Predicting Employees’ Bad Behaviors

By Dori Meinert Aug 1, 2012
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August CoverThe typical organization loses 5 percent of its revenue to fraud each year, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

So, finding a better way to determine who is likely to engage in unethical or harmful behavior is critical for organizations' leaders and for society in general.

Researchers claim to have found a simple and affordable way to predict which employees might behave unethically by measuring their propensity to morally disengage. For example, people morally disengage when they attempt to rationalize or blame others for their own unethical choices.

By asking individuals how strongly they agree with eight carefully tested statements, the researchers say they can measure those individuals' propensity to morally disengage and get a strong indication of whether the individuals will behave unethically. Some examples:

"It is OK to spread rumors to defend those you care about." If the individual strongly agrees with this statement, the person is attempting to morally justify unethical behavior, the researchers suggest.

"Taking something without the owner's permission is OK as long as you're just borrowing it." Researchers say individuals who agree are using euphemisms to disguise the fact that they have shut down their moral meters.

HR professionals may be inclined to use this test as a tool for weeding out undesirables, says lead researcher Celia Moore, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at London Business School. However, they should think about whether their organizations' cultures encourage employees' moral disengagement, Moore says.

Corporate leaders "are less aware than they should be of the ways in which their own cultures can create problems of unethical behavior," she says. "I would be interested in looking at how people's levels of moral disengagement change once they enter an organization, not just as a means of excluding people from entering, because I think there's a lot going on once people enter organizations," she says.

The test could be used to measure employees' propensity to morally disengage before and after training, she says.

The results of the study were published in the spring issue of Personnel Psychology.

'Age of Concern' for Applicants Rises

There's good news–and bad–for older executives.

The good news is that search consultants have increased "the age of concern"​–the point where they believe age becomes a negative factor in being hired. The average age is now 57 and has increased gradually from 51.2 in 2004, according to ExecuNet's 20th annual Executive Job Market Intelligence Report.

In addition, the average age of placement for executives has increased from 45 to 50 since 2007, according to the survey of 487 search consultants in February.

Although unlawful age discrimination "is still a reality for the older executive, recruiters say it's less of an issue because the skills they seek in today's world increasingly relate to experience and judgment–​things often found in more experienced executives," says Mark M. Anderson, president of ExecuNet. Anderson cautions that "experience" is not just about a person's age. "It's your experience in being able to deal with a variety of different problems," he says. Older executives also must keep up their skills.

Now for the bad news: 63 percent of the search consultants said they find it harder to place executives older than 50, up from 52 percent in 2010. Anderson attributes that to the fact that search firms are hired for hard-to-fill spots and only place 25 percent of all executives hired.

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