How Good People Can Make Unethical Decisions

We have seen that there are many factors at play in shaping behavior in the workplace. Nonetheless, the question remains: How is it that decent people can behave in an unethical decisions in business?

Research suggests a number of reasons. The KPMG Forensic Survey polled a representative sample of American workers and found that pressure for results was the most often cited reason for misconduct. One interesting finding of the KPMG survey was that only 34% of respondents said a desire for personal gain prompted unethical behavior.

KPMG Forensic Integrity Survey

Common Rationalizations for Unethical Conduct

Michael Josephson of the Josephson Institute Center for Business Ethics has identified ten common rationalizations for unethical acts. Business leaders must be alert to these rationalizations (or what Josephson calls ethical myths) and resist the convenient (but flawed) justification they offer.


Video Commentary: How Good People Can Make Unethical Decisions


Based on your experience, what do you think are the two most common rationalizations (myths) by people engaged in unethical behavior in the workplace?

Suggested/Sample Response

The two most common rationalizations will vary depending on the organization and the culture. Two very common ones are: “It’s ethical if it’s part of the job” and “It’s ethical if everybody else does it.” These are rationalizations that allow some psychological distancing for those involved in unethical behavior.

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