Here’s what drives workplace cheating
It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about.
Employees under pressure to perform may be motivated to cheat, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The performance pressure elicits in workers a need to protect themselves, co-author Marie Mitchell told Moneyish, making them angry and more motivated to engage in illegal and/or moral norm-breaking behavior for self-gain.
“That anger kind of blunts them from being able to see the implications of their behavior to others,” said Mitchell, an associate professor at the University of Georgia. “The individual is just doing whatever they can to benefit themselves and avoid any kind of threats or harm to themselves.”
Mitchell and her co-authors gained access to a national poll, from which more than 500 people related examples of cheating they’d seen in the workplace. About 55% of the instances involved manipulating work for self gain — for example, falsifying statistics, inflating production numbers and altering timesheets to make oneself look better. Another 31% included coworker sabotage like undermining colleagues or pilfering their ideas. “We even heard examples of coworkers not telling their colleagues about important meetings so they would look bad,” Mitchell said.
Next, the researchers examined why this occurred: “Individuals were driven by the belief that they (had) to raise their performance efforts because those efforts were tied to real and significant consequences for them” like promotions and opportunities for interesting, important work, Mitchell said. It also seemed likely “if they didn’t raise their performance efforts, that bad things were going to happen,” including job loss, demotion or lack of opportunity.
It’s important that employers be able to encourage high performance without motivating cheating, Mitchell said. “Employers should be asking employees to raise their efforts — however, do so to where it’s not a dark cloud hanging over an employee’s head.” First, she said, managers need to “set goals that are challenging, yes, but not difficult or impossible for employees to reach.” Bosses should also integrate ethics into the performance conversation, and not “turn a blind eye” to their employees’ behaviors.
“If they do that,” Mitchell said, “employees can switch their frame of mind and their emotional state away from anger, away from a self-focus, to enhancing their productivity, towards opportunities, towards gains, towards development and learning.”
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