Employees Who Imitate Bad Behavior of Bosses Get Away With

An animated image of a boss screaming into a megaphone at his employee.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Want to get away with some shady behavior at work? Imitate your boss. No, seriously! According to a study by researchers at UC Irvine, people are less likely to report unethical behavior by their peers when it’s the same kind of unethical behavior they’ve witnessed from their superiors.

The researchers found that the same did not apply to people who initiated unethical behavior, imitated their peers, or imitated someone from another organization. It seems that unethical behavior isn’t tolerated just because somebody else is doing it, but perhaps because there’s no point in reporting it. The study also found that imitated behavior was reported when the original transgressors were punished.

The study didn’t go into specifics about how to handle these kinds of issues, that’s for further research, but we can probably glean a few things from it. For one, it seems likely that, no matter how sneaky someone is being, other people are going to find out about unethical behavior. Of course, some bosses aren’t particularly shy about it, and that means others in the organization might start imitating that behavior, and that’s likely bad for the organization’s budget, image, or both.

The most obvious takeaway is to not engage in unethical behavior period. But when upper management does it, as is bound to happen from time to time, make sure that the behavior is both reported and corrected. The study found that the details of a punishment didn’t matter so much as knowing that the transgressor was corrected. In other words, it needn’t be something so dramatic as firing someone, it just needs to be enough to make it clear that unethical behavior won’t be tolerated.

Is this going to prevent any and all unethical behavior? Of course not, but the more we understand about what motivates people to perform such actions, the more we can work on fixing it.


About DevonJ140
I am currently an Accounting Director living in New York City. I love reading and learning more about business, finance, tech, and current events.

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