New research explores why people 'pass the buck'


Mary Steffel, assis­tant pro­fessor of mar­keting in the D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University.

D’Amore-McKim School of Business assistant professor of marketing Mary Steffel collaborated with Jaclyn Perrmann-​​Graham from the Uni­ver­sity of Cincin­nati and Elanor Williams from Indiana Uni­ver­sity to research how people decide to delegate decisions. Often, this decision is reached based on how it will impact others, especially if the choices could have negative consequences.

The research, published in the journal Orga­ni­za­tional Behavior and Human Deci­sion Processes, found that people were two or three times more likely to delegate less than appealing options for someone else, rather than on their own behalf.

During one experiment, participants had to book hotel reservations for their boss’s upcoming business trip. Research found that they were more likely to delegate the choice to someone else, such as an office manager, when the reservation was for their boss, but make the choice when it directly impacted their own stay instead.

“People care more about avoiding blame for bad out­comes than get­ting credit for good out­comes,” said Steffel.

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