KLI Studying the Effects of Nepotism in the Workplace

Posted August 22, 2012 in KLI Research, News

KLI is pleased to host Dr. Annick Darioly, who joined the Institute in January for a yearlong, post-doctoral research project entitled “Nepotism in Leadership.” The Swiss-born researcher’s series of studies is examining the perceptions of nepotism in leadership and what the tolerance level for those hires is among the workforce.

The work, which is being funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation in collaboration with KLI’s Dr. Ronald Riggio, is attempting to gain a better understanding on how acts of nepotism specifically affect followers and whether it impacts their perception of a leader’s competence, trust and abilities.

During the last academic year, studies were conducted with three specific goals: to distinguish between actual and perceived nepotism; to determine how individuals stereotypically perceive nepotism in the hiring process; and to better understand individual differences that are leading to these perceptions.

“Obviously, nepotism in the workplace, especially at leadership levels, has a bad connotation. One thing we are attempting to determine is whether most workers automatically disregard a leader’s competence and abilities because he or she happens to be a relative of company executives, even if the leader is perfectly suited for the role,” said Dr. Darioly.

The first study was conducted in Switzerland in collaboration with the University of Neuchatel and included 325 employees of various companies. Data was collected through various stages, including assessing a worker’s tolerance for nepotism and whether that perception is different if evaluating a coworker versus a leader.

“Our results suggested that even though leaders are perfectly suited for their position, the fact that they are relatives of executives disqualified them in the eyes of their subordinates, at least when workers have a low tolerance for nepotism. However, that was not necessarily the case when evaluating their colleagues,” said Dr. Darioly.

The second part of the research currently is being conducted in the United States using the same methodology but focusing only on a leader position. It also added variables on the perceptions regarding a new leader, such as leadership, trust, and competence, rather than on just the fairness of the hiring decision.

“We expect to find, similar to the first study, that participants will perceive the hiring decision of a qualified relative as less fair and more questionable, and that the leader will be perceived as less competent and would not make as good a leader than someone who wasn’t a relative,” she added.

Dr. Darioly and Dr. Riggio will be completing the study this December. However, their collaboration will continue since research on nepotism in leadership is scarce. Dr. Darioly has just submitted a new proposal to the Swiss National Science Foundation in order to extend her stay at KLI for an additional semester. The goal of the extension project is to validate the Tolerance for Nepotism (TFN) scale used in KLI’s research.

Besides writing scientific papers, she plans to present her findings at different conferences across the U.S. For instance, she is currently organizing a symposium for the 2013 conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) in Houston,

Texas in April 2013, in which different U.S. experts in nepotism are invited. In July, she submitted an abstract on one of the results in the nepotism project for a poster at the meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), which will take place in New Orleans, January 17-19, 2013.

“Understanding the mechanisms and consequences of nepotism or perception of nepotism is a prerequisite for the comprehension of how leaders can and should work to prevent perceptions of nepotism in leader selection/succession.