Why good people sometimes do bad things: 52 reflections on ethics at work
For all those who work in or for organizations and for anyone dependent on them, it is
essential to know what explains the good and bad behavior of people within those organizations.
If we can explain this, we are better placed to judge, predict and inluence both our own
behavior and that of others. Social psychology offers a wealth of answers to the question of why
people do bad things, some of them very surprising, thereby explaining the way in which social
mechanisms inluence the psyche and thereby people’s behavior.This book therefore examines
the reasons people succeed or fail at staying on track from the perspective of social psychology.
The book draws on both classic and recent experiments. In each chapter at least one ex-
periment will be discussed. Although there is always something artiicial about experiments,
they offer the advantage that, with all other factors kept constant, the relation between a
limited number of factors can be studied in detail. Both laboratory experiments and ield
experiments come under review, and are applied to current developments, issues and
This book consists of 52 short chapters in total, each of which can be read individually,
but which also complement one another. The irst 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 inluences their behavior.
The remaining chapters are organized according to seven factors which inluence people’s
behavior within organizations. I discovered these factors in the course of my doctoral research,
when I analyzed 150 different derailments within organizations. Since then, these factors have
been tested in various studies. In a recently published article in an international journal I show,
on the basis of a survey of managers and employees, that the more prominent these factors
are, the less unethical behavior takes place at work. The factors are as follows:
Clarity for directors, managers and employees as to what constitutes desirable and
undesirable behavior: the clearer the expectations, the better people know what they
must do and the more likely they are to do it.
Why good people sometimes do bad things 52 relections on ethics at work