Employers who don't ensure that all of their employees feel like they are part of the team could face some serious consequences, a new study suggests.
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When employees feel left out, they tend to act out by lying and cheating, according to research recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
When workers are faced with a risk of social exclusion, it motivates some pretty unsavory behaviors, said Marie Mitchell, one of the study's authors and a professor of management at the University of Georgia.
"When a person believes that they are at risk for exclusion, they assume that there is something about their personality or their makeup that suggests they're not a valued group member, so they have to do something above and beyond what they're currently doing in order to demonstrate their value to the group," Mitchell said in a statement. "They undermine anybody outside that workgroup, they cheat to enhance their group's performance level, they lie to other workgroups."
These types of behaviors can ripple throughout an organization, causing managers to expect unrealistic performance goals and contribute to a strained and suspicious environment, according to the research. It can even impact a company's bottom line. [7 Things Workers Lie About]
Employees who are unethical think they're more productive than they actually are because the work they say they're doing doesn't actually reflect performance levels or the productivity of an organization, Mitchell said, adding that these are the types of employees who ended up taking down companies like Enron and WorldCom.
"What's worse is they can ultimately undermine productivity and the organization's effectiveness because if those things come to light within a group context, they will totally undermine the group and its internal dynamics," Mitchell said.
For the study, researchers conducted an experiment in which participants faced the risk of exclusion. In a lab setting, participants took a personality test, then were divided into groups of four and asked to talk with each other for 15 minutes. Following the discussion, they were told they would be taking two tests that would be scored against a different group. While all four members would take the first test, the group would vote on three members to move on to the next task.
The participants were then asked to do the first computer test, during which they received an update informing them about the feedback on how the team rated and whether they would move forward to the second task. The researchers randomly assigned who received high versus low perceived risk of exclusion information. Participants in the high risk for exclusion group were told that only one member voted to have them continue on, while participants in the low risk for exclusion group were told that three members voted to have them continue.
The researchers than gave the first test, which consisted of unanswerable anagrams, a mishmash of letters, that the participants were told could be unscrambled to form common English words. Participants were asked to record how many anagrams they unscrambled. Mitchell said since there were no correct answers, every reported instance of solving the anagrams was a lie.
"There's a generally human tendency when faced with these kind of situations for individuals to misreport what they did," Mitchell said. "But those who had a high need for social approval and were in the group that were being excluded, they were far more likely to cheat."
Mitchell said those lies serve two purposes: to help the liar's group beat their competitors, and to prove the liar's worth within the group.
"So the risk of social exclusion essentially motivates some pretty unsavory behaviors out of individuals at work," Mitchell said. "Research from others suggests that these are pretty costly behaviors, and that they're a lot more prevalent than people think that they are."
Knowing these potential consequences exist, it's important for managers to take care in handling employees they see are not integrating well with their co-workers, Mitchell said.
"Look at the internal dynamics and norms of what constitutes performance behaviors for your employees," she said. "Employees who are at risk of exclusion are far likelier not to engage in these behaviors if they think the entire work group will be held accountable if they behavior isn't ethical."
Additionally, it can help if there are structures in place that demonstrate a value to ethical behavior, according to Mitchell.
"Accountability systems should demonstrate that they hold individuals to doing things the right way as opposed to the wrong way," Mitchell said.
The study was co-authored by Stefan Thau of INSEAD; Rellie Derfler-Rozin and Marko Pitesa of the University of Maryland; and Madan Pillutla of the London Business School.
Originally published on Business News Daily