Ethical Bosses Can Lead to Abuse. Really.

I've had bosses who praised my work and bosses who tried to take the credit for it.  I've had bosses who follow the company line, even when they know it's not right (like lying about the downfalls of products), and I've had bosses who've called the media back to say they misspoke on something and now they want to come clean.

It takes all kinds but did you know ethical bosses may not be the bosses we should want?

A new study suggests that ethical conduct leads to mental exhaustion and the "moral licensing" to lash out at employees, according to newswise.com. 

Ethical behavior can turn abusive because of ego depletion and moral licensing. "Moral licensing" is a phenomenon in which people, after doing something good, feel they have earned the right to act in a negative manner.

"Ironically, when leaders felt mentally fatigued and morally licensed after displays of ethical behavior, they were more likely to be abusive toward their subordinates on the next day," says Russell Johnson, associate professor of management at Michigan State University, and an expert on the psychology of the workplace.

The study -- which surveyed over 170 supervisors in various industries -- showed that ethical behavior led to mental fatigue and moral licensing, and this led to leaders being more abusive to their workers. The abuse included ridiculing, insulting and expressing anger toward employees, giving them the silent treatment and reminding them of past mistakes or failures.

 "Being ethical means leaders often have to suppress their own self-interest (they must do 'what's right' as opposed to 'what's profitable'), and they have to monitor not only the performance outcomes of subordinates but also the means (to ensure that ethical/appropriate practices were followed)," says Johnson.


Dealing with moral licensing is trickier, as there is not much research on the subject. However, Johnson suggests companies could consider formally requiring ethical behavior. "If such behavior is required, then it's more difficult for people to feel they've earned credit for performing something that is mandatory," he says. "A sense of moral license is more likely when people feel they voluntarily or freely exhibited the behavior."

How depressing.  Now we have to reward our leaders for being ethical.

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