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This study evaluated the psychometric properties of the Organizational Bullshit Perception Scale (OBPS) using two samples of employees of organizations in various sectors. The scale is designed to gauge perceptions of the extent of organizational bullshit that exists in a workplace, where bullshit is operationalized as individuals within an organization making statements with no regard for the truth. Analyses revealed three factors of organizational bullshit, termed regard for truth, the boss and bullshit language. The three factors are consistent with existing literature in the field of organizational bullshit and offer further insight into how employees view workplace bullshit. The OBPS constitutes three subscales measuring these factors. Future researchers should seek to validate the OBPS and further develop the identified factors of organizational bullshit.
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This Place Is Full of It:
Towards an
Organizational Bullshit
Perception Scale
Caitlin Ferreira
Red and Yellow Creative School of Business, Cape Town,
South Africa
David Hannah
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University,
Vancouver, Canada
Ian McCarthy
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University,
Vancouver, Canada; Luiss, Rome, Italy
Leyland Pitt
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University,
Vancouver, Canada; Hanken School of Economics,
Helsinki, Finland
Sarah Lord Ferguson
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University,
Vancouver, Canada
This study evaluated the psychometric properties of the Organizational Bullshit
Perception Scale (OBPS) using two samples of employees of organizations in various
sectors. The scale is designed to gauge perceptions of the extent of organizational
bullshit that exists in a workplace, where bullshit is operationalized as individuals
Corresponding Author:
Caitlin Ferreira, Red and Yellow Creative School of Business, Cape Town, South Africa.
Psychological Reports
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DOI: 10.1177/0033294120978162
within an organization making statements with no regard for the truth. Analyses
revealed three factors of organizational bullshit, termed regard for truth, the boss and
bullshit language. The three factors are consistent with existing literature in the field
of organizational bullshit and offer further insight into how employees view work-
place bullshit. The OBPS constitutes three subscales measuring these factors. Future
researchers should seek to validate the OBPS and further develop the identified
factors of organizational bullshit.
Organizational bullshit, leadership, organizational culture, scale, factor structure,
reliability, validity
In recent years, the term “bullshit” has moved from being a relatively mild expletive
to a term that is used to describe acts of communication that have no grounding in
truth. According to the seminal work by philosopher Harry Frankfurt (2009, inside
cover), bullshit is everywhere: “One of the most salient features of our culture is that
there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.
But we tend to take the situation for granted”. Bullshit has become a seemingly
ubiquitouspractice ofcommunication that permeatesmany different aspects of our
lives, including our everyday language, culture, politics and, most relevant to the
research here, life in organizations (Christensen et al., 2019). But in spite of the
growing academic interest in bullshit (e.g. Christensen et al., 2019; Graeber, 2018;
Pennycook et al., 2015; Pennycook & Rand, 2020; Petrocelli, 2018) and the mount-
ing evidence of its influence on the world (Bergstrom & West, 2020; McCarthy
et al., 2020; Spicer, 2017), research into its nature and effects remains in its infancy.
In the research reported here we sought to add to this literature by investigating
bullshit in organizations. More specifically, we present an original scale designed to
measure employees’ perceptions of bullshit in their organizations, which we term
the Organizational Bullshit Perception Scale.
The structure of this paper is as follows. First, we define the construct of
organizational bullshit and its dimensions. Thereafter, the process used to gen-
erate the items for a scale to measure an organization’s members’ perceptions of
the extent to which bullshit is prevalent in their organization is described.
Following this, an outline of the initial study using this scale in a sample of
adult employees is explained and the process whereby the reliability and validity
of the scale was established is then discussed. Lastly, concluding remarks outline
the applications of the scale in management practice and offer avenues for
future research using the scale.
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Construct definition and item generation
Drawing on Frankfurt (2009), McCarthy et al. (2020, p. 254) define workplace
bullshit as “as taking place when colleagues make statements at work with no
regard for the truth”. The word bullshit can therefore be both a verb (the act of
communicating with no regard for the truth), and a noun (the information
contained in that which is communicated with no regard for the truth).
Bullshit can be expressed in writing (e.g., emails, memos, reports), in spoken
form (e.g., conversations and speeches), and visually (e.g., charts, diagrams). It
is important to distinguish between bullshit and lying. While liars care about the
truth, know it, and deliberately misrepresent it, bullshitters neither know nor
care whether something they communicate is true or not (Frankfurt, 2009;
McCarthy et al., 2020). As bullshitters don’t care what the truth is, this affords
them freedom to say whatever it takes to further their agenda (McCarthy et al.,
2020). This freedom from truth and evidence can mean that bullshit is some-
times misperceived as something profound (Pennycook et al., 2015) or, alterna-
tively, viewed as an empty claim (Spicer, 2020). In the workplace this range of
perceptions can result in four responses from individuals that work to promote
or hinder the prevalence of organizational bullshit: exit (they try to escape the
bullshit); voice (they confront the bullshit); loyalty (they embrace and spread the
bullshit); and neglect (they disengage from the bullshit) (McCarthy et al., 2020).
Workplaces are awash with many forms of bullshit that manifest in many
different ways, including misrepresentation, where leaders make statements
without knowing the facts; meaningless job titles (Graeber, 2018); fake and
shallow company slogans (e.g. Lee et al., 2020); and workplace puffery such
as resum
e padding (Grover, 2005). Under some circumstances, organizational
bullshit, usually referred to as “banter”, “badinage” or “joshing” can be harm-
less, often creative, and even contribute to a congenial atmosphere in an orga-
nization. Organizational bullshit may even have a positive effect when leaders
articulate inspiring futuristic, but largely uncertain visions, that are meant to
inspire others to act (Christensen et al., 2019). On the other hand, other scholars
have outlined a number of detrimental effects of bullshit. McCarthy et al.
