Unethical Employees May Have Been Socially-Ostracized at Work
Unethical employees can plague a workplace, costing companies money as well as their reputations. But organizations don’t always have fool-proof ways to combat unethical behavior. New research by Kouchaki and Wareham (2015) has identified one type of workplace activity that may lead employees to increase unethical behavior. Using state-of-the-art equipment, they were able to measure physiological changes in certain employees that may have caused them to act unethically. So what is the culprit? What makes certain employees act unethically?
THE ROLE OF SOCIAL EXCLUSION ON UNETHICAL EMPLOYEES
First, the authors point out that unethical behavior occurs when someone has defied the standards of society in general, as oppose to workplace deviance, which is when employees defy standards specific to a particular place of work. They say that people can usually stop themselves from behaving unethically, because unethical behavior typically makes a person feel anxiety or guilt. These feelings may signal the perpetrator that his or her actions are morally unjust, and the behavior might stop. The real problem occurs when the perpetrator can attribute the feelings of anxiety to some other outside cause. In this situation, the person will not readily consider the moral dilemma at hand, and may continue acting unethically.
In the current study, the authors conducted two studies and found that employees who were socially-ostracized or excluded exhibited a heightened sense of arousal (such as increased anxiety). When these employees were about to act unethically, they could easily attribute the anxiety to their troubling social situation, and not the fact that they were about to do something unethical. This seemed to lead these employees to increase their unethical behavior.
WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO ABOUT IT?
This research is important for several reasons. First, it provides organizations with a better understanding of when unethical behavior can occur. By showing that excluded employees increased their unethical behavior, the study provides organizations with a way to combat the unethical behavior. Leaders can make an effort to help all employees feel like they are part of the team, through their words and their actions. Besides for increasing interpersonal fairness toward potentially excluded employees, this study shows that it will also help the organization as a whole, by likely decreasing unethical behavior.
The authors also note that the specific finding of this study, namely that excluding employees may lead them to increase unethical behavior, can turn into a vicious cycle. When these employees are known to commit unethical behavior, their coworkers may exclude or ostracize them even more. This is a warning call to organizations to try to stop this cycle by mitigating exclusionary behavior in the workplace.
Another contribution of this study, note the authors, is that it highlights the role of emotional or physiological influences on decision making. We like to think of decision making as a completely rational process. But research shows that this is not always the case. In this study, physiological changes in a person’s body were at least partially to blame for unethical behavior. Interestingly, these physiological changes had nothing to do with the unethical behavior itself, and instead emanated from a completely non-related outside source. Organizational leaders need to be aware of this dynamic when trying to explain or influence workplace behavior.
The Dark Side of Procedural Justice: When Being Fair Isn’t Enough
A common belief in the workplace is that if managers make decisions in a fair way (procedural justice), then employees will be happier and organizational outcomes will be positive. Both the research literature and common sense indicate that managers should be fair, but a recent study by Khan, Quratulain, and Bell (2014) suggests that being fair may not be enough. It appears that fairness doesn’t always lead to good behavior by employees.
ENVY AND COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE WORK BEHAVIOR
We’ve all experienced envy at some point. Have you ever looked at a friend’s Facebook pictures from an amazing vacation and felt at least a little bit envious? I thought so. Have you ever seen someone else get an incredible job that you wish you had? Your envy may be fleeting and you may not do anything about it, but a lot of people do. Envy in the workplace has previously been linked to counterproductive work behavior (CWB), like backstabbing or sabotaging the envied person. These CWBs can make the envious person feel more empowered, help them release their negative emotions, and can possibly even lead to beneficial outcomes for the envious person (for example, the rival might fail because of something that the envious person did).
ENVY, PROCEDURAL JUSTICE, AND BLAME
Procedural justice is when employees perceive that the processes that lead to important outcomes are fair and just. For example, the process of how a manager gives raises will be seen as unfair if he only gives raises to his friends. We tend to think of fairness as always being a good thing. However, if someone else receives a good outcome (for example, a promotion) and you think the process was unfair, you can easily blame someone else. If the process appears to be fair, then it’s pretty hard to blame anyone but yourself for missing out.
