Can childcare facilities and teddy bears really improve ethical behaviour at work?

7 Sep

This is not the kind of question I ask myself every day, but a Harvard researcher has carried out an experiment to test whether singing nursery rhymes, drawing, and having teddy bears in the office can improve employees’ ethical behaviour.

Of course, ethics have been in the news a lot recently, what with the phone hacking at News International and the question mark over who knew about it and who didn’t.

Having a soft toy in the boardroom, or having other childhood cues present in the workplace, subliminally emits a ‘return to innocence effect’, according to the research, which asked adults to play games, draw, and fill the office with kids’ toys. Apparently those who were surrounded by stuff from childhood told fewer lies, were less likely to cheat, and were more generous than the workers who didn’t have toys around them.

Also, having childcare facilities on or near the workplace also boosted the generosity of workers – as well as improving their work-life balance.

Is a cuddly toy the key to ethical behaviour, asks Adrian Gaskell on the Chartered Management Institute management community site, which flagged up this research. The responses he has received are pretty interesting, with someone suggesting that we would perhaps behave more like a role model if our children were present.

Either way, I like Adrian’s suggestion that more managers should get in touch with their inner child. It would certainly make meetings more interesting – but I wonder if it would have made those phone hackers think twice?


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