(2020), while acknowledging there can be positive effects of organizational bull-
shit, also caution that it can result in lower job satisfaction among the organ-
ization’s members, increased distrust in leadership, a reduction in productivity,
and ultimately a negative impact on overall performance (McCarthy et al.,
2020). In a similar vein, Spicer (2017, p. 164) argues: “No longer is bullshit a
handy supply of manure for fertilizing new ideas. Instead, it can create a dan-
gerous waste problem, which could make people and, indeed, the entire orga-
nization, profoundly ill”. According to Spicer (2017), bullshit has a number of
negative effects on both employees and organizations, including a separation of
talk and action, an apparent ignorance to well-established assumptions and a
tendency to suppress those with differing opinions and perspectives. He cautions
Ferreira et al. 3
that the most detrimental consequence of rampant organizational bullshit is the
corrosion of organizational decision-making.
In spite of these arguments about the potentially powerful effects of organi-
zational bullshit, at present they remain untested by empirical research. One
reason why is that there is no instrument or scale to measure the prevalence of
bullshit in an organization. We assume that the people who are in the best
position to accurately assess the degree of bullshit in their organizations are
the people who work there; therefore, we set out to develop a reliable and
valid scale to measure employees’ perceptions of the extent to which bullshit
exists in their organizations. Next, we turn to how we developed the
Organizational Bullshit Perception Scale (OBPS).
When developing items for scales, it is critical to focus on construct validity,
or as Hinkin (1995, p. 969) puts it, that the items generated “adequately capture
the specific domain of interest yet contain no extraneous content.” Of course,
given that research in this area is in its infancy, the domain itself is not well-
defined, but we nevertheless conducted a review of the relatively sparse literature
on organizational and workplace bullshit, including the work of Belfiore (2009),
Frankfurt (2009), McCarthy et al. (2020), Pennycook et al. (2015), Pfattheicher
and Schindler (2016), Spicer (2017, 2020) and Sterling et al. (2016).
Our first step was to generate a list of preliminary items based on that review.
We began by generating dozens of items, and through an iterative process where
we shared the items amongst the authors, and subsequently refined them,
dropped them, or integrated them based on their clarity and comprehensibility.
We also sought feedback from colleagues and managers who were less familiar
with the literature on bullshit, (i.e. people who were more similar to potential
respondents), in order to confirm whether they found the items to be clear and
comprehensible. This process of developing and refining the items continued in
an iterative manner, ensuring that only those items that we all agreed captured
the concept of organizational bullshit and were readily understood by others,
were included in the final set of items. Throughout this process the researchers
remained mindful of good practices such as ensuring redundancy across differ-
ent items, incorporating reverse-coded questions, and correcting double-
barreled items (DeVellis, 2016), until the final list of 15 items that we used in
our primary study was generated. This process was also informed by our review
of the literature, which suggested that there should be three factors present in an
organizational bullshit perception scale.
The first factor in our OBPS is based on the fundamental act of bullshit:
communicating with little to no regard for truth, related evidence and estab-
lished knowledge (Frankfurt, 2009, Petrocelli, 2018). This disconnection from
the truth seems to be stronger - more pervasive and more accepted - in some
organizations than others (Spicer, 2017, 2020). This variation is likely to be
reflected in the extent to which an organization has a culture of seeking and
using evidence to support statements, as opposed to it being more commonplace
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for employees and leaders to rely on hunches, anecdotes and personal experi-
ences and opinions (McCarthy et al., 2020; Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006) when making
decisions or persuading others to their points of view. In other words, this
dimension of bullshit reflects the degree to which an organization tolerates (or
even embraces) individuals who make statements with no regard for the truth.
Does the organization accept, ignore, or challenge bullshit statements that try to
impress, persuade, or fit (i.e., persuasive bullshitting), or to avoid, dodge or
elude something (i.e., evasive bullshitting) (Littrell et al., 2020)? Based on
these ideas, the first set of items in our scale are designed to measure the
extent to which employees believe their organization has a culture that expects
(or not) that workplace statements and discussions should have a regard for
truth that is grounded in evidence and established knowledge.
The second factor suggested by literature on bullshit concerns the communi-
cation behavior of high-status individuals in organizations. Since leaders are
likely to be the most important and influential bullshitters in organizations
(McCarthy et al., 2020, Spicer, 2017), items were generated to tap into subordi-
nates’ perceptions of whether their bosses tended to engage in bullshit-related
practices. Applying the logic of Petrocelli (2018), leaders will be driven to bull-
shit when the social and professional expectations to have an opinion are high,
and when they expect to get away with it. These two conditions are subject to
how (un)knowledgeable their audience is. Similarly, if leaders exhibit high levels
of overconfidence, and believe they are popular amongst their peers, this will
make them likely to engage in more bullshit-related behavior (Jerrim et al.,
To complement the first two factors of bullshit we propose a third factor,
concerning bullshit language. This factor reflects how bullshit transpires in the
workplace. As noted earlier, bullshit involves communicative acts that have no
regard for the truth, and that are typically made with the bullshitter’s agenda in
mind (Spicer, 2013). As such, bullshit typically contains language that is meant
to enhance the credibility of arguments or statements, and to bolster the legit-
imacy of a bullshitter, while at the same time trying to befuddle listeners so they
are unable or unwilling to try to penetrate to the lack of truth behind the bull-
shit. Corporate jargon is one such example of organizational bullshit language,
whereby words or expressions are used in an attempt to legitimize something,
whilst at the same time confusing language and thinking (McCarthy et al., 2020;
Spicer, 2017). McCarthy et al. (2020) refer to a number of bullshit expressions
such as “blue-sky thinking” or “out-of-the-box thinking”, which are often used
as vague buzzwords with minimal substance. This vagueness serves the interests
of bullshitters, because communication targets are less likely to ask questions
when they find it difficult to understand what has been said (McCarthy et al.,
2020). Bullshit language therefore goes beyond what is said, but also incorpo-
rates how it is said – whereby both components are able to compound the
actions of bullshitters.
Ferreira et al. 5
Thus, the literature suggests there are three factors comprising organizational
bullshit. We have termed these factors regard for truth,the boss, and bullshit
language. We expected that these factors would be related to one another.
