Businesses looking to stay out of headlines for cheating and other unethical behavior may want to push for ethical standards within their institutions.

Demanding high performance by employees without emphasizing the need to follow a code of ethics encourages cheating in the workplace, according to a study led by professors from the University of Central Florida, University of Georgia, Arizona State University, and University of Nebraska-Kearney.

“Assuring employees that their supervisors will reward hard work—not cheating—may dissuade workers from breaking the rules to get ahead,” said Maureen L. Ambrose, professor of business ethics at UCF’s College of Business.

Ambrose and colleague Robert Folger partnered with researchers from the other universities to publish their findings in the Journal of Applied Psychology in December.

Robert Folger

The study said “as organizations place a strong emphasis on high levels of performance, they may also enhance employees’ self-interested motives and need for self-protection. … Employees [then] experience anger and heightened self-serving cognitions, which motivate cheating behavior.”

On other words, if performance demands are too high, employees may feel like they need to do anything to meet goals so they don’t lose their jobs.

“Employers need to be thoughtful about the goals they set for employees and how these goals are presented and managed,” Ambrose said. “High performance standards have benefits, but our work suggests the standards must be challenging, not threatening.”

To read more about the study click here: “Cheating Under Pressure: A Self-Protection Model of Workplace Cheating Behavior.