HR News Articles

These are the characteristics of people most likely to cut corners at work

Peter O'Connor, Queensland University of Technology and Peter Karl Jonason, Western Sydney University

In a newly published study, we found that employees who “cut corners” tend to be morally compromised, low in conscientiousness, self-focused and impulsive. This in addition to the potential for corner-cutting to increase risks.


Surveying more than 1,000 Australians and Americans, we found approximately one in four employees regularly cut corners. Men are slightly more likely to cut corners than women.


Cutting corners at work


Cutting corners is a workplace behaviour characterised by skipping or avoiding steps important to a task, in order to complete the task sooner. Corner-cutting is generally considered an undesirable behaviour, with research linking it to a range of negative outcomes such as low job performance, safety violations and serious injuries.


Although corner-cutting comes with a set of risks, it also comes with a clear possible benefit – cutting corners can possibly lead to greater productivity. Consistent with this, studies have shown that corner-cutting is more likely in jobs characterised by high demands and few resources. It is also more likely in organisations that prioritise efficiency over risks.


However, even in such organisations, corner-cutting is openly discouraged. Mistakes caused by employees cutting corners are typically met with harsh consequences.


To investigate whether corner-cutters can be identified, we surveyed employees from a range of industries including health care, education, hospitality, retail and construction. We looked at several demographic variables and personality traits to determine who is more or less likely to cut corners at work. We focused on both common personality traits (e.g., extraversion, conscientiousness) as well as “darker” personality traits (e.g., Machiavellianism, narcissism).


We didn’t just stop at a questionnaire. We also exposed employees to a hypothetical scenario where they could choose to cut corners or not. We conducted two variations of the study across Australia and the US.


The personality traits of corner-cutters


Across both studies, we found that both common and darker personality traits were associated with corner-cutting. Most significantly, corner-cutters were likely to be low in conscientiousness, low in honesty and high in psychopathy (i.e., impulsive, callous social attitudes). Corner-cutters also scored high in Machiavellianism (i.e., manipulation, self-interest) and narcissism (i.e., grandiosity, pride).


Age and gender were also factors in corner-cutting, such that employees who cut corners at work tended to be younger and male.


But there are also various contexts that play into the decision to cut corners. While a third of employees cut corners when it would likely save them time, they were less likely to do so if they could be reprimanded (only one in six employees cut corners in this situation), or if there was the potential for a poor-quality outcome (only one in four cut corners then).


These results paint a seemingly negative picture of workplace corner-cutters as individuals who are generally self-interested and low in conscientiousness. However, it is plausible that employees sometimes cut corners with noble intentions. For example, the related concept of “workarounds” refers to the more accepted behaviour of “clever methods for getting done what the system does not let you do easily”.


To explore this possibility, we investigated whether corner-cutters were more proactive than those who tend not to cut corners. Our results strongly suggested that this was generally not the case.


Proactive employees were not more likely to achieve their goals by cutting corners at work, even when their goal was to save time. In fact, we found that proactive individuals were slightly less likely to cut corners at work than non-proactive individuals.


We also found little relation between corner-cutting and career success. There was no relationship between corner-cutting and income. However, it was associated with higher income for those who scored high in psychopathy.


This indicates that while corner-cutting generally does not relate to career success, it can result in career benefits for impulsive, self-focused individuals. These individuals are likely to cut corners as a strategy to be more productive, despite possible costs to the organisation or co-workers.


Implications for managers


Overall, we found that corner-cutting is not a desirable workplace behaviour. Those most likely to cut corners are likely to be poor performers aiming to meet minimimal standards in contrast to good performers looking to excel. The possible exception is individuals high in psychopathy looking for short-cuts to get ahead.


The ConversationClearly, it makes sense to minimise the number of employees with corner-cutting tendencies. This is particularly true for jobs in which mistakes caused by cutting corners can lead to serious injury (e.g., jobs in mining, construction). At the very least, we suggest employers take into account certain characteristics of applicants (e.g., conscientiousness, psychopathy) when selecting for such positions.


