Most of us want the respect and benefits that come with high status positions and professions. But we seldom think of the costs associated with this status. A recent study (Marr & Thau, 2013) investigates how losing that status can have detrimental effects, highlighting the implications that even a slight decline in performance can have. This novel research aims to better understand how performance is affected, and who was most likely to be affected, by status loss.
STATUS LOSS AND SENSE OF SELF
Past research has shown that our sense of self is deeply affected by things such as what we do and the groups we belong to. We tend to incorporate the things we do well and membership in groups where we have a higher status into our identity much more often than the things we don’t do well or groups in which we have a low status.
In short, our sense of self-worth is bolstered by a feeling of high status. Serious threats to our self-concept can occur when our positive view of ourselves is challenged, such as through a loss of that status.
The research showed that low-status individuals are less susceptible to having their sense of self-worth damaged by a further loss of status than those individuals who initially had higher status. The impact of status loss on the self- concept of higher status individuals ultimately contributes to a subsequent decrease in job performance.
DECREASE IN PERFORMANCE
In general, individuals with higher status perform better than those with lower status due to contributing factors such as having more resources at their disposal and having the luxury of choosing what projects they engage in. Previous researchers suggested that, when a person with high status lost their position, they would work harder to regain it.
But the results of this study showed that high-status individuals who lost their status displayed lower performance levels than their peers, experiencing a significant decrease in performance. This is not necessarily a causal effect, as we cannot rule out the possibility that other underlying factors contributed to this performance decline. However, the study tried to control as many other mitigating factors as possible, meaning that there is a strong likelihood that loss of status plays a significant role.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Many people unfortunately experience status loss at work, especially in a poor economic climate. The findings from this research challenged the notion that people will ultimately work harder after losing their initial status, showing that they actually won’t work as hard as they did before.
This study could have important implications regarding the way organizations structure hierarchies or assign status. It shows that performance at higher levels of an organization can be negatively impacted by status loss, which should encourage companies to plan interventions and make other contingencies when such changes are afoot.