Dishonesty in the workplace can be a major problem for any business. Recent estimates suggest that theft and fraud by employees reduce the profits of U.S. businesses by $50 billion annually. And to make matters worse, the problem is growing. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners noted that non-cash thefts in workplaces increased over 10% from 2002 to 2018.
The toll, however, isn’t just a financial one. Working in an environment with unethical peers not only can cause stress, but also can lead honest employees to either leave the company or begin to adopt unethical norms for themselves, thereby exacerbating the effects on a corporation’s culture.
My colleagues and I, however, believe that there might be a different way to address the problem — one that works from the “bottom-up.” What I mean by this is a strategy that doesn’t rely on people remembering to try to control selfish impulses, but rather one that automatically strengthens’ people’s ability to resist temptation. Since our past work had revealed that feelings of gratitude work in just this way — that they effortlessly enhance patience and self-control — we wanted to see if gratitude would also reduce dishonest behavior.
To examine this question, we conducted two experiments, the results of which will be published in the journal Psychological Science. In one of these experiments, we asked 141 people to participate in an online study using Amazon MTurk that purportedly examined different types of memories. To induce appropriate emotional states, we randomly assigned each person to write about a time they felt grateful, a time they felt happy and amused, or about the events of their typical day (i.e., a neutral memory).
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