Corporate Ethics: Good Behavior Leads to Less Turnover

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Does Ethical Membership Matter? Moral Identification and Its Organizational Implications
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Corporate ethics are always a hot news topic, especially when multi-millionaires are shamefully led away in handcuffs due to widespread criminal behavior. When “cooking the books” or other illegalities can threaten to destroy or tarnish the reputation of any company, ethics and morality need to be at the forefront of organizational concerns. New research (May, Chang, & Shao, 2015) sheds new light on the advantages of businesses engaging in morally responsible behavior. It’s not merely that they avoid the harmful consequences of being caught, but there may be inherent advantages to being an ethical organization, especially in regards to employee behavior.



The authors propose a new concept called moral identification. This is the extent to which employees feel a sense of personal identification with an organization, specifically based upon the organization’s moral behavior. And it makes sense. If I believe that I am a generous and giving person, but I consider my company to be greedy and “blood-sucking”, then I will not consider myself to be “similar” to my company. On the other hand, if I work for a company that is known for its generosity and charitable activities, then it’s as if I am “similar” to my company.



Moral identification may sound like a simple and intuitive matter, but the authors conducted several studies to show that moral identification has important outcomes, and appears to affect employee behavior. In the first study, the authors found that moral identification explains why employees who put extra value on moral behavior are attracted to organizations that themselves behave morally. In other words, moral people want to work at moral organizations because they recognize that the organizations are “similar” to themselves. This dynamic could be used to an organization’s advantage, and allow them to attract employees who have higher ethical standards and are less likely to engage in unethical behavior that compromises productivity.



In a second study, the authors found that employees who morally identify with their organization are less likely to engage in certain unethical behavior on the job. The authors specifically measured unethical pro-organizational behavior, which means something that benefits the organization but still breaks laws or standards. The authors found that this type of behavior was reduced when employees had a moral identification with the company. The authors say that people have a need to be consistent in their thoughts and actions. Basically, if employees consider themselves to be moral and believe they are similar to their company because it is also ethical, then they have greater impetus to maintain their standards by actually acting morally. This second study shows that ethical organizations don’t merely attract ethical employees, but also continue to promote ethical behavior once they are on the job.



The third and final study showed that when employees morally identify with their organizations, they are more likely to remain on the job, resulting in lower turnover. Again, employees need to be consistent in their actions, and if they believe that they work for a company because it is ethical, they naturally would want to remain working for that company. The authors also found that when organizations did not act ethically, all bets were off. Under these circumstances, employees who once had a moral identification would not necessarily remain in the job now that ethical behavior was compromised.



In this study, the authors found that when employees perceive that they are similar to an organization based upon ethical values, three things occur. These type of employees are attracted to the organization, they engage in less unethical behavior when on the job, and are less likely to turnover. In sum, this means that organizations stand to gain when demonstrating and championing ethical behavior. It’s not merely a ruse for publicity, or to avoid the harsh ramifications associated with being caught. Instead, ethical organizations benefit via the type of people they attract, and their behavior while on the job.

How can organizations improve their reputation as ethical organizations? The authors make several recommendations, including espousing ethical values to potential employees during recruitment, and incorporating ethical standards into incentive programs and performance management processes. Finally, this research is important because it helps reframe ethical behavior as something organizations should strive toward—with clear and measurable payoffs for all—as oppose to a set of threatening rules to be wary of in order to avoid jail time.

Which Type of Personality Leads to Workplace Safety?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Meta-Analysis of Personality and Workplace Safety: Addressing Unanswered Questions
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Workplace safety is a major concern for organizations. Accidents involving employees can jeopardize the safety of everyone at work, and be enormously costly for employers, in terms of lawsuits, insurance, and lost productivity. Research has long extolled the virtues of creating a safety climate, which means setting organizational policy to reflect the fact that safe behavior is important, expected, and will be rewarded. But there is another way to make sure that employees engage in safe practices on the job. We can hire “safer” people in the first place. The authors of the current study (Beus, Dhanani, & McCord, 2015) wanted to identify the personality traits that are associated with safe behavior.



