Thursday, April 21, 2016

"Vampire" Bosses Can Be Controlled Using Religious Artifacts? Maybe

According to The Economist (March 19, p. 70), fully 9 percent of U.S. employees in an Ethics and Compliance Act (2013) study, reported their managers had pressured them to do things that compromised their ethical beliefs. Most went along - such as when Countrywide pressured employees to pass on defective loans to government- because they rightly feared negative repercussions. (In the Countrywide case, those employees who spoke out or complained were immediately fired).

Now, it appears that "dodgy" bosses can be warded off like vampires by using a religious artifact - say in your cubicle - to signal you are not that kind of person.  The Economist reports that new research by Sreedhari Desai of the University of North Carolina - to be published in The Academy of Management Journal - indicates that brandishing or showing artifacts like crucifixes can get boos boy to look elsewhere for a nefarious comrade.

Desai after carrying out real world studies, mainly in India - found that bosses are reluctant to put seemingly righteous employees in compromising positions.  Desai surmises that they may also fear that such "godly" folk are more likely to blow the whistle on any blatant shenanigans that come to their attention. Another theory? The displayed religious symbol - whether crucifix on a desk or image of St. Thomas Aquinas on the wall, nay cause these vampire bosses to "look deep within themselves" to consider the ethical consequences of what they'd like to ask.

Desai, according to the piece, suspects the truth is a mix of all the above. Basically, her experiments  showed that those in positions of power who were exposed to moral or religious symbols - even a closed Bible - were less likely to ask something immoral of any of their employees. (But they were even less likely to do so for the person to whom the symbol actually belonged.

But the amazing aspect was the "umbrella" effect conferred by any symbol used.  Interestingly also, "Muslim bosses were more likely to respect someone displaying a Hindu deity or Christian cross, for example, than someone who displayed nothing - like your standard atheist.  Thus, Ms. Desai worries that bosses who are themselves religious may discriminate more generally against workers or keep their faith to themselves or don't have one.

What remains to be seen, say in follow up studies, is whether the generalizations so far made by Desai hold up across national boundaries and cultures. For example, when the typical Aussie sees a 'holy quote" attached to a sender's email, he doesn't take it as a true representation of the sender's beliefs like Americans. Instead, he suspects the sender is acting "holier than thou" and trusts him or her less.

Most atheists also assume the same, that the religious icon or quote is merely being used to attempt to inject a certain perception which may not relate at all to the use. Atheist bosses, wherever they are, likely share that view.

But it appears at least in a limited subset of cases displaying a crucifix, Bible or some religious image could have positive advantages for believer workers who disdain doing their bosses' dirty work.

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