Organizations with a culture of bullshit would likely influence leaders to bull-
shit, and leadership bullshit could in turn shape an organization’s culture.
Further, an organization with limited regard for truth, would likely reward the
bullshitting behavior of the boss and other employees, who would readily make
use of bullshit language to advance their own self-interests.
The data
The primary study sample consisted of full-time employees in a range of differ-
ent industries including healthcare, education, manufacturing, financial services,
software development, government, gaming and marketing. Respondents were
solicited via email and various social media platforms to complete an online
survey containing 15 items. A total of 332 usable responses were received in the
primary study sample. The secondary study sample was collected from a pur-
chased, large commercial database of individuals currently in full-time employ-
ment who completed an online survey, that initially garnered 381 responses.
Following data cleaning procedures that eliminated any duplicate responses,
those failing basic attention checks and responses with excessive missing data,
the final, realized secondary sample comprised 343 respondents. Table 1 below
Table 1. Summary of sample descriptive statistics.
Primary study sample
(n ¼332)
Secondary study
sample (n ¼343)
Gender split Male 58.4%
Female 38.9%
Prefer to not say 2.7%
Male 53.1%
Female 46.6%
Prefer to not say 0.3%
Average age 44.2 years 37.2 years
Average tenure 8 years 6.9 years
Highest level
of education
No formal education: 0.6%
High school diploma: 2.1%
Vocational training: 0%
College diploma: 10%
Bachelor’s degree: 18.7%
Master’s degree: 36.6%
Doctoral degree: 32%
No formal education: 0%
High school diploma: 5.5%
Vocational training: 2.6%
College diploma: 6.7%
Bachelor’s degree: 46.1%
Master’s degree: 37.3%
Doctoral degree: 1.8%
Size of organization 1 – 9 employees: 2.7%
10 – 49 employees: 10.3%
50 – 249 employees: 16.7%
250 or more employees: 70.3%
1 – 9 employees: 5.5%
10 – 49 employees: 25.1%
50 – 249 employees: 33.8%
250 or more employees: 35.6%
6Psychological Reports 0(0)
summarizes a number of descriptive statistics pertaining to both the primary and
secondary study samples. As noted therein, the primary study had respondents
that were slightly older, more tenured and more educated than respondents in
the secondary study. A strong majority of the respondents in the primary sample
typically worked for large organizations (above 250 employees), whereas
respondents in the second study were employed across organizations of varying
Data analysis and results
Exploratory factor analysis for the primary study
For the initial assessment of the OBPS an exploratory factor analysis (EFA)
using IBM SPSS was conducted on the primary study dataset to assess psycho-
metric properties. First, in order to confirm that the sample was suitable for
factor analysis, both the Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin (KMO) measure of sampling ade-
quacy (Kaiser, 1970) and Bartlett’s test of sphericity (Bartlett, 1954) were
applied. The KMO value was 0.9, which exceeds the recommended threshold
of 0.6 (Pallant, 2013; Tabacknick & Fidell, 2013). Similarly, Bartlett’s test was
significant (X
¼2742.40; p¼0.00) thus confirming the suitability of the data for
an EFA.
The EFA used the principal components analysis extraction method, also
referred to as component analysis (Hair et al., 2014), with rotation. Using
Kaiser’s criterion of eigenvalues greater than one (Kaiser, 1960) three factors
were extracted explaining a total of 64.4% of the variation in the data. The
extraction of three factors was confirmed by the examination of a scree plot,
which suggested that following the extraction of three factors, the plot slope
begins to approximate a horizontal line (Hair et al., 2014). Factor 1
(eigenvalue ¼6.41), loading seven items explained 25.25% of the variation,
Factor 2 (eigenvalue ¼1.99) loading four items explained 21.70% of the varia-
tion and Factor 3 (eigenvalue ¼1.26) loading four items explained 17.45% of
the variation in the data. As all items obtained communalities above 0.4 no
items were removed from the analysis (Pallant, 2013). The 15 items and rotated
factor loadings are presented in Table 2 below, all of which exceed the recom-
mended threshold for practically significant loadings of 0.5 (Hair et al., 2014).
The results confirmed the three distinct factors of the OBPS. The first factor,
named ‘regard for truth’, includes all items that relate to the use of evidence-
based decision-making supported by the incorporation of data sources. The
second factor, named ‘the boss’, includes all items that pertain to an evaluation
of the actions of one’s superior. The third factor, named ‘bullshit language
includes items that relate to typical characteristics of the language of bullshit
communications, namely excessive use of acronyms and jargon (McCarthy
et al., 2020). The fact that two of the items loading on the third factor contain
Ferreira et al. 7
the word ‘boss’ and yet do not load on the second factor provides evidence for
the distinctiveness of the bullshit language factor as its own factor regardless of
the source of the language.
Internal consistency and convergent validity for the primary study
An evaluation of the internal consistency or reliability of the scale indicated that
the overall OBPS had a Cronbach alpha (Cronbach, 1951) value of 0.90, while
the individual factors obtained alpha values of 0.86, 0.86 and 0.84 respectively.
Since internal consistency is not sufficient to establish validity (Parasuraman
Table 2. Rotated factor loadings.
Scale item Factor 1 Factor 2 Factor 3
1. Evidence must be presented to support deci-
sions made
2. People often make assertions that they cannot
3. It is easy to get access to the data I need to
make good decisions
4. When making decisions we place more
emphasis on evidence than on personal opin-
5. You can persuade people to do things even if
the evidence doesn’t support your arguments
6. People take the time to gather and analyze data
before making decisions
7. If you want to get ahead just keep insisting that
everything is going great, even if the evidence
says something different
8. My boss will say whatever it takes to pursue
their agenda
9. When my boss speaks, they usually back up
their opinions with logic (R)
10. My boss often says things that may or may not
be true
11. Even when people don’t know what they are
talking about, my boss will often go along with
their suggestions
12. My boss loves to use acronyms 0.70
13. My boss loves to use jargon 0.64
14. People use jargon far too often
15. People use acronyms far too often
1 indicates all these items were prefaced with “In our organization...”.
