Unethical Behavior in an Organization

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Problem Statement

How can we distinguish whether the decisions we make at work are right or wrong? What is right to us may not be seen as right to others, or the other way around. As our book mentions we face ethical dilemmas and ethical choices in which we are required to identify right and wrong conduct (Robbins & Judge, 2017). As people we all have different mindsets and do not think the same as others. We may face challenges in our workplace or school as a result of this. Determining the ethically correct way to behave is especially difficult for both managers and employees in a global economy because different cultures have different perspectives on certain ethical issues (Robbins & Judge, 2017). I chose this topic on unethical behavior in an organization, because at one point in our life we have faced or will face a situation where we ask ourselves, if our behavior in the workplace is right or wrong.

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Barsky refers to, immoral and corrupt behaviors interchangeably as unethical behaviors, which are defined as behaviors that are generally considered wrong within a given society (Barsky, 2008). Business organizations and academic institutions have developed tests, booklets, and even activities in the workplace to help minimize unethical behavior. Having good ethics is not only important in the workplace, but also important in life and it’s just a sense of having human morale. Furthermore, not all of us are taught what ethics is at home or what is considered unethical behavior in an organization. Now, it is more important than ever to know what unethical behavior is, as well as knowing as what good ethics is. Unethical behavior of employees in the workplace or members of an organization not only threatens the reputation of the affected organizations, but also has a devastating effect on theses organizations. It does not only harm, but also puts at risk the human relations of the organization. (Singh & Twalo, 2015)

Reasons for the Problem

Benefits their organization

A reason why unethical behavior occurs within a business organization is because members or employees want to benefit their organization. Individuals in ethical dilemma situations often face a motivational conflict between the desire to maximize self-interest and the desire to act morally appropriate ways. (Sheldon & Fishbach, 2015). Cheating, dishonesty, stealing, breaking ethical norms or standards are all considered unethical behavior done by employees to benefit their bosses, the organization that they are in. (Bazerman & Gino, 2012). We think that we are doing a good to the company or organization we are in by participating in unethical activity. In an article published by Informs, Elizabeth Umphress and John Bingham stated that, Although employees may aim to help, the end results of their actions may be inconsistent with their intentions. For instance an employee may choose to destroy potentially incriminating documents to protect the organization, but the destruction of these documents may not result in any form of the organizational benefit. (Umphress & Bingham, 2011). More so, unethical acts just do more harm than good. The outcome can be any of the following; losing the organization’s information, money, documents, and even losing one’s job.

Influence of peers

Additionally, the people that surround us may be an influence on us of doing unethical activity in the organization that we are in. We often play or go with the role of follow the leader, or monkey see, monkey do. In this case, a bad leader and bad monkey as well. A good leader would clearly would not participate in unethical behavior, but we do not see this, because we are being influenced by their actions and words. This is also because we do not have self-control. Self-control allows people to refrain from participating in unethical behaviors. (Gino, Schweitzer, Mead, & Ariely, 2011). We have to be able to say no and disagree with our peers when they are in the wrong. Our peers that surround us in our workplace, schools, or wherever we go can make an impact on the choices we make. Whether it is wrong or right, unethical behavior plays a big role within the organization that we are part of. At the end, we are responsible for our own actions and how we are in charge of our self-control no matter the influence of our peers.

Social Exchange Theory

More so, an explanation for unethical behavior found within an organization is because of the social exchange theory. According to Umphress and Bingham the social exchange theory focuses on the relationship cultivated by the exchange of resources between two parties. Accordingly, if one party provides a benefit, the other is motivated to the same thing by providing a benefit in return. (Umphress & Bingham, 2011). If someone has a need or want and their peer has something that he or she does not have. Eventually there will be an exchange to where both groups end up benefiting and not taking in count if it is right or wrong. Both parties end up benefiting for themselves and not determining whether their actions are harmful to their organization. This is especially true when both parties are unhappy within the organization. They do not have good ethical behavior and end up making incorrect decisions.

Effects of the Problem Morale

Having unethical behavior in an organization effects not only the organization, but more specifically it leaves a big impact on the person. You can begin to ask yourself if that is really the person you want to be and how you would feel if someone provided unethical behavior in your organization. How would you react? What would be the consequences for that person? As mentioned before, we are responsible of our own actions. Having excellent ethical behavior shows who we are as a person. It provides a good idea of what our values and morals are.


The more unethical behavior we provide in our workplace and business organization the less likely we are to produce good outcomes. When people are part of an organization and have different behavioral choices regarding how they will perform their job, they must use some criteria when deciding to which behaviors they will engage in. (Barsky, 2008). For example if they are feeling in a negative type of way, their work productivity will also have a negative outcome. As to someone who has a positive mindset, they will try their best and their productivity can be higher.


When someone shows unethical behavior the whole workplace or business organization can feel it too. Barsky mentions that in order to perform adequately, one must choose how to work quickly and effectively and to do so without violating ethical norms. (Barsky, 2008). One must perform efficiently so the organization is efficient. It is like a stack of dominos when one falls, all of them fall as well.


When a person has unethical behavior it can have a certain effect towards other members of the organization as well. It can lack the performance of other members if nothing is done to correct this type of behavior. Like mentioned in the paragraphs before, unethical behavior in the workplace or business organization can have a toll on the people that surround us. As I mentioned, our surrounding peers can go with the role of following the leader. But how effective is unethical activity to the people that surround us? Managers at one point have to address and call out for unethical behavior. That way it does not provide assumptions that it is fine for other employees or members do it too, if it is not properly corrected the first time or brought up to attention.

Goal Attainment

Having unethical behavior within an organization can make it hard to reach the company’s goals, because performance is being interrupted by bad behavior. When an individual is involved in setting goals in their organization, the consideration of behavioral options will likely begin before the goal is set, causing other aspects besides effectiveness for goal attainment (Barsky, 2008). Barsky goes on to explain that when a person is assigned a goal, evaluation of the available behavioral options is focused primarily on goal achievement. When goals are set or given to a person within an organization it is harder for the individual to commit any kind of unethical activity (Barsky, 2008).

Possible Solutions

Problem Solution #1

The following describes solutions that can be provided to reduce unethical behavior in the workplace or business organization. Some of them is by providing employees with codes of conducts, reward programs, and even a once-a-month seminar training to minimize unethical behavior. Ethics within an organization or a business comprise rules, standards, principles, or codes providing guidelines for morally behavior. (Singh & Twalo, 2015). An article that came out by Forbes titled, How to Prevent Poor Ethical Decision-Making authored by Lisa Quast, stated that the first step is to read your company’s employee manual and ethics guidelines which also goes by a code of conduct, and ensure you are clear on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. If one is unsure, you can always ask questions before proceeding to an action (Quast, 2011). Codes of conducts are useful and can help guide and provide a clear statement of what is expected of an individual in a workplace and business organization.

Problem Solution #2

Next, another possible solution to help prevent unethical behavior in a business organization is providing individuals with reward programs. Reward programs can be seen as an act of providing motivation to individuals. In an article published by Springer, the author Harvey James Jr. states that an organizational reward system refers to the monetary and non-monetary mechanisms by which workers are rewarded within the workplace and organization. Monetary rewards consist of wages, salaries, cash bonuses, prizes, benefits, stock options, and employee profit-sharing plans (James, 2000). James also mentions that non-monetary incentives include promotions, public recognition, for example employee of the week. He goes on to talk about non-monetary prizes like free tickets to the opera or a sport event. Business organizations can make sure that their incentive programs do not reward the kinds of behaviors they wish to avoid (James, 2000).

Problem Solution #3

Last but not least, the last solution to preventing unethical behavior within a business organization is having special seminar trainings once a month. Business organizations can provide videos, presentations, and papers on what good ethics is or what is expected of them when they are on site. They can also ask if they have any questions regarding what they are supposed to be doing, or what are the goals for that month and how can they better themselves. Just a day of the month where instead of working, it is a day of improving yourself. For example, if you tend to get nervous around your manager or boss, you can communicate with them. You can tell him or her the things that are making you uncomfortable or any suggestions you may have for them as well. All of this is done in order to prevent unethical behavior in the future, or it can give your boss or manager an idea of what you struggle with and help you along the way.


Overall, having good ethics wherever we go is important. For me it demonstrates how you were taught in your household. Your values and human morals can all be concluded as part of ethics you have. So what would be the best way to prevent unethical behavior in a business organization? Based on the research that I conducted, the best way that I consider to prevent unethical behavior in a workplace would be having a code of conduct. It can come in a book or document type or just having it on display is important as well. Whenever we are unsure of a decision we are about to make, we can always go back and refer to the code of conduct. As mentioned before, it gives the community and individual of what their expectations are within a business organization. A code of conduct found in an organization and workplace helps an individual with what actions is considered right or wrong, and the consequences they can face if they are violated.


Barsky, A. (2008). Understanding the Ethical Cost of Organizational Goal-Setting Review And Theory Development. Journal of Business Ethics, 81(1), 63-81. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/stable/25482198

Bazerman, M.H., & Gino, F. (2012). Toward a Deeper Understanding of Moral Judgment and Dishonesty. Behavioral ethics, Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 8, pp. 85-104, 10.1146/annurev-lawsocsci-102811-173815

Gino, F., Schweitzer, M. E., Mead, N. L., & Ariely, D. (2011). How Self-control Depletion Promotes Unethical behavior, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Unable to Resist Temptation. Volume 115, Issue 2, Pages 191-203, ISSN 0749-5978, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.03.001.

James, H. (2000). Reinforcing Ethical Decision Making through Organizational Structure. Journal of Business Ethics, 28(1), 43-58. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/stable/25074399

Joseph, J., Berry, K., & Deshpande, S. (2009). Impact of Emotional Intelligence and Other Factors on Perception of Ethical Behavior of Peers. Journal of Business Ethics, 89(4), 539-546. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/27735210

O’Fallon, M., & Butterfield, K. (2012). The Influence of Unethical Peer Behavior Observers’ Unethical Behavior: A Social Cognitive Perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 109(2), 117-131. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/stable/23259305

Quast, L. (2012, August 21). How To Prevent Poor Ethical Decision-Making. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2011/12/19/how-to-prevent-poor-ethical-decision-making/

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2017). Organizational Behavior 2017 With Pearson Etext (Ser. 2017). Pearson College Div

Sheldon, O. J., & Fishbach, A. (2015). Anticipating and Resisting the Temptation to Behave Unethically. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41(7), 962“975. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167215586196

Singh, P., & Twalo, T. (2015). Mismanaging Unethical Behaviour in the Workplace. Journal of Applied Business Research, 31(2), 515. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/docview/1699068573?accountid=14925

Umphress, E., & Bingham, J. (2011). When Employees Do Bad Things for Good Reasons: Examining Unethical Pro-Organizational Behaviors. Organization Science, 22(3), 621-640. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/stable/20868883

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Unethical Behavior In An Organization. (2019, Mar 22). Retrieved January 30, 2023 , from

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