Are Arrogant Employees Actually Better?

Topic(s): job performance, personality, workplace deviance
Publication: Human Performance
Article: Acting superior but actually inferior?: Correlates and consequences of workplace arrogance
Authors: R.E. Johnson, S.B. Silverman, A. Shyamsunder, H-Y Swee, O.B. Rodopman, E. Cho, J. Bauer
Reviewed by: Benjamin Granger 

It’s probably safe to say that we’ve all had to work with an arrogant coworker or supervisor at one time in our career. It’s also probably safe to say that these run-ins have been unpleasant and disruptive to our work. Yet, while we arm-chair our theories about the effects of arrogance in the workplace, very little research is available to confirm (or disconfirm) our assumptions and anecdotal evidence. That is, surprisingly little is known about the consequences of workplace arrogance and its relationship with job performance.


In an effort to facilitate research on workplace arrogance, researchers (Johnson et al., 2010) created a scale to measure workplace arrogance (the Workplace Arrogance Scale) with a conveniently clever acronym: WARS.  The authors conducted 4 independent studies to validate their newly created scale and explore the consequences of workplace arrogance. According to the authors, arrogant employees have exaggerated perceptions of their self-importance and superiority. At work, arrogant employees may manifest these inflated self-perceptions by discounting others’ ideas, belittling coworkers, or asserting control even in situations beyond their area of expertise.


The study findings point to a fascinating trend: while arrogant employees engage in behaviors that exude superiority, they actually appear to be less intelligent and receive lower performance ratings than employees who are less arrogant. Even when various dimensions of job performance were rated by multiple people within the organization (employees’ direct reports, peers, and supervisors), arrogant employees consistently received lower job performance ratings. Interestingly, arrogance was associated with lower self-esteem, suggesting that arrogant employees may behave the way they do to compensate for their low self-esteem.  The authors explain that this may also be the case because arrogant employees receive more negative appraisals from others, which can impact their self-esteem.


This study provides insight into an important and often frustrating workplace issue: arrogance. These findings may be especially pertinent for jobs with high levels of customer contact or team-based work. Not only do arrogant employees perform worse on the job, but they can also create interpersonal problems that can lead to customer dissatisfaction and/or dysfunctional team processes. The authors offer their validated scale (WARS) as a performance management tool that can be used to identify employees in need of development in this area.


Johnson, R.E., Silverman, S.B., Shyamsunder, A., Swee, H-Y., Rodopman, O.B., Cho, E., & Bauer, J. (2010). Acting superior but actually inferior?: Correlates and consequences of workplace arrogance. Human Performance, 23(5), 403-427.