(R) indicates that the item was reverse-coded.
8Psychological Reports 0(0)
et al., 1991), a number of other assessments were conducted. The authors exam-
ined the association between the OBPS and a separate measure of overall bull-
shit perception within an organization. All respondents assessed their overall
perceived bullshit in their organization on a simple 4-point scale ranging from 1
indicating ‘there is no bullshit in our organization’, through 2 indicating ‘there is
a little bullshit in our organization’, through 3 indicating ‘there is some bullshit
in our organization’ to 4 indicating ‘there is a lot of bullshit in our organization’.
The overall perceived bullshit in the organization was regressed on the three
perceived bullshit scale factors. The R
value of 0.36 indicates convergence
between the OBPS and the overall bullshit perception measure, with regard
for truth and the boss being significant predictors of the overall bullshit
Factorial validity for the primary study
The factorial validity of the OBPS was then assessed by means of a confirmatory
factor analysis (CFA). The three-factor model with the second order factor
structure obtained an acceptable fit (X
¼366,07, df ¼87, p<0.01, CFI ¼0.89;
TLI ¼0.87; RMSEA ¼0.09; SRMR ¼0.07). Furthermore, all factor loadings
were found to be significant (p<0.01) exceeding the threshold of 0.5 (Hair
et al., 2014). To validate the factor structure, three models were examined.
First, the three-factor model was examined, with the three identified factors
of the OBPS, then a two-factor model with factors pertaining to (1) regard
for truth and (2) bullshit communication – the bases upon which the original
items were developed was examined. Thereafter, a single-factor model was
examined, where all items load directly onto a single factor. Table 3 summarizes
the results of the models identifying that both the single-factor and two-factor
models presented a significantly worse model fit than the three-factor model.
The model fit of the CFA therefore supports the three-factor structure for the
primary study dataset.
All factors obtained acceptable Cronbach alphas (>0.7) (Malhotra, 2010)
and composite reliability indices (>0.6) (Hair et al., 2014). All standardized
regression weights were significant (p<0.01) and exceeded 0.5, with the average
variance extracted (AVE) exceeding 0.5 for the boss and bullshit language
Table 3. Summary of model fit statistics.
Model fit Model difference
Model X
Ddf p
Three-factor model 366.07 87 0.00 0.89 0.87 0.09 0.07
Two-factor model 641.21 89 0.00 0.78 0.74 0.13 0.09 275.14 2 0.00
Single-factor model 873.03 90 0.00 0.69 0.63 0.11 0.11 506.96 3 0.00
Ferreira et al. 9
factors, providing support for convergent validity. Regard for truth obtained an
AVE of 0.47, slightly below the threshold. However, as suggested by Fornell and
Larcker (1981), if the AVE falls below 0.5, while the composite reliability is
above 0.6, the convergent validity is acceptable. The discriminant validity of the
model is assessed in Table 4, whereby the correlation matrix is presented with
the square root of the AVE presented along the diagonal (Hair et al., 2014). As
indicated in Table 4, the square root on the AVE presented along the diagonal
exceeds the cross-correlations with all other constructs as per the Fornell-
Larcker criterion (1981). The table therefore indicates that discriminant validity
has been achieved.
Exploratory factor analysis for the secondary study
Following the initial exploration and validation of the OBPS, further data was
collected to validate the scale on the secondary study dataset. Following the
primary study data analysis, and the confirmation of three distinct factors,
further items were generated in order to more comprehensively assess the
three distinct factors. Following a similar iterative process to how we generated
the initial item set for our first data gathering, we generated twelve items for
each of the three factors.
The three subscales in the secondary study continued to show good internal
consistency, with the three factors obtaining Cronbach alpha (Cronbach, 1951)
values of 0.79, 0.86 and 0.87 respectively. The extended OBPS in the secondary
study indicated an alpha value of 0.93. An EFA was then conducted on the data
collected through the secondary study in order to determine if the three-factor
structure was able to be replicated. The KMO value of 0.96 exceeds the recom-
mended threshold of 0.6 (Pallant, 2013; Tabacknick & Fidell, 2013), and the
significant Bartlett’s test (X
¼9099.62; p¼0.00) indicates the suitability of the
data for an EFA. However, we were unable to replicate the three-factor struc-
ture from our secondary data. An analysis of the scree plot indicated that only
two factors should be extracted, which together explained 59.1% of the varia-
tion in the data. Factor 1 (eigenvalue ¼13.08) loading 21 items explained 38.8%
of the variation while Factor 2 (eigenvalue ¼6.4) loading 12 items explained
20.3% of the variation. The latter factor, however, included all the reverse-
worded items, strongly suggesting that it was a methods factor (Podsakoff
Table 4. Discriminant validity metrics.
Regard for truth The boss Bullshit language
Regard for truth 0.69 0.64* 0.39*
The boss 0.78 0.50*
Bullshit language 0.75
Significant at a 1% level of significance.
10 Psychological Reports 0(0)
et al., 2003), not a substantive factor that represented an underlying component
of the construct of interest. Weijters et al. (2013) discuss three possible sources of
reversed item method bias. Acquiescence refers to respondents’ having a pref-
erence for one side (often the positive side) of a ratings scale; careless responding
(in the context of reverse-worded items) refers to respondents not noticing the
reversed wording; and confirmation bias concerns respondents activating beliefs
that are consistent with the way in which an item is stated (e.g. whether they are
asked if a workplace is full of bullshit or devoid of bullshit they will agree). Both
acquiescent responding and respondent carelessness tend to enhance inconsis-
tencies in responses between regular and reverse-coded items (Weijters et al.,
2013) ultimately influencing the results and the interpretation thereof.
Confirmation bias results in either an upward or downward bias in respondent
scores, depending on the direction of the first item that a respondent is exposed
to. Due to the use of randomization in the survey design, the confirmation bias
was not readily detectable as respondents were exposed to the questions in a
randomized order.
