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Volunteers Disliked

September 2010 - Employees who readily volunteer even for unwanted tasks tend to be disliked by less selfless colleagues, according to research from Washington State University published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. .

Craig Parkes, lead author of 'The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group', professor in the department of psychology, said:

"Itís not hard to find examples but we were the first to show this happens and have explanations for why."

Craig Parks and co-author Asako Stone suggest this phenomenon has implications for a wide range of groups including business teams, volunteer and non-profit organizations and military units.

They found that resentment of unselfish colleagues develops because they are perceived to have increased expectations of all performances. The higher standard makes those not meeting it appear bad by comparison. Selfless employees are also seen as deviant rule breakers.

Craig Parks said:

"It doesnít matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someoneís unselfish behavior. What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad."

In four separate studies, introductory psychology students were divided into groups of five and given points that they could keep or surrender for an immediate reward of meal service vouchers. Participants were also told that giving up points would improve the groupís chance of receiving a monetary reward. Most made balanced swaps of one point for each voucher. However, some gave up nothing and took a lot; others gave up a lot, taking little in return.

Reflecting previous findings, most participants said they would not want to work with the greedy colleague again. However, a majority also said they would not want to work with the unselfish colleague, frequently stating "the person is making me look bad" or is breaking the rules. Occasionally, they would suspect the person of having ulterior motives.

Future research is likely to focus on how altruistic group members respond to rejection. The researchers acknowledge that some may indeed have ulterior motives, but suggest that it is more likely they actually are working for the good of their organization.

Craig Parks concluded:

"Excluded from the group, they may say, 'enough already' and simply give up. But itís also possible that they may actually try even harder."

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