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Looking to Improve Your Hiring Practices? Avoid the “Deferent” Employee


by SIOP Administrative Office

Pre-employment assessments identify applicants who possess desirable traits and qualities for a job. In some cases, this may also extend to identifying and avoiding applicants who possess undesirable characteristics.

New research shows employers can avoid a specific type of undesirable employee by improving their pre-employment tests.

SIOP Member Andrew Speer, who at the time of the study worked at CEB, investigated how a particular method of assessment can be improved by measuring workplace deference, defined as the tendency to defer to others when faced with a problem or issue at work.

“These are the employees who are constantly asking their manager and coworkers how to solve a work problem,” explained Speer, who currently works as a workforce analytics consultant at American Family Insurance. “They seek assistance whenever an issue arises.”

Using test questions that ask respondents to indicate how they’d behave in a particular situation (i.e. situational judgment tests), the research found responses from 1,418 employees from six jobs indicated several important findings. First, those more likely to defer to others in work situations were also more likely to be indecisive, dependent, worrying,  and possess low achievement orientation, low competitiveness, and low desire for control. Deference was associated with avoiding work responsibility and depending heavily on others. Second, those more likely to behave deferentially received lower on-the-job performance ratings from their managers.

These results suggest that those employees who defer responsibility to others appear undesirable for multiple reasons—and that capable employees should seek to resolve work problems on their own.

Given this, Speer said, incorporating question content to assess deference may prove useful in helping companies find more desirable employees by improving their current pre-employment testing.

Contact: Andrew B. Speer, PhD
3962 Dakota Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55416

About Smarter Workplace Awareness Month

This research is being brought to you through SIOP's Smarter Workplace Awareness Month efforts. Throughout the month of September, SIOP will be making a special push to promote I-O research and practice.

SIOP members and other I-O psychologists are encouraged to take extra time this month to promote the many ways I-O psychology makes the workplace smarter--more effective, efficient, productive, and generally a better place for employees and employers to work. To learn more, including how you can get involved, please visit the Smarter Workplace Awareness Month homepage. #SmarterWorkplace