THE RESEARCH FINDINGS
In this study, the researchers surveyed employees from 16 organizations and found that higher levels of workplace envy were associated with higher levels of counter-productive work behavior. This relationship was stronger when employees thought that there were higher levels of procedural justice, and attributing blame (internal vs. external blame) appeared to be the reason why. For example, if Jennifer perceives a process to be fair and Chuy gets a positive outcome, then Jennifer is more likely to be envious, make negative self-attributions, and act out in a counterproductive way.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
Despite the potential for counter-productive work behavior, managers should always strive to be fair. However, the possible negative effects of fairness may be lessened if managers support their employees’ self-esteem and strive to reduce envy. The authors encourage managers to support their employees and help them to find productive ways to improve workplace outcomes.
Intelligence Testing: Is It Always the Smartest Thing to Do?
Smart employees tend to be better at doing their jobs. This is considered one of the most important findings in the history of I-O research. Meta-analysis, which is a method of compiling results from many different researchers and studies, has shown that intelligence (or general mental ability) is associated with better job performance for basically any job. But there are other important components that make organizations successful besides narrowly-defined task performance (parts of a job that are in the job description). New research (Gonzalez-Mulé, Mount, & Oh, 2014) investigates whether intelligence can also predict other measures of workplace success.
Intelligence Testing: CWB vs. OCB
The authors conducted a meta-analysis to determine if intelligence is related to two major measures that are important to organizations:
- Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) is anything that employees do that breaks organizational norms or expectations. This behavior can be directed at a coworker (i.e. bullying or harassment) or at the organization (i.e. stealing from the employer or unnecessary absences).
- Organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) refers to anything that employees do that is not formally recognized in their job description. For example, helping out a coworker or suggesting a new way of doing things that can help the organization save resources.
The Results: Intelligence Associated More with OCBs
The meta-analysis found that intelligence was associated with more OCBs, meaning that smarter employees also went beyond their job descriptions more frequently. The authors explain that smarter people are typically better at seeing the big picture, for example they may understand that helping a coworker has benefits for the organization in the long run. Also, smarter employees may sometimes have greater capacity to help out others. They may be the only ones who are capable of devising a solution to a problem that eventually helps out the organization.
However, when it came to CWBs, there was no real relationship with intelligence. The authors had predicted that smarter employees would engage in less bad behavior because they are more readily capable of seeing the dangerous outcomes such as harming the company or harming themselves by getting caught. But the data didn’t support this conclusion.
Intelligence Testing vs. Personality Testing
The authors also compared intelligence testing with personality testing to see which was generally more useful for predicting success on the job. As predicted, intelligence testing predicted better than personality testing when the outcome was task performance, or the parts of a job that are listed in a job description. When using the other outcomes of job success (OCBs and CWBs), the authors found a different story. First, when it came to organizational citizenship behavior, intelligence and personality were about equally useful in predicting which employees will go above and beyond. When it came to counterproductive work behavior, personality was actually a better predictor than intelligence.
What Does This Mean for Organizations?
This study supports the idea that the best predictor of job success is general intelligence, specifically because it has the ability to predict good old fashioned task-performance. It pays to hire smart employees, but that’s not the entire story. The conclusions here also indicate that intelligence isn’t the be-all and end-all of how to hire employees. Organizations should also have the foresight to care about extra effort and misbehavior at work. If you want employees who strive to make the workplace better for everyone, intelligence testing may still help, but it is not any better than personality testing. But if you want employees who don’t misbehave, personality testing may be the way to go.
Sleep Deprived Employees Engage in More Unethical Workplace Behavior
When employees engage in unethical behavior, organizations suffer. For example, employee theft or dishonesty can hurt organizations both internally and in terms of public reputation. New research (Welsh, Ellis, Christian, & Mai, 2014) has identified several key links in understanding the dynamics that lead to employee deception, which is a type of unethical behavior.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION LEADS TO EMPLOYEE DECEPTION
The authors based their research on past findings that show that sleep deprived employees are more likely to engage in unethical behavior (Christian & Ellis, 2011). When faced with an unethical opportunity, people need to use a certain amount of self-control to prevent themselves from doing the unethical thing. Researchers call this self-regulation, and people have a certain “reserve” of resources that they can use to self-regulate themselves. When people are sleep-deprived, the brain undergoes physiological changes that deplete the resources available to self-regulate. When this happens, a person may no longer have the ability to stand up to temptation, and it becomes more likely that they will actually behave unethically.
