PhotoVirtually any employer would agree that it’s important for employees to have personal goals, but a new study conducted by researchers from San Diego State University found that zeroing in on those goals -- and those goals only -- isn’t always great for the workplace. 

The researchers found that when employees adopt the mindset that their goals are more important than any other outcome, it can take a toll on workplace attitudes, relationships, and overall employee performance. 

“Employees with Machiavellian personalities tend to not trust others; show a willingness to engage in amoral behavior; and exhibit a desire to maintain interpersonal control,” said researcher Dr. Gabi Eissa. “They tend to believe that a coworker’s success is risky, so they become motivated to see others lose. Oftentimes, they feel that when co-workers lose, they win.” 

The effects of the “bottom-line” mentality

Dr. Eissa and his team were most interested in understanding how employees who prioritize a “bottom-line” mentality, meaning that they focus solely on winning (typically personal wins), affected their co-workers and their own job performance. 

The researchers surveyed employees in both the United States and India to ask about the pervasiveness of the bottom-line mentality at their companies, how happy they were at their jobs, and typical workplace dynamics and relationships. 

Regardless of where the employees worked, the outcome was unanimous: employees who are laser-focused on their own achievements tend to cause some disruptions in the workplace. The researchers found that employees’ work can get sloppy when they’re only focused on their own personal success because they tend to stray from company protocol in an effort to reach their goals. 

Moreover, the studies revealed that workplace relationships can become strained when employees are obsessed with the end goal, which previous studies have shown are crucial to overall employee satisfaction. The researchers found that employees can struggle to work together cohesively when they think of each other as competitors to be beaten. 

Unfortunately, employees can sometimes feel pressure from management to adopt this bottom-line mentality. But both employers and employees should be careful about doing this due to the tension it can create.

“Overall, we found that employees focused on the bottom-line are more likely driven to see others lose and less likely to engage in behaviors that may help others succeed,” said Dr. Eissa. “Clearly, when bottom-line outcomes are valued over everything else, employees may be encouraged to act in their own self-interest, even if it means engaging in unethical behaviors.” 

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