Cornell University

August 8 2014

Food, a Powerful Management Tool

Sated workers more satisfied than hungry workers, research shows

EmilyZitek_188x188Bosses, do yourselves a favor. Spring for lunch at those late morning meetings with workers.

Chances are, they'll think more like team players and less like hungry brats as you power through the agenda, according to research presented this week by Assistant Professor Emily Zitek at the Academy of Management annual meeting.

"Hungry people think about themselves instead of others and focus on their own needs, which leads them to feel and act entitled," according to the study Zitek conducted with Dartmouth College colleague Alex Jordan.

Entitlement often has social or psychological roots, but can also be driven "by amplified levels of a basic physiological drive -- hunger -- which may cause people to turn their focus inward and place their needs above those of others," the researchers say.

Understanding the relationship between hunger and entitlement can provide an easy way to potentially modify a person's sense of entitlement, which could have positive consequences in the workplace, school or home.

Also, compared to other sources of increased entitlement, such as unfair treatment, "entitlement brought on by hunger should be much more modifiable," Zitek and Jordan said in "I Need Food and I Deserve a Raise: People Feel More Entitled When Hungry."

Two experiments yielded the hunger-entitlement link.

In one, 103 undergraduates were surveyed as they entered or exited a dining hall at lunchtime. The self-reported entitlement of participants who had not eaten lunch was compared with that of those who had already dined.

Participants indicated whether they had eaten lunch or not and how hungry they were on a scale of one (not at all hungry) to seven (very hungry).

They then filled out the Psychological Entitlement Scale (PES), responding on a scale of one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree) to statements such as "Great things should come to me," "If I were on the Titanic, I would deserve to be on the first lifeboat" and "I demand the best because I'm worth it."

Participants who had not yet eaten lunch scored higher on the entitlement scale.

In addition, since entitled individuals are less likely than others to help people, subjects were also asked if they would help the researchers by filling out an additional survey.

Seventy-eight percent of those who had eaten lunch filled out the extra survey compared to 60 percent who had not eaten.

A second experiment involved 166 students. Part of the group sat in a room that smelled like pizza; frozen pizza was being cooked in a toaster oven. Partway through the experiment, an individual entered the room and said she was getting her lunch. She removed the pizza from the oven and left the room.

Other students sat in a room where no pizza was cooking. The only interruption was from an individual who came in to pick up pencils.

In confirmation of the authors' hypothesis, subjects in the room that smelled of pizza had a stronger sense of entitlement, as measured by the scale, than students in the room without pizza.

"Hunger levels fluctuate through the day, and people's sense of entitlement seems to fluctuate with them," the researchers said.

"Entitlement can cause big problems in the workplace, so managers might want to provide food to employees or wait to schedule potentially contentious meetings until after lunch," they said.