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What's Behind Unethical Behavior On the Job?


March 25, 2020

Have you ever had a conversation with a potential vendor or consultant about a specific service need or product specification? The salesperson ensures you that they have the precise experience and know-how to meet your needs only to later find out that they did not, and the work falls short of expectations. This is an example of the classic “over-promise, under-deliver” problem that many of us had to deal with. While the sales agent’s exaggerations are helping to make a sale, they are also dishonest and undermine the fundamental expectations of the provider-customer relationship.

These actions are referred to as unethical pro-organization behavior (UPB) because they are aimed at benefiting one’s employer by promoting the organization’s success while also violating societal values, morals, laws or standards of proper conduct. Other examples include misrepresenting the organization, concealing potentially negative information or withholding a credit due.

A recent study co-authored by Christian Resick, PhD, associate professor of management at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business, found that employees are more likely to engage in this type of behavior when they work in departments with egoistic norms.

“We found that egoistic norms not only encourage self-interest behavior but also fail to provide comprehensive moral knowledge regarding the impact of UPB on external stakeholders,” said Resick. “Employees are discouraged from considering the complex ethical implications of their actions and are prone to make faulty ethical judgements of behaviors that benefit internal stakeholders, including themselves. As a result, employees are less likely to judge such actions as ethically inappropriate.”

Read more on the Drexel News Blog.

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Associate Professor, Management