Subscribe to Inc. magazine

The One Question That Will Help You Deal With Workplace Dishonesty

Everyone loses when you're dealing with a case of dishonesty. But here's how to get the best outcome.

It's not fun. No one wants to do it. But if you ever have to crack down on dishonesty in the workplace, answering one question can help you determine the best course of action:

Will punishing the individual help your organization in the long-term?

In an a recent interview with University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School professor Adam Grant, Duke psychology professor Dan Ariely discussed how to think about this conundrum.

He described an example of academic dishonesty at Duke that took place seven years ago. In this case, it was clear that a group of business students had violated the school's honor code; they had worked together on an open-book, take-home exam. But it wasn't clear what the consequences should be. 

In the end, nine students were expelled and 15 were suspended, according to Businessweek

Ariely, who was teaching at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the time, took the case to his students and asked what they thought. They disagreed with the outcome, saying that students collaborated in similar ways all the time at MIT. 

"They were probably right," Ariely said. "I suspect that [the Duke] students did not understand the seriousness of what they were doing. They were probably in the system where people were collaborating for a long time." 

Considering this, was the school's honor committee too harsh? Not necessarily, according to Ariely. Duke's crackdown set a new precedent and corrected a bad practice that had been threatening the school's integrity for a while. 

"For the organization, it really helped," Ariely said. Seven years later the the students have a clear idea of what is right and what is wrong. 

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Apr 2, 2014

LAURA MONTINI | Staff Writer

Laura Montini is a reporter at Inc. She previously covered health care technology for Health 2.0 News and has served as an associate editor at The Health Care Blog. She lives in San Francisco.

Register on today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments

Or sign up using: