Guilt motivates best when it's self-inflicted. | Archive Timothy McCarthy / Art Resource, NY. Caption: Cain After Having Killed His Brother Abel. Vidal Henri, 1896.

It might seem like a safe assumption that employees who like their jobs would be more likely to show up for work each day, and those who are disgruntled would be the ones more likely to hit the snooze button on their alarms and go back to sleep.

Strangely, though, research on the subject of absenteeism hasn’t borne out that assumption, with meta-analyses of the link between job satisfaction and absenteeism finding only a weak negative correlation between the two factors.

“When it comes to doing something or not doing it, whether that something is personally pleasurable affects our behavior less than we might think,” explains Rebecca Schaumberg, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior/business administration at Stanford Graduate School of Business and is now an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.

Instead, Schaumberg and her colleague Francis J. Flynn, the Paul E. Holden Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford GSB, have documented the surprising power of another motivating factor — the guilt people feel when they don’t fulfill someone else’s expectations.

自责是最有激励价值的情绪。 | Archive Timothy McCarthy / Art Resource, NY. Caption: Cain After Having Killed His Brother Abel. Vidal Henri, 1896.




斯坦福大学商学院组织行为学兼商业管理学博士、宾夕法尼亚大学沃顿商学院助教丽贝卡·肖恩伯格(Rebecca Schaumberg)解释道:”当我们在决定是否要做某件事时,这件事本身是否带来愉悦感对我们行为的影响其实并没有想象中那么大。“

肖恩伯格和她的同事弗朗西斯·弗林,斯坦福大学商学院组织行为学保罗·霍尔登(Paul E. Holden)证明了一项令人惊讶的事实:当人们没能达到别人的期待时,他们心中的内疚感能对自己起到激励作用。



Assessing “Guilt Proneness”

In a paper (“Clarifying the Link Between Job Satisfaction and Absenteeism: The Role of Guilt Proneness”) published last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Schaumberg and Flynn studied a sample of 334 customer service agents at seven different call centers for a major telecommunications company in the southwestern U.S. The subjects took an online survey in which they expressed how they felt about their jobs, and then also took a test designed to assess their “guilt proneness,” or their tendency to experience negative feelings about personal wrongdoing. After that, the researchers analyzed four months’ worth of the workers’ attendance records, provided by the company.

Schaumberg and Flynn found that for workers who had a low degree of guilt proneness, job satisfaction was negatively related to absenteeism — that is, if they were happy with their work, they tended to show up. In contrast, job satisfaction was unrelated to absenteeism for highly guilt-prone employees.

“People who have guilt proneness show up even if they don’t like their job as much,” Flynn says.

Guilt is good. It actually has a lot in common with positive emotions.


在去年发表在《应用心理学杂志》(Journal of Applied Psychology)上的一篇论文中(澄清工作满意度与旷工的联系:内疚感的作用), Schaumberg和Flynn在美国西南部的一家大型电信公司的7个不同的呼叫中心研究了334名客服。研究对象进行了一项在线调查,他们表达了他们对自己工作的感受然后,还进行了一项测试,以评估他们的“内疚感”,或者他们对自己的不良行为产生负面情绪的倾向。之后,研究人员分析了公司提供的,这四个月的工人出勤记录。


“有内疚感的人即使不喜欢自己的工作也会按时上班,” Flynn说。



Francis J. Flynn

That finding was bolstered by a second survey, in which Schaumberg and Flynn studied 227 workers in a range of industries from agriculture to entertainment and got similar results. In addition, the researchers also measured two other qualities — agreeableness and moral identity — and found that these traits influenced absenteeism in a fashion similar to guilt proneness. As they write in their paper, those results “further support our theorizing that the relationship between job satisfaction and absenteeism depends upon the extent to which a person is motivated by filling others’ normative expectations, as opposed to fulfilling one’s own immediate interests.”

It’s Not About Disappointing a Particular Person

The researchers didn’t try to determine who it was that the highly guilt-prone workers were so worried about not disappointing. As Schaumberg explains, that can vary from person to person and situation to situation.

“It’s more the tendency to feel guilt that’s important,” she says. “The person will anticipate guilt for failing to fulfil the expectations of others by not doing something they should have done. But it’s not a tendency to feel guilty to colleagues or family or a husband or spouse. It’s generalized.”

Francis J. Flynn






A propensity for experiencing guilt might seem like a painful psychological affliction. But as Flynn explains, it actually can be a plus in the workplace. Previous studies by Schaumberg and Flynn have found that highly guilt-prone individuals have a higher degree of commitment to organizations and are routinely rated in performance reviews as being more capable leaders than counterparts who are less prone to feeling guilty.

“Guilt is good,” Flynn says. “It actually has a lot in common with positive emotions.”

Distinguishing Guilt from Shame

Flynn says that it’s important to differentiate guilt from shame, a bad feeling that’s focused upon oneself as a person, rather than an act. Shame generally has detrimental effects and can cause a worker to withdraw or lash out against others. A guilt-prone person, in contrast, would strive to deal with a problem that they’ve caused and undo the harm to others — or avoid committing another transgression.

All of this might lead a manager to contemplate hiring job candidates based upon their degree of guilt proneness. Flynn says that a reliable guilt proneness assessment tool for business use hasn’t yet been developed, “though I know some companies are keen on figuring it out.”

倾向于感到内疚可能像是一种令人痛苦的心理折磨。 但是正如弗林解释道,这种内疚感事实上可以在工作场合是有益的。肖恩伯格和弗林之前的研究发现,相比那些较少感到内疚的人,这些拥有高度内疚倾向个体拥有对组织更高程度的义务承担,并且在绩效考核中,通常被认为是更有能力的领导者。






But Flynn cautions against trying to alter workers’ existing tendencies in an effort to make them feel more guilt. “Clearly, we want to get a handle upon who these highly guilt-prone people are, because they’re outstanding employees,” he says. “But we don’t want to try creating them from scratch.” Trying to make employees feel guilty about missing work could backfire and trigger reactance, in which they resist the manipulation. “People don’t like having a guilt trip placed on them,” he observes.

Instead, Schaumberg hopes that the insights from the research eventually will lead to managers being more cognizant of the psychological diversity of individuals in their workforce. “If we better understand a person’s qualities, we can better create an environment in which the person can thrive,” she says.