Regardless of the reason why a significant methods factor emerged in our
secondary study, the existence of such a factor points to concerns about the
quality of the data. Taking that into account, where there is an inconsistency
between the primary study and the secondary one, we place more credence in the
results of the first study. Respondents in that case compiled the study voluntar-
ily, unlike the paid respondents in the secondary study. Furthermore, the three
factors identified are consistent with the existing literature. Therefore, we pro-
pose that the OBPS be viewed as having three factors, and we call for subse-
quent research to further investigate the factor structure of the scale.
Discussion and implications of the research
This research sought to develop a scale to assess employees’ perceptions of
organizational bullshit. Through the development and testing of the OBPS,
the initial EFA identified three distinct factors, namely regard for truth, the
boss and bullshit language. This factor structure was then confirmed through
an initial CFA and a number of reliability and validity assessments confirmed
the integrity of the scale. Following further item generation to more compre-
hensively examine the distinct factors of the OBPS through further data collec-
tion, the secondary study confirmed the acceptable reliabilities of the three
subscales, however, we were unable to confirm the three-factor model in that
sample. We attribute that to flaws in the data of the secondary study, which
were evident in the presence of reverse-coded item bias.
The three underlying dimensions of organizational bullshit provide insight
into how bullshit manifests itself in organizational life, and provides evidence
that employees are attentive to bullshit and its components. The first factor,
regard for the truth, taps into the fundamental nature of bullshit as a
Ferreira et al. 11
communicative act that tends to disregard evidence and other factual informa-
tion. It also suggests that employees are aware that such communicative acts are
present in organizational life. Our own experiences, as well as the many anec-
dotal conversations that we have had when developing the items and conducting
this research, suggests that this is a source of frustration for many employees.
While an organizational disregard for the truth may be accepted under certain
circumstances, such disregard may lead to organizations making more question-
able decisions (Christensen et al., 2019; Spicer, 2017) that could not only alienate
employees, but could ultimately put their jobs at risk by endangering the welfare
of their employing companies.
The second dimension, the boss, confirms that employees believe that their
superiors are key players in the dissemination of bullshit. Bullshit aims only to
serve an immediate end – whether to puff up one’s reputation or to advance
their point of view or argument (Gibson, 2011). Further, employees are likely to
have to take action based on any bullshit communicated by their bosses. As a
result, employees are likely to be acutely aware when their superiors use bullshit
to advance their own self-interests.
The final dimension, bullshit language, considers some of the commonly used
types of language employed by bullshitters, namely the excessive use of acro-
nyms and jargon. The finding that employees perceive that the excessive use of
such language is a form of bullshit confirms that they are not oblivious to its use
in the workplace. They may share the opinion of McCarthy et al. (2020, p. 258),
who argued that “if a statement is riddled with meaningless language, acronyms,
buzzwords, and jargon, then it is likely to be bullshit.” It is possible that the
excessive use of acronyms and jargon may occur to employees as an exclusion-
ary mechanism in the workplace, whereby those unfamiliar with the terminology
may not be able to meaningfully contribute to the conversation or voice their
From a scholarly perspective, the OBPS provides a way to delve further into
this important concept, its nature, and its antecedents and consequences. Our
findings suggest that employees are attuned to the presence of bullshit in organ-
izations, and their attitudes, beliefs, and actions are likely to be influenced by
their perceptions of it. Of course, further theoretical and empirical work is
needed to tease out the varying ways in which bullshit influences organizational
outcomes, and we hope our scale can be of use in that regard. From an applied
perspective the OBPS provides a simple checklist for human resource practi-
tioners to use to diagnose both the actual prevalence of organizational bullshit,
as well as the extent to which employees believe it is present in an organization.
The tool also enables the identification of more specific areas in which bullshit
might be a cause of problems so that these can then be addressed: Does com-
munication in the organization occur without regard for evidence? Do senior
executives purvey bullshit in their communication? Is there excessive use of
acronyms (e.g. CPC, LBH, NBD) and jargon (“thinking outside the box”,
12 Psychological Reports 0(0)
“low hanging fruit”, “drink the kool aid”)? If these conditions can be identified,
strategies can then be developed for remedying them.
Limitations and recommendations for future research
Like all research this has its limitations, and we wish to acknowledge three of
them here. First, we were unable to confirm the three-factor structure in our
secondary study, likely due to problems with how respondents dealt with the
reverse-coded items. Further research is therefore essential to confirm whether
these three factors will replicate in other contexts. Second, while attempts were
made to enhance the comparability of the two distinct samples, there are some
noticeable differences between the two sample groups. The primary study
sample was, on average, an older, more tenured and more highly educated
group of individuals than the second sample, as such one cannot rule out a
difference in interpretation of the items by the two groups as a result of these
factors. Third, the research did not explicitly measure respondents’ attitudes
toward their organization and as such was not able to control for its influence.
Nevertheless, we hope that this research serves as a catalyst for future
research in the field of organizational bullshit. We also hope that future
researchers will test the OBPS and validate the three-factor structure identified.
We strongly advise that future researchers consider revising the reverse-coded
items to reduce the introduction of reversed item method bias. We also encour-
age scholars to delve further into the impacts of bullshit in organizations by
examining the relationship between the OBPS and other variables of impor-
tance. As noted earlier, scholars have noted that there may be both positive
and negative effects of organizational bullshit. The overall effects of bullshit
may be examined by relating them to important outcomes such as job satisfac-
tion (e.g. Agho et al., 1992; Brooke et al., 1988) and the different types of
organizational commitment (Angle & Perry, 1981). Further, we suspect that
the effects of bullshit will often depend on context: bullshit may be acceptable,
for example, when a leader extols the virtues of a new strategic initiative but may
be met with approbation when it comes to the interpretation of scientific experi-
ments. Future research could investigate such contextual influences. For exam-
ple, employees in certain industries or occupations may report high OBPS scores
yet be relatively unaffected (or even react positively), whereas those in other
settings may react much more negatively.
