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Power can alter sense of time, says study (which explains why your boss is always late)

Does your manager seem more relaxed about sticking to a schedule than you do? If so, he or she may have a case of the "boss effect."

According to The Wall Street Journal, recent research shows power can alter people's sense of time, making them feel as though they have more of it than their subordinates.

In a series of experiments, researchers at University of California, Berkeley, found people in high-powered positions perceive they have more control of time – and this "boss effect" can make them feel less harried.

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"We all adhere to the same clocks," Serena Chen, a social psychologist and one of the authors of the study, told The Wall Street Journal. "Yet we are showing that power can shift your perception of time."

She added: "High-powered people are less stressed, but it also may be why they are overcommitted."

The research, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, involved more than 550 participants. Researchers assigned participants to high-powered and low-powered roles, and asked them to rate their perceptions of power and time availability, such as "I feel in control of my time," and "I must spend a lot of time on unimportant tasks."

The authors noted that their findings do not determine whether powerful people do, in fact, have more control over time. (For example, an executive may have the power to cancel meetings, whereas an assistant does not, they wrote.) But their experiments suggest powerful people still perceive they have more time, even when they don't.

These days, an emphasis on productivity tends to force business leaders to stay on schedule, lest they set a poor example, says Linda Allan, a Toronto management consultant who specializes in workplace behaviour.

"If the individuals at the top don't get it – i.e. if they're running late for everything and sort of extending meeting times and so on – then that just permeates throughout the organization," she says.

But in any workplace, Allan says, there are certain individuals who value time and are never tardy, and there are those who are chronically late.

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"You get this sort of rolling of eyes in meetings when someone will say 'Oh, Tom's going to be a little late'... because Tom's always late for everything," she says. "And he puts out his excuse as if he's the only one that has these traffic jams and last-minute phone calls at his desk."

Yet with many companies prioritizing efficiency, the chronically tardy send the message that they aren't able to manage, Allan says.

So if the "boss effect" means your manager is letting deadlines slide, chances are he or she won't get to be a boss for long.

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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