Bold or reckless? The impact of workplace risk-taking on attributions and expected outcomes


Risk-takers are rhetorically extolled in America, but does this veneration ignore the downsides of failure? We test competing perspectives on how workplace risk-takers are perceived by examining cultural attitudes about individuals who successfully take, unsuccessful take, and avoid risks at work. The results of two experiments show that, in comparison to risk-avoidance, expected workplace outcomes are enhanced by successful risk-taking and that failure does not appear to significantly harm expected workplace outcomes for risk-takers. While one experiment finds that failed risk-takers are seen as more likely to be downsized (because they are viewed as more foolish), we also find failed risk-takers are perceived as more likely to be hired and promoted. Mediation analyses reveal this is primarily because risk-taking—regardless of outcome—considerably increases perceptions of agency and decreases perceptions of indecisiveness, and these attributions predict positive workplace outcomes. We also find the results to be remarkably similar across varying participant characteristics (namely, gender, race, education level, work experience, income, and age), which suggests that there is a broad cultural consensus in the U.S. about the value of risk-taking. In sum, we find evidence that observers generally make more positive attributions about risk-takers than about risk-avoiders, even when risk-takers fail.

Metadata Access
Creator Fisk, Susan; Overton, Jon
Publisher ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research
Contributor National Science Foundation
Publication Year 2020
Rights Download
OpenAccess true
Contact ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research
Resource Type Dataset
Discipline Psychology