Employers should be wary of holding creative workers in too high regard, new research finds.
Creative employees who believe that creativity is a rare and valuable attribute have a greater sense of entitlement, according to a study set to appear in an upcoming issue of the Academy of Management Journal. That feeling of entitlement can in turn lead to more unethical behavior.
The problem arises when employers overvalue creativity compared to other positive attributes, such as practicality or intelligence. The study's authors said that when this happens, workers see their out-of-the-box thinking as something special that warrants an extra reward. That entitlement can cause employees to act deceitfully in order to get the rewards they think they deserve.
Lynne Vincent, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at Syracuse University's Martin J. Whitman School of Management, said the sense of rarity is the critical link between creativity and dishonesty.
"When individuals identified themselves as creative and believed that creativity was rare, entitlement emerged," Vincent said in a statement. "However, if individuals believed that creativity was common, that sense of entitlement and the dishonest acts were reduced."
The findings are based on several laboratory experiments, as well as a study of employees and their bosses. In groups in which creativity was seen as rare, employees who considered themselves creative were rated as participating in more unethical behaviors by their supervisors, the researchers found. [Creativity Doesn't Always Lead to Profits, Study Finds ]
In several laboratory experiments, participants who believed their creativity was rare were more likely to lie for money. However, when the participants believed that being practical was less common, compared to being creative, the increased sense of entitlement and dishonesty disappeared.
The study's authors said these experiments show that although creativity is commonly considered to be rare, the perceived prevalence of creativity and the sense of entitlement that can come with it depend on context.
The key to warding off this type of deceitful behavior is fully defining what creativity means within your company. The study's authors said by defining creativity as a common behavior or an attribute that many employees can have, employers may be able to inspire creativity without encouraging employee entitlement and dishonesty.
The study was co-authored by Maryam Kouchaki, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management.