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.
How Forgiveness in the Workplace Can Harm Relationships
We think of forgiveness in the workplace as a way to reduce tension or maintain relationships. The act of forgiveness can help both victim and victimizer feel better about the wrongdoing that occurred, and in some cases even strengthen the relationship. However, new research (Adams, Zou, Inesi, & Pillutla, 2015) shows that there are some forms of forgiveness that can backfire and prove detrimental to relationships in the workplace.
HOW CAN FORGIVENESS BE BAD?
How can forgiving someone be harmful to a relationship? Let’s say that after making a presentation, a colleague pulls you aside to tell you that he forgives you for taking credit for his ideas in your presentation. Even though you may have briefly discussed the presentation with your colleague, you genuinely believe that the final ideas you proposed were your own ideas. The authors say that in situations such as this, the person who is willing to “forgive” you may seem morally self-righteous. In the end, your colleague walks away feeling better but you feel resentment for being pardoned unjustifiably. When this happens, you are more likely to avoid or otherwise disassociate yourself from your colleague.
The test this, the researchers conducted three different laboratory studies, ultimately using several hundred participants, and confirmed that people who were “forgiven” even though they didn’t think they had done anything wrong were more likely to physically distance themselves from the person who had offered the “forgiveness.” Also, people offering the unnecessary “forgiveness” were seen as self-righteous.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WORKPLACE
The results of these studies present us with an interesting conundrum. Forgiveness can be a positive mechanism for ensuring that workplace relationships stay intact, and in most instances it can even strengthen ties. Also, offering forgiveness to someone who has actually wronged us can be empowering for all involved while also helping relieve interpersonal tension associated with brewing conflict. However, if a person feels that they have done nothing wrong, then offering forgiveness can greatly weaken a relationship. In the end, someone may end up feeling victimized.
Like many work-related challenges we face on a daily basis, communication plays a major role in success. By establishing clear lines of communications there can at least be a conversation about how each party involved perceives the situation as well as an open discussion about how they can move forward with their working relationship. At the very least, each side can gain a greater understanding of other peoples’ motivation and work to avoid future instances where forgiveness would even be necessary.
How Emotional Expression Affects Workplace Attitudes and Opinions
Whether we like it or not, emotions can be a powerful force when it comes to making workplace decisions. This tendency can be exploited when an argument is framed in emotional terms in order to persuade listeners. While this fact has been recognized for centuries, recent research has been investigating how emotional expression can shape or change others’ attitudes. For example, think of a disgruntled colleague expressing anger at a new policy change within the organization. Would this display of strong emotion affect your attitude and opinions? Recent research (Van Kleef, van der Berg & Heerdink, 2014) explored how emotional expressions influence attitude formation, and helped determine under which circumstances this could happen.
WHAT IS SOCIAL INFORMATION THEORY?
The researchers examined whether expressing emotions contributes to or undermines successful persuasion. In addressing this question, they adopted the “social-functional” theory approach to emotions. This theory explains that other peoples’ emotional expressions can provide social information that can in turn influence thinking, attitudes, and behavior. The theory also explains that the effects of these emotional expressions depend on the observer’s motivation and ability to process the information that they are receiving from the expressions.
RESULTS OF THE STUDY
Through a series of experiments, participants were shown to “borrow” the emotions of other people (or other sources of information) when forming their own attitudes. For example, when others framed given information (such as a TV show being cancelled) in a negative way with sad expressions, the participants reported negative attitudes towards the information. The same type of influence was also true when information (such as the introduction of kite-surfing into the Olympics) was framed in a positive manner. Some evidence also showed that both newly formed attitudes and previously held opinions can be influenced by others’ emotional expressions. This suggests that the expression of strong emotion isn’t only important in attitude formation, but also in attitude change. These results were similar whether written, pictorial, film or emoticon sources of emotion were used. Findings were further strengthened by showing how the effects of the study were mitigated when participants’ cognitive load (or amount of mental distraction) was either really high or really low.
IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
The results suggest that interpersonal emotional strategies may be another tool with which to influence others. The findings have interesting implications for managers who deal with people, their attitudes, and subsequent behaviors. The study indicates that capitalizing on effective use of emotional expression could be very useful in the workplace. For example, managers can use emotions to help promote organizational or cultural change. This and previous research highlight how a leader’s emotional expression can help shape employee attitudes about organizational issues. The results also highlight how leaders may unwittingly shape organizational culture and beliefs through their non-verbal communication.
How Unethical Customers Cost Organizations Twice
Unethical customers can cost organizations lots of money. For example, customers can steal, cheat, scam, defraud, hoodwink, or make up an overly dramatic story about how the soup of the day was far too salty so that they get a small discount. New research (Greenbaum, Quade, Mawritz, Kim, & Crosby, 2014) shows that there may be hidden costs to organizations that allow customers to consistently get away with these offenses. Specifically, it’s the employees who suffer.
ETHICS VIOLATIONS LEAD TO EMOTIONAL EXHAUSTION
The authors conducted two separate studies and found that customer ethical violations led to employees becoming emotionally exhausted. This is based on the idea that people have a certain amount of internal resources to spend, and when these resources run out, people begin to suffer from emotional exhaustion.
What about unethical customers makes internal resources run low? Specifically, the authors note that we feel an inherent need to live in a law-abiding and just society. When these ideals are threatened, it bothers us, and we become stressed-out. This explains why employees who consistently observe unethical behavior become emotionally exhausted.
In the study, this finding held up even though the authors were only considering unethical behavior targeting the organization, like the stealing that we’ve mentioned. They were not considering unethical behavior targeted against employees, as research has already established that employees can suffer from direct mistreatment. The current study shows that even crimes which occur against others may be disturbing to employees.
HARMFUL OUTCOMES OF UNETHICAL CUSTOMERS
Eventually, when unethical customers lead employees to emotional exhaustion, three specific negative outcomes occur. First, affected employees have higher levels of work-family conflict, which means that it becomes more difficult for them to balance the competing demands between their work life and family life. Second, employees have more negative relationships with their coworkers, and third, employees begin to neglect job responsibilities. All of these three things are known to be harmful to employees and can eventually affect the bottom line of the organizations that they work for. Due to this, unethical customers who steal or cheat end up costing companies twice: The value of the theft, as well as the value of the compromised employee who has to witness the theft.
HOW ORGANIZATIONS CAN STOP THE PROBLEM
So how can organizations, which typically have little control over customer behavior, cut down on the harmful effects of unethical customers? The authors make two recommendations. First, organizations may need to revisit the mantra of “the customer is always right.” While customer service is undeniably important, organizations may not want to allow their customers to get away with anything. Similarly, employees may be given more leeway when it comes to dealing with and punishing ethical violations that they observe. The authors note that observing unethical behavior is really only stressful when you are unable to do anything about it.
The second recommendation made by the authors is that even when employees witness unethical customer behavior, social support (such as increased encouragement) can help mitigate the consequences. Because the unethical behavior first led to emotional exhaustion and loss of personal resources, social support from the organization or from coworkers can help replenish these resources. Employees in jobs in which we’d expect lots of unethical customer behavior to occur may benefit the most from enhanced social support.
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.
How Corporate Social Performance Attracts Job Seekers
In recent years the topic of Corporate Social Performance (CSP) has become increasingly of interest to major corporations.
It’s becoming more important for organizations to have a social presence, display their dedication to the community and adopt positive practices that go beyond the company’s bottom line. Some may wonder just how important corporate social performance actually is to a company’s stakeholders.
A recent study by Jones, Willness & Madey examined several questions in relation to recruiting new talent: Are job seekers more interested in working for organizations that have a greater CSP presence and, if so, which aspects of CSP are they more drawn to?