THE ROLE OF CAFFEINE AND SOCIAL INFLUENCE
In the current study, the researchers found that tired employees who also consumed caffeine were less likely to have depleted self-regulation resources. In other words, the lack of sleep did not affect them as much, and they were more likely to maintain the ability to control themselves and stand up to the temptation to behave unethically. As we all know too well, caffeine has the ability to temper some of the effects of sleep deprivation.
A second major finding was that when people’s fatigue lowered their ability to self-regulate, it didn’t always lead to unethical behavior. The authors found a condition that made it more likely that unethical behavior would result. The condition is called social influence, which refers to the influence that people receive from other people, kind of like peer-pressure. One of the pitfalls of having a decreased ability to self-regulate, is that you can be more susceptible to the suggestions of other people who are themselves acting unethically.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The major takeaway from this article is that sleep deprivation among employees is bad for organizations. Besides for some of the more obvious problems that we might expect (i.e. lower productivity, more mistakes or accidents) sleep deprivation can actually cause employees to act unethically. As the authors mention, employees are now being asked to work an increasingly greater number of hours during the week, making sleep deprivation a greater challenge in the workplace.
The easiest solution is to encourage employees to get enough sleep, and to structure work schedules and workloads to support that goal. But that’s not always an easy thing to do. What else can organizations do?
Specifically, this article provides two ways that organizations can lower the amount of deceptive behavior that their employees engage in, even if they are sleep deprived. First, caffeine was shown to help. There may be something to supplying your office with a fresh pot of morning coffee. However, as the authors point out, this doesn’t mean that caffeine is the perfect solution. Technically considered a drug, caffeine does have harmful side effects such as increased anxiety and heart-rate. So don’t go overboard.
Second, organizations should realize the role of social influence. Even when sleep deprived employees lose the ability to stop themselves from unethical behavior, it doesn’t mean that unethical behavior will result. In this circumstance, peer-pressure to behave unethically is the real enemy. If organizations work to create an environment where employees behave ethically, and strive to hire more ethically inclined individuals, then even the occasional sleep-deprived employee won’t be too much of a problem.
Workplace Bullying: Corrupt and Harmful to Organizations
In recent years, there has been a noticeable rise in bullying, and the workplace is no exception. In fact, it has become such a pervasive issue, with such profound effects, that it is considered an extreme threat to the health and wellness of all businesses. Many argue that bullying is not only the newest form of discrimination in the workplace, but that it should also be recognized as a form of corruption.
The mishandling of bullying complaints and the inability of organizations to effectively provide support for employees, have led to the widespread growth of workplace bullying. From physical aggression to unfavorable treatment, bullying has become an increasingly problematic issue that companies must now face. This is especially true considering the health and safety risks to employees and the immense organizational costs through loss of resources and poor performance. Often incredibly distressing to victims, bullying also poses threats to individual health, personal and professional relationships, and can even interfere with career development.
In the past, institutional corruption has typically been defined as blatant illegal acts, including fraud, embezzlement, and extortion. However, this narrow definition fails to encompass all of the complexities that truly define corruption. Researchers now define corruption not only in terms of illegal acts, but also misuse of authority to violate personal rights and workplace norms, misuse of resources for gain, and other oftentimes legal activities that impede an individual’s ability to succeed.
WORKPLACE BULLYING AS CORRUPTION
The author provided several examples of workplace bullying that may also be considered corruption:
- Abusing power through information withholding, manipulation, and misdirection. This makes it difficult for employees to complete work and for organizations to distribute resources.
- Misuse of power in influencing employment processes like hiring or salary (for example, nepotism), or enacting policies that harm employees’ professional status, job satisfaction, or physical and emotional well-being.
- Participating in or encouraging unscrupulous behaviors or practices that thwart others’ efforts.