In this study, the authors didn’t just consider workplace accidents as an outcome. It’s because accidents can be caused by a variety of factors that are beyond an employee’s control. For example, perhaps a machine was built with a fatal flaw that only became known after an accident. Or perhaps an employee was following the proper protocol leading up to an accident, but the people who designed the training made an error. For this reason, it makes more sense to study the safe or unsafe behavior itself, in addition to the outcomes. Which people were more likely to engage in workplace behavior that is defined as safe, and stay away from behavior that is considered unsafe?

The authors conducted a meta-analysis, which means compiling results from many different previous studies. The logic here is that results are more reflective of the truth when they are averaged across many different scenarios. They first ascertained the relationship between safety behavior and the “big five” broad personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

People who had higher amounts of extraversion and neuroticism had higher levels of unsafe behavior. The authors say that extraverted people have a need to “get ahead” and achieve higher status, and may compromise safety in order to accomplish this. They say that neurotic people have a propensity to be consumed with worry and anxiety, and they may become distracted as a result. They also are more likely to let anger lead to impulsive and irrational choices, which can easily be problematic when safety protocols need to be followed carefully.

On the other hand, people with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness had less unsafe behavior. The authors say that agreeable people are more cooperative and more easily see the need to benefit the team as a whole. For this reason, they refrain from unsafe behavior which may compromise the safety and productivity of the entire organization. Conscientious people are naturally meticulous about following rules, and also understand that compromises in safety will not improve the organization’s likelihood to achieve in the long run. That makes them more likely to avoid risky or unsafe behavior.

Openness to experience is the need to be adventurous and individualistic. Interestingly, it was not found to be related to unsafe behavior. This was the case despite the authors’ prediction that it would lead to more unsafe behavior.



This study shows that certain types of people are safer than others. If that’s the case, organizations can design selection systems to identify these safe people and hire them instead of the unsafe people. In short, four of the five major personality traits seem to predict safety-related behavior. In direct comparison, it was agreeableness and conscientiousness that had the strongest ability to predict (these are the safe people), whereas extraversion and neuroticism had a somewhat weaker ability to predict (these are the unsafe people). That being said, organizations should primarily look for people who are conscientious and agreeable if they want to cut down on workplace accidents. In addition, avoiding extraverted or neurotic people may also help a little bit.

Another finding from this study was that the effects of a safety climate (or the organizational practices) were more influential in predicting behavior than the personality traits, although the personality traits did still matter. This means that organizations are not resigned to firing all of their unsafe employees and starting over. By showing that the organization values safe behavior through training, feedback, and rewards, an organization establishes a safety climate, which is actually the biggest predictor of a safe workplace.

What Does Job Security Have to Do With Organizational Citizenship Behavior?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Job Insecurity and Organizational Citizenship Behavior: Exploring Curvilinear and Moderated Relationships
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Researchers have been trying to figure out if job security and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) are related. Job security is something we’ve probably all thought of, and OCB refers to workplace behavior that goes above and beyond the call of duty and helps the organization, like helping a co-worker or taking on extra responsibilities without extra compensation. Do people who have more job security perform more or less OCB? Some researchers have found that they perform more OCB, some have found that they perform less OCB, and some have found that it doesn’t matter either way. So who is right?



Well, we have great news, because researchers Lam, Liang, Ashford, and Lee (2015) finally answered the question! They found that there is a “U-shaped” relationship between OCB and feelings of job security. It’s called U-shaped because if we plotted the data on a graph, it would look like a big letter U. As an example, there might be a U-shaped relationship between time in the workday and how energetic you feel. In the morning you feel great because you are well-rested, in the middle of the day you feel lethargic after your all-you-can-eat pasta and breadsticks lunch, and at the end of the day you feel good again because you are excited about the end of the day. Your daily experience would look like the letter U on a graph.

