News / Utah / 

Managers' violent words cause unethical behavior, study says

Managers' violent words cause unethical behavior, study says

(Mark A. Philbrick/BYU)


1 photo

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

PROVO — While many bosses like to motivate their employees with “fighting words,” a new study says they may want to rethink their tactics because their violent rhetoric affects their employees’ ethics.

A Brigham Young University business study said that bosses who use violent wording like "We're going to kill the competition" or "We're going to war" may actually do more harm than good for their employees. BYU professor of accounting David Wood, BYU political science professor Josh Gubler and Monmouth College political science assistant professor Nathan Kalmoe published the study in the Journal of Business Ethics after conducting experiments with 269 participants.

In the first experiment of the study, employees were sent the following message from their CEO that used violent rhetoric. “To this end, I am declaring war on the competition in an effort to increase our market share. I want you to fight for every customer and do whatever it takes to win this battle. To motivate you to fight for this cause, I will be rewarding the top 10 sales associates and a guest an all-expense-paid vacation to Hawaii.”

The other half of the participants received the same message from their CEO, but the words “war,” “fight” and “battle” were replaced by “all-out effort,” “compete” and “competition.” Researchers found that when a rival CEO used violent rhetoric, employees were significantly more likely to post fake negative reviews and ratings about that competing company.

“What’s disconcerting is that people don’t think they’re being unethical in these situations,” Wood said in a news release. “You can’t just say, ‘OK people, you need to be better now, don’t be bad,’ because they don’t think they’re being bad.”

In the second experiment, researchers tested whether employees would bend internal policies to boost numbers after receiving an email from their manager. The internal policy used during the study was not selling to people with credit scores below 600. Half of the participants received an email with violent rhetoric. The results again showed that violent rhetoric from leadership impacted the ethical decision making of the employees, according to the study.

“There has been a lot of research on the effects of violence and violent media on aggressive behavior,” Gubler said in a news release. “This research shows it goes further: It affects your willingness to lie and to cheat and to bend moral rules. There are serious implications for CEOs.”

Photos

Related Links

Faith Heaton Jolley

    SIGN UP FOR THE KSL.COM NEWSLETTER

    Catch up on the top news and features from KSL.com, sent weekly.
    By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to KSL.com's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

    KSL Weather Forecast