Management
Reducing Rule-Breaking in the Workplace
When employees cut corners at work, it might not be mischief or lack of a moral compass. Smith School research suggests it might be monotony.
Aug 04, 2017

Reducing Rule-Breaking in the Workplace

Aug 04, 2017
Management
As Featured In 
Organization Science

Turn Off ‘Automatic Pilot’ Mindset to Boost Compliance

When employees break the rules at work, it might not be mischief. It might be monotony. A new study finds that employees whose tasks are organized in a more routine and repetitive way are more likely to fall prey to ethical lapses and break rules to make their workday easier. But there's good news. The researchers found that shaking up the order in which employees perform tasks — even without changing the tasks themselves — can reduce rule-breaking. 

But how exactly does that work? Changing up the order of tasks to be performed encourages a more deliberative mindset, rather than an automatic or intuitive one, explains Smith School assistant professor Rellie Derfler-Rozin, lead author of the study.

The deliberative mindset, the study says, "supports rule compliance," whereas the "automatic pilot" mindset opens the door to making more ecocentric, viscerally attractive, hedonic and self-serving choices. 

“What was surprising, but also encouraging, for me was that such subtle changes to task structure in the field and a subtle manipulation in the lab, that does not change the content of the tasks, but merely the order of the subtasks, could create such an effect. It suggests that organizations can create a difference by making simple changes to job design. Tapping directly to people's motivation is a much harder task, that in many cases creates backlash and reactance," says Derfler-Rozin.

Read more: Reducing Organizational Rule Breaking Through Task Variety: How Task Design Supports Deliberative Thinking is featured in the Journal of Organizational Science and is highlighted in the Harvard Business Review.

About the Author(s)

Rellie Derfler-Rozin

Rellie Derfler-Rozin is an associate professor of management & organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She received her PhD in organizational behavior from London Business School. She studies decision making in the social context. In her research, she looks at how people may deviate from decisions/behaviors that are rational from a pure profit maximization (traditional economics) perspective to satisfy needs that relate to their social world (e.g. the need to belong to a group, the need to have status in the group). Within this broad umbrella she is studying managerial decision making (e.g. looking at how managers may be averse to use their discretion in allocation decisions to satisfy belongingness needs to their group of employees), trust and ethics (e.g. looking at how group members who are at risk of social exclusions may show higher trusting behaviors and unethical behaviors that serve the group in an effort to promote re-inclusion in the group). More theme-related topics of interest to her are emotions, ethics, status and hiring decision biases.

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