In this study, people who felt that their jobs were secure also performed more OCBs. The reasoning is simple: if you feel appreciated by your organization, you will also feel the need to reciprocate by going beyond your formal job obligations. As employees started to feel some insecurity about the future of their jobs, they also lowered their performance of OCB. These employees feel less appreciated, and therefore feel less of a need to reciprocate. As employees started experiencing a high level of job insecurity, fearing greatly for their jobs, they actually started increasing their performance of OCB back to a high level once again. Fearing the worst, it seems these employees were actively trying to give their employers a reason to keep their jobs.



The researchers also found that there were two factors that made this U-shaped relationship even more pronounced. The first is psychological capital, which refers to having confidence, resiliency, and optimism. The second is called “guanxi”, which is a Chinese concept (this research was conducted in China) basically referring to an interconnected social network of people capable of being relied upon for assistance. In general, when job insecurity is at a medium level, people performed less OCB because they felt less of a need to reciprocate to their employers. This effect was more pronounced when employees had lower social capital and less guanxi with their supervisor.

In general, when employees felt very insecure in their jobs, they resumed higher levels of OCB, to try to save their jobs. This effect was also more pronounced among people with lower social capital and lower guanxi with their supervisors. It seems these types of people may be especially fearful of job loss and felt a greater need to compensate by performing OCB.



This research is important because it helps organizations understand a little more about what inspires people to perform above and beyond their job descriptions. It also helps organizations understand how performance is impacted when job security is not guaranteed, an unfortunately common theme in today’s world economy. Based on these findings, employers can see the importance of increased social capital and reciprocity-based workplace relationships. These factors can limit the slide of OCB in the face of moderate job insecurity. The authors encourage use of training sessions to help employees boost resiliency and self-confidence. They also encourage social retreats or events that can help boost the quality of relationships between employees and supervisors. These changes can help workplaces functions more smoothly in times of uncertainty.

The Strange Story Behind Situational Judgment Tests: What Do They Really Measure?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: How “Situational” Is Judgment in Situational Judgment Tests?
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Situational judgment tests are often used during employee selection. They present the job applicant with a series of situations that may be encountered on the job. For example, one situation might include an anecdote about a co-worker encouraging you to steal. For each situation, several different responses are listed. Applicants simply choose the response that seems most appropriate. Because these tests are (hopefully) designed by I-O psychologists or other highly trained experts, certain answers are designed to reflect behavior that is consistent with good job performance. The more the applicant choses these “good” answers, the more certain we are that the applicant will succeed on the job if hired.


The theory behind situational judgment tests is that applicants who score well are better equipped with knowledge that is very specific to the job. It’s not that the high scoring applicant is necessarily smarter, or has greater social tact. Instead, we believe that the high-scoring applicant has a certain kind of knowledge or skill that is useful for succeeding at the very specific situations that will be encountered on the job. However, new research (Krumm et al., 2015) showed that our assumptions about situational judgment tests may be wrong.



The researchers presented scenarios from real situational judgment tests, and investigated what would happen if they left out the situational anecdote and simply offered the behavioral responses. They wanted to know if people could identify the best answer without even knowing the question. As an example, here’s one that I just made up off the top of my head for my fictional new company:


Which would you do?

  1. Calmly reassure my boss that I would continue to work hard for the company and not let my disappointment interfere with my effectiveness on the job.
  2. Firmly grab my boss by his shoulders and scream in his face, reminding him that I am the very best employee and will absolutely not tolerate being marginalized in any conceivable way.
  3. Lay down on the floor in the fetal position and start crying.


So, which is it? If you want to work for my company, you’d need to have chosen ‘A’. I’m guessing that you knew that, even without the paragraph-long situational scenario asking you how you’d respond after your boss informs you that there will be no holiday bonus this year. Although this example sounds silly, it’s not that different from what the researchers were able to discover.