In conclusion, we hope that the creation of the OBPS will contribute to the
rapidly growing conversation about bullshit and its importance in the work-
place. We hope researchers will conduct further theoretical and empirical inves-
tigations into the identified factors of regard for truth, the boss and bullshit
language, so that we can learn more about this important concept and how it
shapes all of our working lives. Hopefully this will help leaders to structure
workplaces where fewer workers grumble “This place is full of bullshit.”
Ferreira et al. 13
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publi-
cation of this article.
Caitlin Ferreira
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Ferreira et al. 15
Author Biographies
Caitlin C. Ferreira is currently a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the Red &
Yellow Creative School of Business, an Adjunct Lecturer in Marketing at the
University of Cape Town and a PhD candidate at the Lule ˚a University of
Technology. Her research interests primarily include hybrid entrepreneurship
and quantitative data analysis techniques.
David R. Hannah is an Associate Professor of Management at the Beedie School
of Business at Simon Fraser University. He received his PhD from the
University of Texas at Austin. His current research interests include workplace
bullshit, human-animal work, trade secret protection, and meaningful work. His
research has been published in numerous leading journals, including Academy
of Management Review, Organization Science, Academy of Management
Discoveries, MIT Sloan Management Review, Journal of Management
Studies, and the Journal of Management Inquiry. He is a member of the
HIBAR research alliance, and the editor of the Generative Curiosity section
of the Journal of Management Inquiry.
Ian McCarthy is the W.J. VanDusen Professor of Innovation and Operations
Management at Simon Fraser University, and a professor at the Luiss Center in
Leadership, Innovation and Organisation (CLIO). He earned his Ph.D. in
industrial engineering from the University of Sheffield, and was a Fulbright
Scholar at the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests include
innovation and operations management, social media, and misinformation.
Leyland Pitt is the Dennis F. Culver EMBA Alumni Chair of Business and
Professor of Marketing in the Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser
University, Vancouver, Canada. The author of over 350 papers in peer-reviewed
journals his work has been published in journals including Journal of the
Academy of Marketing Science, California Management Review, Sloan
Management Review, and MIS Quarterly (which he also served as Associate
Editor). Currently he is Associate Editor of the Journal of Advertising Research
and Business Horizons, and editor of the Journal of Wine Research.
Sarah Lord Ferguson is a PhD candidate at the Beedie School of Business. She
has a Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) and a Bachelor’s of Science
(Honors) as well as a Master’s of Physical Therapy. Sarah’s research interests
include marketing strategy and services marketing, specifically customer acqui-
sition and retention in health services. She has published in a number of outlets
including the Academy of Marketing Science Review, the Journal of Business
Research, the Journal of Advertising Research and Business Horizons.
16 Psychological Reports 0(0)
... A survey containing the Bullshit Receptivity Scale (Pennycook et al., 2015); the Bullshitting Frequency Scale (Littrell et al., 2021a) and the Organizational Bullshit Perception Scale (Ferreira et al., 2020) was devised. Each of these measures was selected because they have been previously validated (at least to some extent; see citations for each scale) and shown to have acceptable internal reliability in prior research. ...
... To gauge perceptions of bullshit in the place where participants undertake their primary role, we used the Organizational Bullshit Perception Scale (OBPS; Ferreira et al., 2020) which asks participants to rate, on a 7-point Likert-scale (from 1 = "strongly disagree" to 7 = "strongly agree"), their agreement with 15 items. The OBPS is designed to explore three underlying dimensions of organizational bullshit and provide insight into how bullshit manifests itself in organizational life. ...
... Items 1-7 pertain to "regard for the truth" (i.e., the use of evidence-based decision-making supported by the incorporation of data sources); items 8-11 pertain to "the boss" (i.e., an evaluation of the actions of one's superior); and items 12-15 pertain to "bullshit language" (i.e., typical characteristics of the language of bullshit communications, namely the excessive use of acronyms and jargon). On the advice of Ferreira et al. (2020), five items in the original OBPS were revised to reduce the introduction of reversed item method bias (Weijters, Baumgartner, & Schillewaert, 2013). The final item presented a definition of bullshit (i.e., "information designed to impress, persuade, and/or otherwise mislead that is often constructed with an indifference for the truth"), and required participants to assess their overall perception of bullshit in their organization using a simple 4-point Likert-scale (from 1 = "there is no bullshit in our organization" to 4 = "there is a lot of bullshit in our organization"). ...
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Recent literature has identified and examined the construct of bullshit as a notable threat to the promulgation and use of accurate information. The parallel challenges posed by increasing availability of unfiltered online information have been identified as further exacerbating factors. Accordingly, the present paper adds to this perspective by examining susceptibility to and perceived frequency of bullshit in the sport science and coaching domain. Participants (N = 280) completed several validated instruments examining susceptibility, tendency to engage in and perceived experience of bullshit in their professional environments. Data suggest similar ratings to more general population samples, with educational level acting as a key moderating factor. Implications for practice and psychosocial approaches to bullshit are discussed, in tandem with recommendations for refinements to communication.
... Overall, the aforementioned work underlines the need to fight the detrimental effects that misleading communication and indifference toward truth can have in the business environment, both toward internal and external stakeholders. It is only within the Organizational Behavior (OB) domain, however, that, together with a tailored scale that aims at gauging BS perception in a workplace environment (Ferreira, Hannah, McCarthy, Pitt, and Lord Ferguson 2020), scholars also provided a punctual framework to comprehend, recognize, act against and prevent it (McCarthy, Hannah, Pitt, and McCarthy 2020b), with operative suggestions such as "encourage critical thinking" and "prohibit excessive jargon and statistical trickery" (ibid.). ...
... It cannot, thus, be completely excluded that those who reported higher profundity in the PPBS statements were simply more Eastern in their cognitive disposition (Dalton 2016). With this regard, we hope that the literature will keep developing into two of the seemingly most viable options: validation of the BS scales across different languages and from a cross-cultural perspective (Čavojová, Brezina, and Jurkovič 2020) and a shift of focus of BS into non-transcendental domains (i.a.,Čavojová et al. (2020); Ferreira et al. (2020)). ...
