“The good news about bad news”: Information about past organizational failure and its impact on worker productivity

Published: 27 February 2021| Version 1 | DOI: 10.17632/wpwt5z8k3v.1
Sabrina Jeworrek,


Failure in organizations is very common. Little is known about whether leaders should provide feedback about past organizational failure to followers and how this might affect their future performance. We conducted a field experiment (Experiment 1) in which we recruited temporary workers to carry out a phone campaign to attract new volunteers and randomly assigned them to either receive or not to receive information about a failed mail campaign pursuing the same goal. We find that informed workers performed better, regardless of whether they had previously worked on the failed mail campaign or not. Evidence from a second field experiment (Experiment 2) with students asked to voluntarily support a campaign for reducing food waste corroborates the finding. We investigate the role of leadership tactics behind our findings in a third online survey experiment (Experiment 3). We conclude that feedback about past failure is unlikely to have a negative impact on work performance ―it might even lead to performance improvement― if leaders make use of approaches such as charismatic and identity leadership when communicating the bad news. To guarantee the anonymity of subjects, potentially identifying variables (such as subjects’ age and the number of terms enrolled) are deleted from the publicly available datasets. Hence, some of the results presented in the article cannot be replicated entirely. The full datasets are available upon request.



Motivation, Leadership, Behavioral Experiment