Anxiety is bad for good behavior.
That’s because people who feel anxious are more likely to act unethically, according to research by Sreedhari Desai of the University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School and Maryam Kouchaki of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
“Individuals who feel anxious and threatened can take on self-defensive behaviors and focus narrowly on their own basic needs and self-interest,” said Desai. “This can cause them to be less mindful of principles that guide ethical and moral reasoning – and make them rationalize their own actions as acceptable.”
Across six studies, the researchers showed that anxiety can lead to this self-interested unethical behavior. They detail their findings in “Anxious, Threatened and Also Unethical: How Anxiety Makes Individuals Feel Threatened and Commit Unethical Acts,” which is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
“Our work clearly has implications for organizational managers and policy makers, said Desai. “The United States is the most anxious nation on the planet, according to the World Health Organization.”
“By altering corporate culture to reduce anxiety, organizations could have a healthier workforce – and an ethical workforce,” said Desai, who shared recommendations for changing organizational culture.