- Attempting to control employees through purposeful isolation, drastic reduction of workload, or through harassment and intimidation. This may include misusing private information to humiliate, undermine, or isolate employees.
WHY SHOULD ORGANIZATIONS CARE?
Why should organizations care about workplace bullying? There is burgeoning awareness of the severe consequences bullying behaviors have, not only on victims’ physical, emotional, and mental health, but also on the role of bullying in undermining organizational success. Ultimately, more research in this area will provide greater understanding on how bullying may affect employee retention, development of healthy workplaces, as well as employee motivation and wellness. In the meantime, practitioners should recognize the potentially harmful effects of bullying, and strive to reduce its prevalence in the workplace.
Abusive Supervision may have Roots in Childhood
Supervisor anger is a common workplace problem. This can include a supervisor who is angered too easily or a situation when the supervisor’s anger is disproportional to the situation at hand. This study explores the true reasons behind this anger, hypothesizing that a history of family aggression is the root of angry reactions and abusive supervision.
SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY
Parents are the main role-models for children when they are young and children have a tendency to adopt the same coping techniques and reactions that they see their parents using. When a child grows up seeing an excess of family aggression, there are conscious and unconscious consequences. Exposure to aggression shows a child that this is acceptable behavior and this carries over into adult life, potentially creating an abusive supervisor. Seeing aggressive behavior lead to a successful outcome will also solidify the notion that aggression and abusive behavior will get the desired action or reaction. This ultimately means that children who grow up watching family aggression have the potential to become abusive supervisors for the simple reason that they were taught that aggression brings about desired results.
LEARNING TO BE ABUSIVE DURING CHILDHOOD
The study finds considerable evidence showing that family aggression does in fact increase the chances of abusive behavior in the workplace. This effect goes beyond the anger that is caused by situational factors, organizational mistreatment, demographical variables, or subordinates’ personality. The social learning theory was supported, meaning children who grow up seeing, and surrounded by, family aggression learn that abusive behaviors will produce the outcome they desire.
HOW RUMINATION MAKES THINGS WORSE
The authors also found that rumination, or the tendency to focus and dwell on negative past events, can make things worse. The association between abusive family life and abusive supervision was stronger when these supervisors engaged in more rumination. By focusing on the unpleasant aspects of growing up amidst family aggression and turmoil, supervisors became more likely to think hostile thoughts and experience hostile feelings. This led ruminating supervisors to act more hostile in the workplace.
WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?
The importance of this study is that it helps identify the root cause of abusive behavior in the workplace. This is important because abusive supervisors can have strong negative impacts on employees and the company as a whole. Two steps can be taken to decrease the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. The first is to train abusive supervisors through cognitive-behavioral coaching. This may include emotional intelligence training, in order to help supervisors gain control of the angry behavior. Training can also help limit rumination for supervisors, which may help decrease the occurrence of angry thoughts and feelings, even when supervisors are predisposed to have them. The second step that organizations can take is to not let supervisors with abusive potential into the organization in the first place. This can be done by altering the recruitment and selection process to help identify those supervisors who are most likely to lead employees in a positive manner, and not those who are reduced to abusive supervision.
Is It Lonely At the Top? The Victimization of High Performers
High Performers are defined as the group of talented employees that increase both team and organizational performance.
Previous research has suggested that individuals high on cognitive ability are more likely to experience workplace victimization, and High Performers might be the target of interpersonal harm.
The current study by Eugune Kim and Theresa Glomb extends this line of research by examining the extent to which High Performers are victimized due to group members’ envy, and whether work group identification can reduce this potential negative consequence of high performance.
TASK PERFORMANCE AND VICTIMIZATION OF HIGH PERFORMERS
Compared to average workplace performers, High Performers tend to enjoy more financial and social resources, and they receive more attention in their work groups and organizations. As a result, they are often at the risk of being victimized by other organizational members.
The researchers conducted two separate studies– one with staff members at a large university in the United States, and the other with employees from three organizations in South Korea. In both samples, High Performers were found to be victimized more than low performers.
THE ROLE OF ENVY
As a result of being constantly compared to High Performers, the study found that other group members’ self-evaluation might suffer.
