Influencing positive organization behavior in unlikely ways

If you don’t want your manager to ask you do something unethical, then wear your faith on your forehead…literally.

When a team of researchers at University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, surveyed managers in India asking them if they noticed anything religious about their subordinates, they discovered an interesting correlation. Employees whose managers identified them with wearing religious symbols like vermilion dots on their forehead or displaying quotes from the Bible or the Koran in their cubicles, were less likely to be asked to do something unethical.

Harvard Business Review Senior Editor, Scott Berinato caught up with UNC’s assistant professor of organizational behavior, Sreedhari Desai to discuss her research and possible causes for the correlation.

“When someone is in a position to request an unethical thing…they may perceive a person as morally ‘pure’ and feel that asking them to get ‘dirty’ makes an ethical transgression even worse. Or they may be concerned that someone with moral character will just refuse the request,” said Desai.

Desai’s research suggests that employees who visibly displayed religious symbols were more likely to be perceived as moral thus reducing their chances of being asked to do bad things.

Similar outcomes were seen in another study done by Desai, where participants were incentivized to persuade a group they believed to be their virtual teammates to spread a lie. Posing as teammates allowed researchers to display a range of quotes in their e-mail signatures while communicating with the participants. Some e-mails did not include a quote or had a more neutral quote, while others displayed quotes about integrity. According to the study, those with a moral quote in their email signature were less likely to be asked to behave unethically.

These studies offer valuable insights regarding organizational behavior and may yield ideas about some of the ways organizations can strive to uphold the highest standards of ethics.

Limestone students pursuing a Bachelors in Business Administration regardless of concentration can take BA 323 – Organizational Behavior to learn about determinants of behavior at the individual, interpersonal, group, intergroup, and organizational levels. Taught by Associate Professor of Business, Andrew Cook, the course examines a number of case studies including some from professor Cook’s own experience in business operations.