How do people justify doing unethical things at work?

When I was visiting the University of Melbourne on sabbatical, I asked Adam Barsky, how people justify doing something unethical at work.

His answer (based on his research):

Read more about it in his recent paper:

Barsky A. (2011) “Investigating the Effects of Moral Disengagement and Participation on Unethical Work Behavior” Journal of Business Ethics, 104, pp.59 – 75.

With massive corruption uncovered in numerous recent corporate scandals, investigating psychological processes underlying unethical behavior among employees has become a critical area of research for organizational scientists. This article seeks to explain why people engage in deceptive and fraudulent activities by focusing on the use of moral-disengagement tactics or rationalizations to justify egregious actions at work. In addition, participation in goal-setting is argued to attenuate the relationship between moral disengagement and unethical behavior. Across two studies, a lab simulation and field survey, a measure of moral disengagement was developed for use with working adults. The hypothesized main and interactive effects of moral disengagement, participation, and unethical behavior were tested and largely confirmed.


As seen on The Today Show

Learn more about the Solo Movement