THE INFLUENCE OF CORPORATE SOCIAL PERFORMANCE
The areas of CSP that Jones, Willness & Madey were interested in investigating included how an organization’s community involvement and pro-environmental efforts influenced job seekers. Community involvement was defined as philanthropic efforts and supporting employees’ efforts for volunteerism, while pro-environmentalism was focused on policies and procedures being put in place to enable a company to become more eco-friendly and sustainable.
To get more specific, the researchers wanted to see how these two factors influenced the applicants’ prospective pride in working with a CSP-conscious company, their perception that the company’s values matched their own due to CSP practices, and their expected treatment as an employee due to the company’s social/communal efforts.
They set out to answer these questions through two separate studies, presenting CSP information to research participants in exactly the same formats most of us would use to gather information when hunting for jobs. This practical approach means that their research can easily translate into real world applications.
The first study’s participants consisted of 180 senior undergraduate students with an average of nearly two years of work experience, each of whom attended two sessions scheduled a week apart.
In Session 1, participants were given a survey with questions focused on political beliefs and values. Embedded within that survey were questions directly related to Corporate Social Performance. In Session 2, participants were asked to look at content from three fictitious companies. The content for two of the companies remained the same for all 180 participants, but the third company’s content had three different versions– one focusing on community involvement, one highlighting pro-environmental practices, and one with no CSP-related content– divided evenly among the participants. They were then asked to rank the companies and give their feedback on each one.
The results showed that participants who received versions focused on community involvement or pro-environmental practices felt that these issues carried significantly more weight in their top company choices. Participants who received a CSP-focused version of the company’s materials were more attracted to that company than participants with the non-CSP version. The results also showed that exposing jobs seekers to CSP-related information increased their anticipated pride in working with the company, as well as the feeling that the company’s values fit their own.
In the second study, researchers sought out job seekers at two different job fairs, ultimately finding 171 participants to answer a survey. They also looked at booth setups for the majority of recruiters in order to catalog the amount of Corporate Social Performance content in their materials.
The participants were asked to identify the top companies they were interested in working with, and the survey also contained questions regarding community involvement and pro-environmental practices.
The results of this study found that job seekers had more favorable perceptions of companies that had CSP information. Community involvement had a much stronger influence than the environment when it came to factors like anticipated pride, perceived value fit and employee treatment.
BIG PICTURE TAKEAWAYS
In order for companies to attract a larger pool of talented job seekers, it may become necessary to include more Corporate Social Performance information on their websites.
The researchers found that many Fortune 500 companies did not have CPS information on their recruitment and job pages. Not having this sort of content could prove to be a missed opportunity for these organizations.
The study found that it’s beneficial for companies to have pro-environmental practices, but even more important to increase community involvement initiatives, which may be perceived by job seekers as reflective of a more “selfless” organization.
The Connection Between Sleep Deprivation, Caffeine and Self-Control
Many of us can’t imagine going a day without our caffeine of choice—coffee, energy drinks, tea, soda, or any number of others. A recent study cited in this article claims that 90% of Americans ingest some form of caffeine daily in order to overcome the effects of sleep loss. But did you know that caffeine could also help you maintain better self-control?
THE IMPACT SLEEP DEPRIVATION
When our mental resources are depleted, we have a harder time regulating our behavior. This is often what happens with sleep deprivation, which can decrease our ability to control impulses and overcome temptation.
As our resources for self-control are depleted from lack of sleep, we become more susceptible to negative social influence— such as being less able to resist someone who tries to persuade us to do unethical things, such as deceiving others.
CAFFEINE & SELF-CONTROL
The authors claim that caffeine can actually boost our natural resources in these situations, helping us to better control our actions and refrain from unethical behavior, even when someone is attempting to influence us.
The study found that, when participants were tired, they were more likely to succumb to unethical suggestions from others. But, after consuming caffeine, the participants had more resources to resist social influence (that is, the researcher telling them to deceive the other participants) because the caffeine alleviated some of the effects of sleep deprivation.
SLEEP VS. CAFFEINE
These findings are particularly applicable in work settings, where sleep deprivation in employees could make them less able to resist unethical temptations from others at work.
