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MIT Sloan Management Review: The Price Leaders Pay For Cutting Ethical Corners

19 Apr 2021
Per articles in Academy of Management Annals, Journal, and Review, asking employees to take questionable shortcuts can hurt their motivation and their performance.

Originally found at MIT Sloan Management Review, by Isaac H. Smith, Maryam Kouchaki, and Justin Wareham.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for leaders to ask their employees to cross ethical lines. Consider the following examples from a pilot study we recently conducted: A sales representative at a retail company was asked to grant credit approval to unqualified customers who were friends of her supervisor; a field technician at a communications company was asked by management to close telephone repair tickets for elderly customers whose phones were not fixed; and an engineer in the transportation industry was asked to approve projects that he felt were at risk for structural failure.

Examples like these exist in myriad settings. In a global survey of over 13,000 employees, a median of 22% of respondents across sectors reported feeling pressure to compromise standards at work.1 In our recent research, which includes several survey-based studies as well as laboratory experiments, we found that such pressure often comes from being specifically asked to engage in behavior that is unethical or morally questionable — what we refer to as receiving an unethical request.

However, while leaders may make unethical requests in an effort to enhance short-term results, for instance, or to gain personal benefits, those who make them run the risk of negatively affecting their employees’ motivation and task performance over the long term.


Continue reading the original article at MIT Sloan Management Review.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Journal.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Annals.

Read the original research in Academy of Management Review.