Bosses who try to motivate their employees with violent rhetoric end up motivating rival employees to play dirty, a fascinating research reveals.
"Business executives use violent language all the time. They say, 'We are going to kill the competition,' or 'We are going to war.' This study shows they should think twice about what they're saying," said David Wood, a professor of accounting at the Utah-based Brigham Young University.
Surprisingly, the study found that when an employee's own CEO uses violent rhetoric, those employees are less likely to make unethical decisions.
Either way, the research shows clear evidence that violent rhetoric influences ethical decision making - for better or for worse.
For the study, Wood and colleagues Josh Gubler and Nathan Kalmoe carried out two experiments with 269 participants.
In the first experiment, they showed half the subjects a motivational message from a CEO.
The other half of the subjects got the same message but with the words "war", "fight" and "battle" replaced by "all-out effort", "compete" and "competition", respectively.
They found that when the source of violent rhetoric was the rival CEO, employees were significantly more likely to post fake negative reviews and ratings about the competition.
"What is disconcerting is that people do not think they are being unethical in these situations," Wood noted.
In the second part of the study, researchers tested whether participants will bend internal sales policies to boost sales figures after receiving an email from their manager.
Again half of the subjects received a message with violent rhetoric.
The results once again showed the use of violent rhetoric by leadership impacted the ethical decision making of the employees.
"This affects your willingness to lie and to cheat and to bend moral rules. There are serious implications for CEOs," Wood concluded.