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Since the publication of Pennycook, Cheyne, Barr, Koehler, and Fugelsang’s (2015) paper on the reception of pseudo-profound bullshit, the concept of bullshit (BS) receptivity has slowly gained interest as an individual characteristic of people with the tendency to be overly receptive of and sensitive to fake claims. This paper seeks to identify and discuss peer-reviewed literature that applies BS receptivity scales, to better define their role within the bigger picture of the characteristics of those individuals particularly prone to the reception of a whole range of outlandish beliefs. Considering the cross-cutting nature of the issue, we prompt the need for further empirical and applicative research, and underline that—with BS receptivity belonging to the set of determinants contributing to flawed decision-making in terms of spotting genuine from fake content—greater involvement of behavioral economists is desirable. We call for such involvement not only within the BS debate, but also in assisting policymakers in their hard task of developing tailored policy responses and digital literacy interventions to combat misinformation at its roots.
... The FA had long pondered why different anglers would approach the task of fishing in different ways, and on the very different stories about why an angler was successful. Many of these stories appeared to be a form of bullshit, that is, assertions made without evidence (Ferreira et al., 2022;McCarthy et al., 2020), yet fishers seemed attached to their stories. More importantly, those stories would shape their subsequent actions in the natural world. ...
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Consumers are increasingly concerned about how their interactions with the natural world affect both the health of that environment, and their own well‐being and enjoyment of life. More aware consumers seek to make sense of the natural world around them and consider how their consumer behavior impacts this environment. How actors notice and bracket ecologically material cues from a stream of experience and build connections and causal networks between these has been referred to as ecological sensemaking. This research examines ecological sensemaking in a specific context, that being in the experience of catch‐and‐release fishing. Data were gathered through a process of autoethnographic inquiry obtained over the course of four fishing trips. The results reflect the process of ecological sensemaking pertaining to the experience. Through the findings, we propose a new concept, ecological reasoning, which seeks to provide a critical link between ecological sensemaking and ecological embeddedness. Using this new concept, the research contributes to extant understanding of how consumers think about and interact with the natural world. Apart from constructing an overarching narrative of the experience, four subnarratives are also identified, in a chronological sequence that comprises the entire experience of catch‐and‐release fishing. The findings have implications for the broader management and marketing disciplines seeking to establish better ways of interacting with the natural world, both for themselves and their consumers.
... First, make sure what you are communicating is the truth, and more importantly, not just "bullshit" (Ferreira et al., 2020;McCarthy et al., 2020). In the heat of marketing battle, it is frequently tempting to distort the truth, to lie, or to simply ignore the truth. ...
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Signaling how virtuous a brand is has become an ever more common strategy. Brands have recently outcompeted one another to align themselves with various causes. We explore the rise in virtue signaling and review prominent examples of brands who have linked themselves to social movements: some successfully, some unsuccessfully. We draw on evolutionary theory to develop a conceptual framework to think about brand virtue signaling. Armed with this framework managers can assess whether their brands should adopt virtue signaling as a strategy and assess the short- and long-term implications of such a decision.
The mission of Business Horizons is to publish research that practitioners can understand to help them change how they think and act. However, this mission remains an elusive ideal for many business school academics because they struggle to design and produce research capable of overcoming the “research-practice gap.” To help scholars address this gap, we explain why and how they should use social media to be more ‘open’ to connecting with, learning from, and working with academics and other stakeholders outside their field. We describe how social media can be used as a boundary-spanning technology to help bridge the research-practice gap. To do this, we present a process model of five research activities: networking, framing, investigating, disseminating, and assessing. Using research published in Business Horizons as an illustrative example, we describe how social media was used to make each activity more open. We present a framework of four social media enabled open academic approaches (connector, observer, promoter, and influencer) and outline some dos and don’ts for engaging in each approach. We also discuss the potential ‘dark side’ of openness through social media and offer some coping strategies. As per the mission and scope of Business Horizons, this paper aims to help business academics rethink and change their practices so that our profession is more widely regarded for how our research positively impacts business practice and society in general.
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Although a ubiquitous social behavior, little is known about bullshitting (i.e., communicating with no regard for truth and/or evidence) and its effects on social perception and influence. Although bullshit and lies are viewed as undesirable, the distinction may have important implications for social influence. Frankfurt’s (1986) insidious bullshit hypothesis (i.e., bullshitting is evaluated less negatively, but more insidious, than lying) is examined in light of social perception (i.e., evaluation and perceived motives; Experiment 1) and social influence (Experiment 2). Results suggest bullshitting is evaluated less negatively than lying and identifies ignorance, dishonesty, and opinion expression as mediators of a bullshit/lie-evaluation link. Furthermore, relative to lies, bullshit appears to have a more potent impact on that which is perceived to be true as well as attitudes formed for novel attitude objects.
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Why is bullshit so common in some organizations? Existing explanations focus on the characteristics of bullshitters, the nature of the audience, and social structural factors which encourage bullshitting. In this paper, I offer an alternative explanation: bullshitting is a social practice that organizational members engage with to become part of a speech community, to get things done in that community, and to reinforce their identity. When the practice of bullshitting works, it can gradually expand from a small group to take over an entire organization and industry. When bullshitting backfires, previously sacred concepts can become seen as empty and misleading talk.
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Recent psychological research has identified important individual differences associated with receptivity to bullshit, which has greatly enhanced our understanding of the processes behind susceptibility to pseudo‐profound or otherwise misleading information. However, the bulk of this research attention has focused on cognitive and dispositional factors related to bullshit (the product), while largely overlooking the influences behind bullshitting (the act). Here, we present results from four studies focusing on the construction and validation of a new, reliable scale measuring the frequency with which individuals engage in two types of bullshitting (persuasive and evasive) in everyday situations. Overall, bullshitting frequency was negatively associated with sincerity, honesty, cognitive ability, open‐minded cognition, and self‐regard. Additionally, the Bullshitting Frequency Scale was found to reliably measure constructs that are (1) distinct from lying and (2) significantly related to performance on overclaiming and social decision tasks. These results represent an important step forward by demonstrating the utility of the Bullshitting Frequency Scale as well as highlighting certain individual differences that may play important roles in the extent to which individuals engage in everyday bullshitting.
