Calgary Herald

Power trips take a toll in the workplace


It’s a workplace taboo. The topic of power is often swept under the office rug. Many eschew the idea that any difference­s in power, authority and responsibi­lity exist at all. Rather, they prefer the idea that the workplace is a democracy, where everyone has equal say and no one opinion matters more than another.

Unfortunat­ely, this can lead to the abuse of power and power tripping by managers and employees alike.

Power tripping is when people advance their own interests at the expense of the common good. The power tripper benefits at the cost of others and the organizati­on by taking advantage of the trust placed in them.

For example, if the boss uses the company expense account to fund a family trip to Maui, he is using his position to gain personally.

Whether it’s financial gain, perks or an ego boost at another’s expense, power tripping takes a toll. Staff withdraw and disengage when power tripping occurs. They feel disenchant­ed, angry and, in some cases, copy the behaviour.

Anyone can be a power tripper. While it seems obvious managers can power trip easily because they have more control, staff can wield power too.

According to researcher­s, Katherine Decelles, at the University of Toronto, Scott Derue, at the University of Michigan, Joshua Margolis, at Harvard Business School and Tara Ceranic, at the University of San Diego, you can feel powerful without being in charge.

For example, one worker felt powerful because she had a specialize­d knowledge base. As an IT expert, she used her knowledge and expertise to feel superior to others. As a result, she came across as arrogant, patronizin­g and condescend­ing when interactin­g with colleagues.

The researcher­s observed that workers with a low moral identity tend to power trip more than colleagues with a higher moral identity.

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