Is your office a pressure cooker for cheating?

Study finds that jobs with extreme pressure can lead to less than ethical behaviour in employees. Published in the Journal of Applied Psychology researchers found that when an employee has high expectations they land up cheating in order to keep their jobs.

"It's the desire for self-protection that primarily causes employees to cheat," said Marie Mitchell, from the University of Georgia in the US to NDTV. "Employees want to look valuable and productive, especially if they think their job is at risk," Mitchell said. Researchers examined performance pressure in the workplace and the behaviours that result from it.

"Performance pressure elicits cheating when employees feel threatened. Even though there is the potential of getting a good payoff if they heighten their performance, there's also a significant awareness that if they don't, their job is going to be at risk," she said.

The findings were based on three studies devised by Mitchell's research team. The first study surveyed people across the US asking participants about cheating behaviour they had seen at work. The other two studies asked employees about their performance pressure and perceptions around pressure.

"Angry and self-serving employees turn to cheating to meet performance demands. It's understandable," Mitchell said. "There's a cycle in which nothing is ever good enough today. Even if you set records last month, you may get told to break them again this month. People get angry about that, and their self-protective reflex is elicited almost subconsciously," she said.

While pressure is often used as a motivator in the workplace the key is for managers to understand if they coach pressure in a non-threatening way, it can enhance performance in an ethical way where cheating can be prevented.

"It could be that if you pair performance pressure with ethical standards and give employees the right kind of assurance within the workplace, it can actually motivate great performance," Mitchell said.

This article was first published in Human Resources.