They also discovered that such feelings of inferiority may motivate group members to victimize high performers, with the intention of reducing their advantages in the workplace.
In short, the researchers found that envy usually explained why high performers were more likely to be victimized.
HOW WORK GROUP IDENTIFICATION CAN HELP
The researchers also found that work group identification can reduce High Performer victimization in the workplace.
When group members identify themselves with the group and have strong bonds with one another, they don’t tend to develop feelings of envy and/or don’t let their feelings of envy translate into victimization.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
The current study highlights the importance of promoting work group identification, such as engaging in team building activities or social gatherings to reduce envy towards high performers.
High performers might also consider downplaying their accomplishments and maintaining a humble outlook to avoid potential victimization in the future.
Are Defiant Employees Causing their Bosses to be Abusive?
Both managers and employees sometimes act inappropriately in the workplace. For example, managers can excessively yell at, ridicule, or make fun of those working for them. We’ll refer to this as abusive supervision.
Similarly, employees can deliberately break rules and ignore norms, harming the organization they work for in the process. We’ll refer to this as organizational defiance.
Researchers have always believed that abusive supervision and organizational defiance often seem to occur in the same workplaces. But which one is the cause, and which one is the result?
The traditional belief is that abusive supervision leads to organizational defiance. Basically, if the boss treats employees poorly, they ultimately retaliate against the organization.
Although many psychology studies have a hard time determining which is the cause and which is the effect, theory can step in and help shed light on the answer. When employees experience abusive supervision and feel like they’re being taken advantage of, they may feel a need to punish the organization in order to restore balance.
Alternatively, when dealing with abusive supervisors, employees may have to focus so much of their attention on the abuse that they have trouble devoting attention toward controlling their impulses. This can lead to acting in ways that are inappropriate.
In the current study, the authors examined the possibility that, when employees act out, it causes supervisors to become abusive.
When supervisors need to deal with employee misbehavior, they lose some of their own ability to practice self- control. This may lead managers to have reactions that have otherwise been inhibited. Also, in response to employee defiance, managers may feel the need to “save face” or project an aura of authority, which could lead to acting in a more authoritarian or controlling manner.
Finally, sometimes employees who act out may be inadvertently sending cues to their managers, inviting them to join in the same norm-violating behavior.
THE RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The current study used an advanced data-collection method to show that organizational defiance by employees causes abusive supervision by managers, which is the reverse of what previous researchers had assumed.
But, like many aspects of human behavior, it’s not quite so simple. The researchers also showed that abusive supervision can sometimes cause employee defiance. This was especially true when the employees did not have a lot of self-control, and when they intended to leave the organization. Under these circumstances, employees who face abusive leadership are unable to refrain from bad behavior, and they have little incentive for doing so, since they plan to leave the company anyway.
The authors also showed that, if abusive supervision and employee defiance are capable of causing each other, a vicious cycle emerges where both negative aspects can feed off of each other and escalate into an unpleasant work environment for everybody.
STOPPING THE VICIOUS CYCLE
So how can organizational leaders create a workplace that curbs inappropriate behavior from both managers and employees? The results of this article indicate that simply firing offenders may not be the right answer, since firing abusive managers won’t help if their behavior was caused by defiant employees.
What organizations can do is stress the importance of standards for employee conduct, insisting that abusive management is no excuse to retaliate against the organization. This can help slow the vicious cycle.
Also, employees and managers can be selected specifically for their capacity for self-control. This helps to make sure a bad situation does not escalate, and that both employees and managers can always respond to others in a level-headed manner.
Social Media at Work: Implications for Productivity
A pair of researchers recently set out to examine how certain people use social media at work, and how that impacted their performance.
Their survey of individuals across various industries and jobs revealed various ways that people believe social media at work helps and harms their performance. The researchers then conducted a series of studies in developing a questionnaire for measuring social media behaviors, only one of which will be the focus for this review.
This study ultimately showed that some of the factors that were perceived to be positive behaviors, such as crowd-sourcing a problem and new customer/client outreach, did not have any significant connection to increased performance.
