More Moral but Less Likable: Why Employees Keep Secrets from Their Managers

49 Pages Posted: 26 Apr 2021 Last revised: 7 Oct 2022

See all articles by Einav Hart

Einav Hart

University of Pennsylvania - Wharton School; Donald G. Costello College of Business at George Mason University

Eric VanEpps

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management

Daniel Yudkin

Wharton School

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department

Date Written: April 8, 2022

Abstract

Organizations depend on the efficient flow of information to operate effectively. However, employees often keep relevant information (e.g., a coworker’s plan to quit without giving notice) secret on behalf of others in the organization. Employees’ decisions to disclose or conceal information are influenced by how they expect others to judge their decisions. Disclosing someone’s secret signals honesty, but it also signals disloyalty. We report results from five preregistered studies, including real-world judgments of secret-keeping dilemmas (using field data from a Reddit community; N = 332), a recall study (N = 200), and controlled experiments (total experimental N = 816) to describe how impression management concerns influence secret-keeping in organizations. We find that (1) employees routinely keep others’ secrets from their managers, (2) secret-keeping decisions are influenced by impression management concerns, and (3) employees are often judged harshly for revealing others’ secrets even when the information is highly relevant to the manager. Although employees who disclose relevant secrets are perceived to be more honest and more moral than employees who keep secrets, employees often prefer to keep secrets from their managers because by keeping secrets they are judged to be more loyal and more likable. In this work, we identify that concerns about projecting loyalty and likability act as significant impediments to the flow of information in organizations, and we advance our understanding of the role of interpersonal evaluations in secret-keeping dilemmas.

Keywords: Secrets; honesty; disclosing information; morality; loyalty

JEL Classification: D01, D03, D74, D81, D84

Suggested Citation

Hart, Einav and Hart, Einav and VanEpps, Eric and Yudkin, Daniel and Schweitzer, Maurice E., More Moral but Less Likable: Why Employees Keep Secrets from Their Managers (April 8, 2022). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3832042 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3832042

Einav Hart (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - Wharton School ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

HOME PAGE: http://EinavH.art

Donald G. Costello College of Business at George Mason University ( email )

Fairfax, VA 22030
United States

HOME PAGE: http://einavh.art

Eric VanEpps

Vanderbilt University - Owen Graduate School of Management ( email )

401 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
United States

Daniel Yudkin

Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Maurice E. Schweitzer

University of Pennsylvania - Operations & Information Management Department ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-4776 (Phone)
215-898-3664 (Fax)

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