Study: Giving Employees More Coffee Leads To More Ethical Workplace Behavior

There might be something to the saying “my day doesn’t start until my second cup of coffee.” Okay, maybe I’m the only one that says it, but we could all probably use a little more caffeine in the morning. A new study suggests that the stimulant helps keep employees honest. Cue bosses loading the kitchenette cabinets with bags of coffee.

A new study, which was published in the March issue of Journal of applied Psychology, found that two cups of caffeinated coffee can help sleep-deprived workers resist the unethical influence of higher-ups, Fortune Magazine reports.

“When you’re sleep deprived at work, it’s much easier to simply go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you’re already worn down,” David Welsh, co-author of the report and an organizational behavior professor at the University of Washington, says in a news release. “However, we found that caffeine can give sleep-deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behavior.”

The professors built their case on earlier research that showed lack of sleep depletes a person’s ability to regulate thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and in turn, increase unethical acts.

Volunteers for the study were kept awake all night and divided into two groups. Each participant was asked to chew gum in the morning, and while one group received a wintergreen placebo, the other was given gum laced with 200 milligrams of caffeine – the same amount found in two cups of coffee.

The participants were put into situations where they were encouraged to go along with a lie in order to earn some extra money. Those who had chewed the caffeinated gum were more likely to resist when asked to cheat. Participants without the extra caffeine boost were willing to go along with the deception.

“Employers need to be recognize that today’s employees are working longer hours and getting less sleep,” said Welsh. “Establishing an ethical code of conduct might not be sufficient if employees are too worn down to align their behavior with organizational standards.”

So, what can employers do to make sure employees are on their best ethical behavior? The researchers have a few suggestions:

  • Provide caffeine in the workplace
  • Reduce long hours with scheduling, overtime restrictions and frequent breaks
  • Avoid scheduling tasks that require a great deal of self-control when looming deadlines make long hours unavoidable
  • Provide workplace napping and sleep awareness training

“We need to develop awareness about the negative effects of sleep deprivation,” says Michael Christian, report co-author and organizational behavior professor at University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School. “Cultures can reinforce the myth that working hard and working well involves not sleeping, but our research shows yet again that sleep deprivation isn’t good for the individual or the organization.”

How coffee can keep workers honest [Fortune Magazine]
A cup of coffee can help you act ethically at work [University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.