But, while helpful in some regards, caffeinated beverages also have some disadvantages. Caffeine is a diuretic, can increase anxiety and heart rate, and can cause withdrawal symptoms like headaches and fatigue when you stop consuming it.
It’s not a cure-all solution for resisting unethical suggestions, either: The study found that well-rested individuals had much greater self-control than those who were tired, even when the sleep-deprived individuals ingested caffeine. Well-rested individuals didn’t experience the same benefits as sleep-deprived individuals who ingested caffeine, because it affected them less. So they were ultimately able to resist unethical behavior equally well, whether there was social pressure or not.
But if rest is lacking, caffeine may give people the extra boost they need in order to get back some of the self-control they’ve lost from being exhausted.
Leave a Penny, Take a Penny: Effective Giving
You don’t have to be an I/O psychologist or HR professional to have observed that there are people in the world who are “givers” and others who are “takers.” Givers provide support and assistance to their colleagues, friends, and family expecting nothing in return. They’re classic ‘do-gooders.’ Then you’ve got the takers; the people who take what they can and rarely reciprocate.
Organizations increasingly value a ‘culture of giving.’ Research shows a strong relationship between employee giving behaviors and important business outcomes such as profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. However, excessive generosity can threaten these very same outcomes, if employees are so distracted by helping others that they neglect their responsibilities.
According to the researcher, Adam Grant, effective givers know that the secret to giving is not to give unconditionally, but to give wisely. Truly effective givers are able to differentiate generosity from being taken advantage of or being ‘used and abused.’
How does one learn to distinguish the two? As a starting point, it’s important to understand that giving is not synonymous with weakness or timidity. Unfortunately it can sometimes be difficult for givers to stick up for themselves and what they want, Grant offers practical advice. First, shift your frame of reference and consider how your actions or negotiations will affect those around you. Advocating for someone else is often substantially easier than advocating on your own behalf. Next, set limits on your availability. You can’t possibly do everything; seek support and delegate tasks to competent others when possible. Set aside time for yourself, and know that it’s okay to say no from time to time. Finally, when making decisions consider others’ perspectives in addition to their feelings so that you don’t let your emotions hold you back from making smart choices.
Can you think of any other effective giving strategies?
Everyone On Board: Encouraging Employee Whistle-Blowing (IO Psychology)
With the prevalence of corporate scandals seemingly increasing in recent years, organizations are concerned with preventing unethical behavior like never before. One way some organizations may combat unethical behavior is through employee whistle-blowing programs, in which they encourage employees who witness unethical behavior to report it internally. In this way, organizations hope to find out about problematic behavior quickly, before the issue grows and becomes more damaging and difficult to deal with. However, whistle-blowing programs have an inherent drawback: they rely on employees to take the initiative to report unethical behavior, which many employees may be reluctant to do, especially if the unethical behavior involves their manager or another powerful figure.
A recent study by David Mayer and his colleagues investigated some of the conditions that might facilitate (or suppress) employee whistle-blowing behavior. Across two field studies and a lab experiment, the authors found that both supervisors and coworkers played key roles in determining if an employee would report unethical behavior. Specifically, ethical leadership on the part of an employee’s supervisor seemed to make it more likely that the employee would engage in whistle-blowing when necessary; however, supervisors’ ethical leadership had a much smaller impact on employee whistle-blowing when an employee’s coworkers behaved unethically. Put another way, it appears that simply having an ethical boss isn’t enough to ensure whistle-blowing; the behavior of an employee’s coworkers also seems to play an important role in this process.
While research will undoubtedly continue to uncover new insights on whistle-blowing behavior, this study has important implications for practice. Specifically, consultants might advise organizations that it is important to encourage ethical behavior at all levels of the organization. If an employee’s supervisor, or coworkers, behave unethically, it reduces the likelihood that an employee will engage in whistle-blowing. Employees need to feel that unethical behavior is discouraged at all levels of the organization, thus minimizing the risk that they take by reporting such behavior.