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Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
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5 percent on carelessness on the part of his colleagues. But what was the yield when he
made this his profession? When he began it was 91 percent, and that fell gradually over 20
years to 87 percent, although there was a 2 percent recovery after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Only one money box was stolen each year.
The facts of the bagel man case show that, when it comes to paying for a bagel, most people
act honestly. Clearly many people, once they have reached adulthood, are able to resist this
small temptation. Nonetheless, one in seven people abuses the opportunity and does not pay.
It is therefore naïve to assume that everyone is always honest, even in small matters. Pinching
a little piece of the pie, bending a rule once in a while, occasionally telling a white lie, just
looking the other way for a moment, that’s all it takes. Some companies that had decided to
get rid of cashiers in their restaurants therefore changed their minds. Initially the payment
behavior remained the same and in some cases even increased, but after a while standards
dropped so low that the losses were greater than the cost of the cashiers.The trusted cashiers
have therefore reestablished their place in these companies.
But are they really trusted? Research by Thomas Gabor and colleagues shows that cashiers
too are only human. Researchers visited a shop as a customer, bought a newspaper for 30
cents, paid the cashier with a dollar bill, and walked slowly out of the shop, seemingly absent-
mindedly, without waiting for the change. There was plenty of time for the cashier to call the
customer back and give them their change. Still 16 percent did not, which incidentally its
in nicely with Paul Feldman’s igures. Another study shows that in more than three-ifths of
cases not giving change results from carelessness or sloppiness on the part of the cashiers,
and in the other cases from dishonesty.
All this raises the question whether people are more prone to be dishonest when it comes to
petty misdemeanors, odds and ends (where both the misdemeanor and the gain are small), or
when it comes to serious transgressions (where both the damage and its fruits are signiicant).
Is it easier to resist small or large temptations? Little research has been carried out in this area.
An exception is research by Ephraim Yuchtman-Yaar and Giora Rahav. They had bus drivers
in Israel give back too much change to passengers and varied the amounts involved. They
found that the more change was given back, and therefore the greater the temptation for the
3. Bagels at work: honesty and dishonesty