Tips To Help Employees Reduce Unethical Decision-Making

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Do you pride your­self on being one kind of per­son at work and anoth­er kind of per­son at home? Many peo­ple do. They may feel they need to be the tough nego­tia­tor at work, but then want to be more flex­i­ble at home and allow their chil­dren to do what­ev­er they want.

The prob­lem with being a chameleon is that play­ing by the rules in dif­fer­ent roles can get tricky. This dilem­ma makes it dif­fi­cult to act eth­i­cal­ly, espe­cial­ly at work. That’s one of the find­ings from the research done by Mafer­i­ma Touré-Tillery, assis­tant pro­fes­sor of mar­ket­ing at the Kel­logg School. She was joined by Alysson Light, Uni­ver­si­ty of the Sci­ences in Philadel­phia for this project.

Analyzing Identities Across Roles

In their study, Touré-Tillery and her co-work­ers asked adults to iden­ti­fy dif­fer­ent roles they played, such as par­ent, marathon­er, or accoun­tant. Study par­tic­i­pants also indi­cat­ed whether they were the ‘same per­son’ in these roles. Final­ly, they had to choose adjec­tives that matched their behav­ior in these roles.

An indi­vid­ual who chose "aggres­sive" as the adjec­tive to describe their behav­ior in both an accoun­tant and a marathon­er capac­i­ty would be seen as con­sis­tent across roles. Some indi­vid­u­als select­ed vast­ly dif­fer­ent adjec­tives. For exam­ple, they called them­selves rule-fol­low­ing accoun­tants but aggres­sive marathon­ers.

Behavioral Differences Induce Stress

Trou­ble aris­es when peo­ple exhib­it these kinds of dif­fer­ences. If a marathon­er is extreme­ly aggres­sive, they might take a short­cut to win a race. In their role as a rule-fol­low­ing accoun­tant, the indi­vid­ual may not cut any cor­ners when it comes to some­thing like cal­cu­lat­ing over­time. After a while, the less-than-moral behav­ior exhib­it­ed dur­ing marathons can cause a per­son to feel bad about them­selves. Those feel­ings can quick­ly morph into stress and impact job per­for­mance.

The Kel­logg School researchers sug­gest that cor­po­rate lead­ers might want to adjust their poli­cies to improve work-life bal­ance for employ­ees. “Specif­i­cal­ly, you are help­ing them merge their iden­ti­ties as par­ent and work­er — so they might behave more moral­ly across the board.”

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice Pres­i­dent of Research for Sales­Fu­el. She holds a Mas­ters in Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ver­mont and over­sees a staff of researchers, writ­ers and con­tent providers for Sales­Fu­el. Pre­vi­ous­ly, she was co-own­er of sev­er­al small busi­ness­es in the health care ser­vices sec­tor.