Social Comparisons and Deception Across Workplace Hierarchies: Field and Experimental Evidence
Organization Science 26, no. 1 (January-February 2015): 78-98
49 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2009 Last revised: 24 Jul 2018
Date Written: August 22, 2014
We examine how unfavorable social comparisons differentially spur employees of varying hierarchical levels to engage in deception. Drawing on literatures in social psychology and workplace self-esteem, we theorize that negative comparisons with peers could cause either junior or senior employees to seek to improve reported relative performance measures via deception. In a first study, we use deceptive self-downloads on SSRN, the leading working paper repository in the social sciences, to show that employees higher in a hierarchy are more likely to engage in deception, particularly when the employee has enjoyed a high level of past success. In a second study, we confirm this finding in two scenario-based experiments. Our results suggest that longer-tenured and more successful employees face a greater loss of self-esteem from negative social comparisons, and are more likely engage in deception in response to reported performance that is lower than that of peers.
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