When we think about lying, cheating, and stealing in the workplace, we may think it’s always bad people doing bad things. But sometimes good people lose their moral compasses because of peer pressure.

That was the conclusion of the recent study, Underestimating Our Influence Over Others’ Unethical Behavior and Decisions conducted by Bohns,  Roghanizad, and Xu at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.

The British Psychological Society reported on this study in their blog post, It’s Easier Than You Think To Get People To Commit Bad Deeds, published on their Research Digest blog.

The study, they say, suggests that many people will agree to perform a bad deed rather than say no to avoid social discomfort.

But here’s the thing. It’s also easier than you think to get people to do the right thing. They go on to point out the

"… truly startling finding from this work, the researchers said, is not how many people are willing to lie or vandalise, but rather "the lack of awareness people appear to have of this tendency when they are in a position to influence someone else’s ethical behaviour."

And maybe this lack of awareness can be addressed by education. The financial service industry often gets maligned, and sometimes deservedly so. However, the organizations that represent financial service providers do emphasize ethics, and in many cases, make it a continuing education requirement.

In my world, it’s the American Society of Pension Professionals and Actuaries (ASPPA). An interactive Ethics Workshop will be a major part of ASPPA’s five regional conferences in 2014 called ASPPA On Tour. The first one is on Thursday and Friday, January 23-24, 2014 in Los Angeles. If you’re in the benefit business and in the neighborhood. please stop by.

Image Source: Richard Niolon Ph.D.