These questions of the twists and turns of right and wrong in the workplace are intriguing, frightening, and more timely than ever. In his book, Why do good people sometimes do bad things? Muel Kaptein examines the reasons people succeed or fail at staying on track from the perspective of social psychology drawing on both classic and recent experiments.
The book consists of 52 short chapters, which complement one another, although each of which could be read individually . The first eight chapters lay the foundation for examining the behavior of organizations and individuals. This introductory section discusses matters such as people’s moral nature and how their environment influences their behavior. The remaining chapters are organized according to seven factors which influence people’s behavior within organizations.
Muel Kaptein starts the book with an interesting quote: ‘We must stop seeing the people behind the counter as criminals.’ These are not the words of a prison director or police chief. They are the words of a chairman of a big bank, and said at a significant moment too: at the low point of the financial crisis in 2009. What he meant was: “It’s time we started trusting our employees and clients”. It is likely the chairman of the bank had done his research on the statistics of integrity: 10% of people will always cheat. 10% of people will never cheat. 80% of people are inherently good but will cheat or not depending on the situation.
We know that the large majority of people are inherently honest. This leads us to a more important question on integrity: at what point do they lose their integrity? For most of us, there will be a price at which we can be bought. An organization with an effective approach to integrity knows this and will carefully steer away its employees by creating conditions under which this price would be very high.
The book ‘Why good people sometimes do bad things? – 52 reflections on ethics at work’, is written by Muel Kaptein, Partner at KPMG and professor in business ethics.