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  • Writer's pictureEli

Need to feel important: Cognitive Biases and the Sense of Significance in Workplace Engagement

When we strongly believe that our actions matter and can create meaningful change, we're motivated to act.

This mindset is especially relevant in the workplace, where our decisions can shape the success of our organizations. How we perceive our own importance and impact influences our decision-making. This need for personal significance can lead to various cognitive biases that have detrimental effects. Rushing into decisions without considering alternative perspectives, overlooking crucial information, and relying on our own biases are some examples. These biases can result in poor outcomes, such as ineffective strategies, damaged relationships, or missed opportunities. It's important to balance our sense of importance with critical thinking to make well-informed decisions and avoid the pitfalls of cognitive biases.
Let's explore some examples of cognitive biases in the work environment that stem from our need to feel that what we do matters, that we are significant, and have the power to make an impact.
  • Effort justification: A tendency to assign greater value to a task or goal that required significant effort to achieve. In the marketing field, professionals may overemphasize the effectiveness of a marketing campaign they worked hard on, even if the actual results are not as remarkable.

  • Social desirability bias: Responding in a manner that is socially acceptable or perceived favourably by others. For instance, in a project update meeting, a manager may feel the urge to present a more positive picture: inflate progress, downplay challenges or overlook potential risks. This inclination stems from the desire to please stakeholders and maintain a positive image.

  • Egocentric bias: An inclination to rely heavily on one's own perspective and experiences when interpreting or recalling information. In the IT industry, when discussing a technical issue, a programmer may assume that everyone involved possesses the same level of technical knowledge and may struggle to explain the problem in simpler terms for non-technical colleagues.

  • Barnum-Forer effect: A tendency to accept vague or general statements as accurate descriptions of ourselves, even though they could apply to almost anyone. In the field of HR, during performance evaluations, employees may find themselves agreeing with generic feedback like "you have great potential for growth" without realizing it lacks specific details that could help them improve.

  • Lake Wobegon effect: A bias for individuals to overestimate their own abilities or performance in relation to others. In the field of accounting, an accountant may believe they are the most efficient and accurate employee in the department, assuming that their work is consistently better than their colleagues', despite the lack of objective evidence to support this belief.

  • Self-serving bias: An inclination to attribute personal successes to internal factors, such as abilities or efforts, while attributing failures to external factors. In the accounting field, if an accountant discovers an error in their own work, they may blame it on a lack of clear instructions from a supervisor rather than admitting their own oversight.

  • Optimism bias: Optimism bias refers to the tendency for individuals to underestimate the likelihood of negative events happening to them and overestimate the likelihood of positive events. In the finance industry, traders may display optimism bias by focusing excessively on the potential profitability of a new investment, overlooking potential risks or market volatility that could affect its success. This bias can lead to overconfidence and a failure to adequately consider potential downsides, ultimately impacting decision-making and risk management.

  • The hard-easy effect: A bias where individuals tend to overestimate their likelihood of success in complex tasks and underestimate it in easy tasks. For example, in a work environment, a marketing team may exhibit overconfidence when dealing with a complex campaign, but underconfidence when assigned a simple task like creating a social media post.

Having distorted thinking regarding our own significance can lead to negative consequences. These biases gradually undermine trust, collaboration, and team cohesion. Decision-making becomes compromised, resulting in missed deadlines and subpar project outcomes. It is of utmost importance for employees to acknowledge and confront these biases. By doing so, they can cultivate a healthier work environment, enhance communication, and elevate the likelihood of successful project delivery.

Read more and explore captivating real-life anecdotes that vividly illustrate how these biases come to life and influence our actions and judgments in the work environment.

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