The researchers conducted several studies using real situational judgment tests. They found that in 43-71% of all scenarios (across different studies), it did not matter if the applicants were given the situational scenarios or not. They had an equal chance of getting the item correct whether or not the items were presented with the situational scenarios or by themselves.


What does this mean? The authors explain that many items from these situational judgment tests are not measuring knowledge that is specific to the job, but are instead measuring broader knowledge or abilities that might work on any job, such as social-skills or intelligence. The authors did find two scenarios in which applicants benefited from having the situational scenarios instead of just the behavioral answers. The first is when the items measured skills or abilities that specifically related to the job in question, and the second is when the behavioral options or answers included actions that were very specific to the given scenario, and not just generally good or bad behavior.



This research shows that around half of all items on situational judgment tests are not measuring knowledge or skills that are needed for a specific job context. Instead, these rogue items seem to be measuring broader traits applicable to many jobs. Why does this matter?


Organizations typically invest time and money into developing a situational judgment test that reveals which employees are best suited to a specific job. They usually convene a panel of subject-matter experts (SMEs) to rigorously develop the scenarios and behavioral possibilities for these tests. If the organization is content with measuring broad general traits useful for employees, they may be able to use generic “off-the-shelf” tests that have already been developed, instead of investing the resources into developing a situational judgment test for the specific job. The authors say that this may be the case for entry-level or other low-complexity jobs.


Another alternative is to design a test that is specific to a job and simply omit the situational scenarios, providing the behavioral responses alone (like in my example above). This could also save the organization time and money, because the developmental process would be shorter.


Finally, if organizations really want to have a situational judgment test tailor-made for a job, they can do themselves a favor and make sure that the questions really are specific to the job. Make sure that the items measure job-specific information, and make sure that the behavioral response options are very specific to the scenario. This will ensure that the situational judgment test is measuring what it intends to measure.

Aging Workforce: Employees Who Are Healthy and in Control Stay Working

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Individual and Work Factors Related to Perceived Work Ability and Labor Force Outcomes
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted


In our currently aging workforce, one in five workers are now age 55 or older. Given this changing demographic, it is important to identify the factors that lead to early departure from the workforce. One of the critical factors is perceived work ability, or the balance between personal resources and work characteristics. In order to prevent premature departure of the workforce, this study (McGonagle, Fisher, Barnes-Farrell, & Grosch, 2015) identified what leads to perceived work ability, and what happens when employees experience it.



The authors explain that perceived work ability is when employees think that they have the ability to continue their jobs. One way to understand this is through the Job Demands-Resources model. According to this model, individuals must balance job demands with job resources. Job demands can include anything that requires physical or mental effort, such as time pressure. Job resources are factors that promote work engagement, such as autonomy or supportive supervisors. Individuals may also employ personal resources, such as personality characteristics or health, to combat the demands of work.

After weighing all of these pros and cons associated with the job, people decide if situations or events are threatening or harmless. If the situations or events are consistently threatening or straining, then the individual will be more likely to discontinue his or her job.



Workers considering retirement weigh “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors are the “negative aspects of the work environment that may push one out of the workforce (e.g. a stressful work environment, low levels of supervisor support)”. Pull factors are the positive aspects of the work environment that pull one towards remaining at work. Based on the individual’s perceived work ability, which is determined by job demands and resources, individuals will be pushed out of or pulled into work.



Using three different samples of data, the authors found evidence that workers’ personal resources, specifically self-reported health and sense of control, were the strongest precursors to perceived work ability in a range of occupations. In manufacturing organizations, the personal resources of health status and sense of control as well as the job demands of environmental conditions, physical demands, and working in difficult body positions were significant predictors of perceived work ability. After controlling for other variables, the researchers found that perceived work ability contributed to absenteeism, retirement, and disability leave. Interestingly, the authors did not find a relationship between age and work ability, whereas many other researchers have found that older workers report lower work ability.



