MIT Sloan Management Review Article on The Price Leaders Pay for Cutting Ethical Corners

  • 7m
  • Isaac H. Smith, Justin Wareham, Maryam Kouchaki
  • MIT Sloan Management Review
  • 2021

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.

About the Author

Isaac H. Smith, an assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at BYU Marriott School of Business, studies the morality and ethics of organizations.

Maryam Kouchaki is an organizational psychologist and an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Justin Wareham is an associate professor of management at the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.

Learn more about MIT SMR.

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  • MIT Sloan Management Review Article on The Price Leaders Pay for Cutting Ethical Corners