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Employees who are angry are more likely to engage in unethical behavior at work, even if the source of their anger is not job-related.


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It is important for supervisors to pay attention to employees' emotions — especially when the emotion is anger.

Employees who are angry are more likely to engage in unethical behavior at work, even if the source of their anger is not job-related, according to the research, published in the Journal of Business Ethics.

At the same time, when employees are feeling guilty, they are far less likely to engage in unethical behavior than those in a more neutral emotional state, researchers found.

Unethical workplace behavior, ranging from tardiness to theft, costs businesses billions of dollars a year, so it's important for managers to recognize how emotions may drive on-the-job behavior, said lead study author Daphna Motro, a doctoral student in management and organizations in the UA's Eller College of Management.

"At every level of an organization, every employee is experiencing emotion, so it's universal, and emotions are really powerful — they can overtake you and make you do things you never thought you were capable of doing," Motro said.

While research often looks at "negative emotions" as a whole, Motro illustrates in her work that not all negative emotions work in the same way. While anger and guilt are both negative feelings, they have very different effects on behavior.

The reason for the difference, Motro said, is how the two emotions impact processing.

"We found that anger was associated with more impulsive processing, which led to deviant behavior, since deviant behavior is often impulsive and not very carefully planned out," Motro said. "Guilt, on the other hand, is associated with more careful, deliberate processing — trying to think about what you've done wrong, how to fix it — and so it leads to less deviance."

Motro's findings come from two studies, in which she and her collaborators used writing prompts to induce the desired emotion. Study participants were asked to write about either a time when they felt very angry or a time when they felt very guilty.

"Research has shown that writing about that time, remembering that time, actually brings those feelings back up to the present," Motro said.

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