The study found evidence that perceived work ability is an important psychological mechanism that can determine whether a worker will remain in or withdraw from the workforce. An individual’s personal resources, specifically health and sense of control, contribute to perceived work ability, which in turn can explain why some employees have increased absenteeism, increased disability leave, or choose to retire earlier. Therefore, organizations should promote healthy practices and try to boost personal psychological resources in order to keep aging workers in their jobs. This can include increasing employees’ sense of self-control, lowering job demands, and ensuring safe environmental conditions.

Unethical Employees May Have Been Socially-Ostracized at Work

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Excluded and Behaving Unethically: Social Exclusion, Physiological Responses, and Unethical Behavior
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


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?



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.



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 Emotional Expression Affects Workplace Attitudes and Opinions

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: The Persuasive Power of Emotions: Effects of Emotional Expressions on Attitude Formation and Change
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


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.



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.



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.



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.

Honest Feedback Can Affect the Behavior of Supervisors

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Speaking Truth to Power: The Effect of Candid Feedback on How Individuals with Power Allocate Resources
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris


How powerful is feedback in the workplace? Did you know that it can affect the behavior of those in charge? In organizations, there are those who allocate resources and those who must accept what is allocated to them, be it office space, work assignments, or money. Past research paints a rather negative view of how those in charge (or “power-holders”) balance their self-interest with the interests of their subordinates. Previous research also seemed to show that those on the receiving end have little ability to affect outcomes.

However, there is some research that explains that certain factors can rein in an unbridled abuse of power. For example, feedback given from the subordinate to the power-holder may influence people with power to be more attentive to the interests of others. In this study (Oc, Bashshur, & Moore, 2014), researchers set up a series of cleverly devised studies where “subordinates” (really a computer program) gave feedback to power-holders (the actual participants), and then explored the behavioral effects.



The researchers were particularly interested in the way that the power-holders allocated resources after receiving feedback from their “subordinates.” The two types of feedback in the study were candid feedback and compliant feedback. Candid feedback meant that the power-holder received honest and fair criticism when subordinates were not happy with what was allotted to them. Compliant feedback meant positive feedback regardless of the equality of the allocations. The researchers then explored behavioral trends which showed that when subordinates provided candid feedback about prior allocations of resources, power-holders acted markedly different to them in response, compared to how they treated the compliant subordinates. The candid feedback from subordinates seemed to influence the power-holders to restrain their inclinations toward self-interest, and they eventually distributed the resources more fairly over time. This type of feedback also seemed to activate a sense of moral self-control which helped keep power-holders relatively even-handed in their allocations rather than merely indulging in their self-interests.

Results also showed that in light of more negative feedback, the power-holders were more likely to feel guilty and as a result decrease the proportion of resources that they took for themselves. The reverse was true in situations where subordinates gave compliant feedback. In these situations, the power-holders didn’t seem to regulate their behavior. Over time, they tended to make allocations that only met their self-interests.



These results highlight how subordinates do have some measure of personal control over how they are treated in the workplace. By speaking up rather than remaining silent, they can help ensure a fair distribution of resources. The results also show that by not allowing genuine feedback, or if subordinates give only compliant feedback, then those in power may be more likely to act in their own self-interest. This could negatively impact organizational outcomes. Organizations and those in leadership positions should seek to create platforms where individuals can give honest feedback and do not fear reprisals. This could be done through a mediator, or by using anonymous feedback methods.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Intelligence Testing: Is It Always the Smartest Thing to Do?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between General Mental Ability and Nontask Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


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.



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), and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). These terms sound fancy but they are actually quite simple. CWBs mean 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, unnecessary absences). OCBs refer to anything that employees do that are 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 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.



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 OCBs (going above and beyond job descriptions) intelligence and personality were about equally useful in predicting which employees will go above and beyond. When it came to CWBs (the bad behavior), personality was actually a better predictor than intelligence.



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.