POSITIVE & NEGATIVE BEHAVIORS ASSOCIATED WITH SOCIAL MEDIA AT WORK
There were eight dimensions of social media behaviors identified in the study that people thought would help improve their work performance. These included communicating with existing customers, new customer/client outreach, participating in an online work community, infra-office communication, reputation management, information gathering, crowd sourcing a problem, and using social media as technical solution to a problem. Later, four factors encompassing these original eight dimensions were identified.
There were also nine harmful dimensions that the people surveyed believed would negatively affect their work performance. These included representing the organization in an unbecoming manner, plagiarism, harmful behaviors that could adversely affect one’s reputation, offensive content, multitasking, time theft (such as using social media for personal use during office hours), former unprofessional relationships with co-workers and/or customers, making disparaging comments, and refusing a friend request from co-workers (which could lead to subsequent workplace tensions). These nine factors were also mapped into 4 higher order factors that encompassed all of these elements.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SOCIAL MEDIA & WORK PERFORMANCE
It’s not surprising to learn that the study showed harmful social media behaviors were directly related to decreased performance at work.
But what is interesting is the fact that the beneficial behaviors seemed to have no significant relationship to performance whatsoever, meaning that there may be little added value created by these actions.
The study does have its limitations. There are various industries that were not sampled that rely heavily on social media. There are also some elements of using social media at work that, while not directly responsible for increasing productivity, were tangentially related. For example, certain social media behaviors may provide stressed-out workers with a degree of relaxation, which can be related to increased performance.
THE STUDY’S BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
This study fills the gap in the literature related to social media behaviors within the workplace.
The research in question can help employees realize the potential harm to their job performance that may be caused by certain behaviors they may have thought would prove beneficial. These findings could also inform social media training interventions in various work settings.
In short, some activities that may be permitted at work and are typically deemed beneficial by employers may in fact be superfluous.
The Negative Effects of Knowledge Hiding on Organizational Trust and Creativity
Have you ever encountered a situation where a colleague purposely withheld pertinent information? How did that change your interactions with them, or the dynamics within the office?
A recent study addresses the topic of Knowledge Hiding, and how consciously withholding information can affect both trust and creativity.
The act of hiding knowledge leads to what the researchers describe as “the distrust loop.” In this cycle, employees who intentionally hide information lose the trust of their peers. In order to impart a sense of justice, the effected peers will then withhold information from the knowledge hiders. This, in turn, affects the knowledge hider’s ability to collaborate effectively and generate creative ideas.
A STUDY ON KNOWLEDGE HIDING
The researchers felt it was important that the organizational environment be factored into the equation, and examined two types– the mastery climate and the performance climate. A mastery climate is one in which cooperation, employee development, and mastery of skills are encouraged. A performance climate is based on an employee’s ability to outperform colleagues and receive recognition/rewards relative to that of their peers.
The researchers conducted two studies to test their hypotheses. The first consisted of 240 employees and 34 supervisors. Employees were measured on their creativity, how they perceived the organizational climate, and if they considered themselves knowledge hiders. The supervisors were then asked to provide their perception of the creativity of their employees.
The second study consisted of 132 undergraduate students, who were asked to complete a business scenario in which students were places in three groups. The scenarios consisted of conditions that measured of the mastery climate, performance climate or no climate. Some students were also randomly selected to be knowledge hiders.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
The researchers learned that knowledge hiders in a performance climate found themselves within the distrust loop, limiting their collaboration with peers and ultimately making them less creative than other groups. Knowledge hiders in this group were more concerned with protecting themselves, which hindered their ability to be creative in comparison with the other groups.
The groups without knowledge hiders proved more capable of freely exchanging ideas and, as a result, were more creative. Interestingly, in mastery climates, employees were generally less likely to be knowledge hiders. The mastery climate fosters such an environment of collaboration and knowledge sharing that it ultimately decreases the need for knowledge hiding, and thus does not affect creativity
ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF KNOWLEDGE HIDING
In organizations in which innovation is important, encouraging employees to collaborate allows them opportunities to more readily engage each other. It allows employees to openly share ideas and drive organizational initiatives.
The big picture take-away from this study is that fostering an environment of collaboration in the workplace removes the necessity for knowledge hiding, which is ultimately beneficial to the creative progress of the entire organization.