Peter O'Connor, Senior Lecturer, Business and Management, Queensland University of Technology and Peter Karl Jonason, Senior Lecturer in Personality or Individual Differences, Western Sydney University


This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Jobs Just For You, The HR Professional

Our weekly or daily email bulletins are guaranteed to contain only fresh employment opportunities


More info

Latest Jobs

Internal Recruitment Coordinator - Contract
New South Wales

Head of Talent Acquisition
New South Wales

HR Consultant
New South Wales

IR/OD Specialist
New South Wales

HR Coordinator
Victoria

Internal Recruiter - to $95k - Contract
New South Wales

National HR Generalist - Sydney
New South Wales

Senior L&D Consultant - 12 mth contract
New South Wales

Human Resources Advisor - Contract Part Time
Queensland

HR Business Partner
Victoria

HR Business Partner
Queensland

HR Generalist - Contract
Victoria

HR Advisor
Victoria

Internal Recruiter - 4 days a week
New South Wales

Recruitment Manager (Financial Services) - Contract
New South Wales

PPC & LOD Partner
Victoria

Recruitment Coordinator - $300 per day
New South Wales

HR Partner - Contract
New South Wales

HR Reporting Manager
New South Wales

HR Business Partner
Victoria

Internal Recruitment Lead
New South Wales

Employee Relations Consultant
Victoria

HR Manager
New South Wales

Learning & Development Advisor
Victoria

National Training Manager
New South Wales

Health & Safety Manager
New South Wales

HR Advisor
Queensland

HR Business Analyst $140k+
New South Wales

HR Advisor
New South Wales

Head of People Strategy and Planning
New South Wales

People Engagement Specialist - 12 months
New South Wales

Internal Recruitment Manager ANZ
New South Wales

Recruitment Officer (Analyst) - Contract
New South Wales

HR Business Partner - Contract
Australia - Regional

HR Advisor - Contract
New South Wales

HR Coordinator (Contract)
Queensland

HR Manager - Operations - Contract
New South Wales

Recruitment Coordinator - 18 months
Victoria

Internal Recruiter - IT
New South Wales

HR Business Partner - Contract
Victoria

HR Business Partner
New South Wales

Learning and Organisational Development Coordinator
Victoria

Staffing & Professional Development Coordinator
New South Wales

HR Business Partner
New South Wales

Talent Resourcer
New South Wales

HR Officer
New South Wales

Learning & Development Manager
New South Wales

HR Manager
New South Wales

Trainer - Project Management - 3 yr Contract
Victoria

HR Business Partner
Victoria

People & Culture Manager
Tasmania

HR Advisor - 6 months - Contract
New South Wales

Senior HR Manager, ANZ
New South Wales

HR Business Partner - Contract
Victoria

Group HR & Safety Manager
New South Wales

HR Manager - Contract
New South Wales

Senior HR Manager - Site Based
New South Wales

Internal Recruitment Officer - $35-45 p/h + Super
New South Wales

Recruitment Advisor - Contract
Queensland

Training Consultant
Victoria

Human Resources Business Partner (Part-time)
New South Wales

HR Advisor - Contract
New South Wales

Human Resource Business Partner
New South Wales

Workplace Relations Advocate
New South Wales

Workplace Relations Coordinator
New South Wales

HR Business Partner - Contract
New South Wales

Senior HR Advisor
New South Wales

HR Business Partner
New South Wales

Senior Recruiter
Victoria

Talent & Capability Coordinator - Contract
New South Wales

HR Advisor
Queensland

HR Systems Adviser
Queensland

HRIS Implementation Consultant - Contract
New South Wales

HR Change Manager - Contract
New South Wales

Human Resource Manager
Queensland

Senior HRBP - Contract
New South Wales

HRBP
New South Wales

Learning and Development Consultant - Part time
New South Wales

HR Manager
Victoria

HR Generalist - Contract
New South Wales

Browse All Jobs