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Working with a Star Employee? You, Too, May Luck Out

You know who they are. They get the plum assignments, they always get invited to lunch, and when there's praise to be given, they get it first.

I'm talking, of course, about star employees.

But there's something else you may not know. These employees also get the blame when something goes wrong.

Star employees often get most of the credit when things go right, but also shoulder most of the blame when things go wrong, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York, according to

The study explored how collaborating with stars – individuals who have a reputation for exhibiting exceptional performance – factors into how much credit and blame is shared with collaborators when things go awry.

“Stars are human, and they fail from time to time. We wanted to shift the focus away from stars, and find out what happens to the people who collaborate with them. How does working with a star hurt and help you, and how can you individually affect these outcomes,” the web site quotes Scott Bentley, assistant professor of strategy at Binghamton University’s School of Management.

Researchers "analyzed large amounts of data on the performance of hedge funds and fund managers. They also analyzed news articles and rankings from financial media outlets to determine what happened to fund managers based on their collaboration with a star."

“If you left a firm after a successful or unsuccessful collaboration with a star, we wanted to find out how this impacted where you ended up next. Was your next job at a higher-ranked firm or a lower-ranked firm?” asks Bentley.

They found that stars often took the majority of the credit when things went right, but also took most of the blame when things went wrong. This meant that non-stars could have it both ways -- escaping penalties when the collaboration failed, and sometimes finding themselves in a better position after a successful collaboration with a star.

“We found that relative to failed collaborations with non-star colleagues, failed collaborations with star employees often left non-stars better off. This is because most of the blame is attributed to the star, and non-stars get the benefit from being able to work alongside a star employee and learn from them,” notes Bentley at

Researchers also explored the degree to which individual performance affects the potential risks and rewards of working with a star. "What they found is that those with individual successes outside of collaborating with a star often reap even greater rewards of working with stars," the study reports.

“Imagine being on a sports team and your star player has to sit out a game. If you end up performing well without them, people are going to shift the attribution for some of that success to you. If you end up playing poorly, that may confirm biases that you’re simply riding on the star’s coattails,” says Bentley.

He explains that even in failure, high-performing non-stars can still benefit from working with stars.

“You now have this status signal that comes with working with a well-known star. People may think ‘well, you had an opportunity to work with a star, so you must be good at what you do, even if the collaboration didn’t go well’” he concludes.

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