to make people feel appreciated. Many large employers spend a lot of money and effort measuring employee engagement. Things like treating employees with respect and good communication (saying thank you ticks both of those boxes) are more important than the size of a raise as far as leading to higher engagement scores and a more productive and happier workplace. Still when a CEO gets the multi-million dollar annual incentive bonus for merely doing what a salary should be sufficient compensation for, they never say thank you to the employees.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Loved this, and so agree. And it doesn’t cost anything to be nice. Like my husband used to say, “Some people with a lot of money who’ve climbed their way to the top, seem to forget where they came from.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, dear…all I will say is that it is a word which everyone should use from the top to the bottom so to speak and is one which bugs me if it is not said and I think it should be…my pet peeve in other words…Nuff said…I hope you and all your family have a great Christmas, Jim 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

  10. There is no “i” in team. Sometimes managers forget that. I’ve also observed that in some situations management will play their subordinates against each other with the main reason being to make themselves look better. Sad.

    Liked by 1 person

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