Do you consider yourself more ethical than your coworkers? Beware, this feeling of “ethical superiority” can lead you to ostracise or socially undermine your coworkers, and impact your organisation, according to a study.
The findings showed that employees who believe they are more ethical than similar coworkers (those that hold similar positions, have a similar education background and similar tenure in the organisation) feel negative emotions (contempt, disgust, stress, repulsion) towards those coworkers.
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These negative emotions about the coworker are amplified when the employees also believe they do not perform as well as those same coworkers.
The negative emotions that the “more ethical, lower performing” employees experience may result in them behaving in unethical ways, mistreating and/or ostracising their less ethical, higher-performing coworker.
Ultimately, such workplace scenarios pose a conundrum for managers.
“One way to think of this is that it is – and should be – concerning to us to believe that we are more ethical than our co-workers, especially if we do not perform as well as they do,” said lead author Matthew Quade, Assistant Professor at the Baylor University in Texas, US.
The research, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, can help managers create better atmospheres and improve the bottom line, Quade said.
“The managerial implication is that we need to create environments where ethics and performance are both rewarded,” he noted.
A total of 741 people, among them 310 employees (“focal employees”) and an equal number of their coworkers (“comparison coworkers”), were surveyed for the study.
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