Show me the … family: How photos of meaningful relationships reduce unethical behavior at work

By: Ashley Hardin, David M. Mayer, Christopher W. Bauman


Environmental cues in the workplace influence unethical behavior, but the effects of these cues are less well understood than the effects of individual differences and social aspects of situations on unethical behavior. In this paper, we examine a common but underappreciated aspect of workspaces: photos of close others. Drawing on the literatures on symbols at work and behavioral ethics, we theorize that having photos of close others in sight decreases the hegemony of an economic schema in people’s minds, which in turn decreases their propensity to commit unethical behavior. Supporting our theory, a field survey and three experiments find a negative relationship between displaying photos of close others at work and financial transgressions and indicate that a decrease in the salience of the economic schema is a mechanism that drives the effect. We discuss implications of the results for the literatures on behavioral ethics, symbols at work, and work-life integration.