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Many organizations are drowning in a flood of corporate bullshit, and this is particularly true of organizations in trouble, whose managers tend to make up stuff on the fly and with little regard for future consequences. Bullshitting and lying are not synonymous. While the liar knows the truth and wittingly bends it to suit their purpose, the bullshitter simply does not care about the truth. Managers can actually do something about organizational bullshit, and this Executive Digest provides a sequential framework that enables them to do so. They can comprehend it, they can recognize it for what it is, they can act against it, and they can take steps to prevent it from happening in the future. While it is unlikely that any organization will ever be able to rid itself of bullshit entirely, this article argues that by taking these steps, astute managers can work toward stemming its flood.
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Purpose This article explores how employees can perceive and be impacted by the fakeness of their company slogans. Design/methodology/approach This conceptual study draws on the established literature on company slogans, employee audiences, and fake news to create a framework through which to understand fake company slogans. Findings Employees attend to two important dimensions of slogans: whether they accurately reflect a company’s (1) values and (2) value proposition. These dimensions combine to form a typology of four ways in which employees can perceive their company’s slogans: namely, authentic, narcissistic, foreign, or corrupt. Research limitations/implications This paper outlines how the typology provides a theoretical basis for more refined empirical research on how company slogans influence a key stakeholder: their employees. Future research could test the arguments about how certain characteristics of slogans are more or less likely to cause employees to conclude that slogans are fake news. Those conclusions will, in turn, have implications for the morale and engagement of employees. The ideas herein can also enable a more comprehensive assessment of the impact of slogans. Practical implications Employees can view three types of slogans as fake news (narcissistic, foreign, and corrupt slogans). This paper identifies the implications of each type and explains how companies can go about developing authentic slogans. Originality/value This paper explores the impact of slogan fakeness on employees: an important audience that has been neglected by studies to date. Thus, the insights and implications specific to this internal stakeholder are novel.
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Objective Fake news represents a particularly egregious and direct avenue by which inaccurate beliefs have been propagated via social media. We investigate the psychological profile of individuals who fall prey to fake news. Method We recruited 1,606 participants from Amazon's Mechanical Turk for three online surveys. Results The tendency to ascribe profundity to randomly generated sentences – pseudo‐profound bullshit receptivity – correlates positively with perceptions of fake news accuracy, and negatively with the ability to differentiate between fake and real news (media truth discernment). Relatedly, individuals who overclaim their level of knowledge also judge fake news to be more accurate. We also extend previous research indicating that analytic thinking correlates negatively with perceived accuracy by showing that this relationship is not moderated by the presence/absence of the headline's source (which has no effect on accuracy), or by familiarity with the headlines (which correlates positively with perceived accuracy of fake and real news). Conclusion Our results suggest that belief in fake news may be driven, to some extent, by a general tendency to be overly accepting of weak claims. This tendency, which we refer to as reflexive open‐mindedness, may be partly responsible for the prevalence of epistemically suspect beliefs writ large. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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Bullshit is a ubiquitous communication practice that permeates many dimensions of organizational life. This essay outlines different understandings of bullshit and discusses their significance in the context of organization studies. While it is tempting to reject bullshit as corrosive to rational organizational practice, we argue that it is necessary to understand its organizational significance and performative nature more systematically. We outline different social functions of bullshit focusing on two particular types of managerial practices in which bullshit is likely to play a significant role: commanding and strategizing. On this backdrop, we consider bullshit in terms of the messages, senders and receivers involved, focusing especially on the dynamics between these dimensions in the context of organizations. The final part of this essay debates the reasons why bullshit, which is recognized by organizational members, is rarely called and rejected explicitly.
Our organizations are flooded with empty talk. We are constantly “going forward” to lands of “deliverables”, stopping off on the “journey” to “drill down” into “best practice”. Being an expert at using management speak has become more important in corporate life than delivering long lasting results. The upshot is that meaningless corporate jargon is killing our organizations. In this book, management scholar André Spicer argues we need to call this empty talk what it is: bullshit. The book looks at how organizations have become vast machines for manufacturing, distributing and consuming bullshit. It follows how the meaningless language of management has spread through schools, NGOs, politics and the media. Business Bullshit shows you how to spot business bullshit, considers why it is so popular, and outlines the impact it has on organizations and the people who work there. It also outlines what we can do to minimise bullshit at work. The author makes a case for why organizations need to avoid empty talk and reconnect with core activities. This provocative, lucid book is essential reading for professionals, researchers and managers.
Although it appears to be a common social behavior, very little is known about the nature of bullshitting (i.e., communicating with little to no regard for evidence, established knowledge, or truth; Frankfurt, 1986) and the social conditions under which it is most likely to occur. The current investigation examines specific antecedents of bullshitting, particularly examining topic knowledge, evidence for or against an obligation to provide an opinion hypothesis, and an ease of passing bullshit hypothesis. Experiment 1 suggests that bullshitting is augmented only when both the social expectations to have an opinion, and the cues to show concern for evidence, are weak. Experiment 2 demonstrates that bullshitting can also be attenuated under conditions of social accountability. Results are discussed in light of social perception, attitude change, and new directions aimed at reducing the unwanted effects of bullshitting.
The statistical tests used in the analysis of structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement error are examined. A drawback of the commonly applied chi square test, in addition to the known problems related to sample size and power, is that it may indicate an increasing correspondence between the hypothesized model and the observed data as both the measurement properties and the relationship between constructs decline. Further, and contrary to common assertion, the risk of making a Type II error can be substantial even when the sample size is large. Moreover, the present testing methods are unable to assess a model's explanatory power. To overcome these problems, the authors develop and apply a testing system based on measures of shared variance within the structural model, measurement model, and overall model.