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People with a lack of restraint behave poorly. The Time magazine special issue entitled “The Science of Good & Evil” describes psychopaths, narcissists, and narcissistic psychopaths who embody the trait of evil; people who regularly engage in manipulation, profiteering, and unmitigated self-concern. Would these same individuals (and those who display similar traits on a more sporadic basis) be less inclined to misbehave if their paycheck was impacted? If the rules, guidelines, and standards of conduct were communicated (and enforced) so that expected norms were indisputable? The Tennessee Model Abusive Conduct Prevention Policy provides guidelines for civil behavior, and a definition of evil conduct:


Abusive conduct includes acts or omissions that would cause a reasonable person, based on the severity, nature, and frequency of the conduct, to believe that an employee was subject to an abusive work environment, which can include but is not limited to:

  • Repeated verbal abuse in the workplace, including derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets;
  • Verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a threatening, intimidating, or humiliating nature in the workplace; or
  • The sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance in the workplace.

The policy also includes examples of what is not considered abusive behavior (such as spirited discussion, supervisory discipline, and respectful expression). It states that employers have a responsibility to provide harassment free environments at work – ones where employees feel safe. Giving a pass to aggressive workers only makes them feel more powerful, and signals to their peers that rude behavior is accepted. [From the Model Abusive Conduct Prevention Policy]: “Employees shall treat all other employees with dignity and respect.” It is up to the person in charge to set the parameters to ensure this occurs. Training, per the policy, may be necessary because not everyone knows what constitutes appropriate behavior at work.

The Tennessee Healthy Workplace Act of 2014 (drafted for public employees), in 2019 also extended immunity from lawsuits alleging intentional mental, emotional, and verbal abuse to private firms that adopt the policy. Top management role modeling (along with an enforced policy) can build community. Leadership is then a daily decision to make the right choices – for internal customers (employees) and external customers as well. A desire to improve the culture at work begins with a desire to do good that ripples outward . . . with a thought process. How can I improve myself -> my team -> my company -> my community, and ultimately my legacy – with every thought, word, deed that transpires within every minute. Leading courageously instead of watching the slaughter takes guts. Not everyone will enjoy filtering their speech, dispensing kindness, considering coworkers’ feelings, or developing empathy for their peers. Lilia Cortina suggests that sanctions might encourage people who would otherwise blatantly discriminate to instead harass indirectly (e.g, with comments and behavior that cannot easily be pinned to discriminatory acts, such as refusing to nominate a coworker for an award). Conversely, those who might engage in “under the counter discrimination” might cease that activity altogether.

The deepest foundation on which morality is built is the phenomenon of empathy, the understanding that what hurts me would feel the same way to you (Kluger, Sharples, & Silver, 2019). Blogger Travis Bradberry argues that cutthroat cultures lack this very trait. Relatedly, “Smart companies make certain that their managers know how to balance being professional with being human.” In the TIME article “What Makes us Moral” Kluger, Sharples, and Silver describe community as the leavening agent that blooms our inner angels. Within community, we are less likely to engage in tribalism or out-group discrimination; and less likely to display Kohlberg’s lowest tier of moral reasoning, where the emphasis is solely on avoiding punishment. Markham Heid (in the same TIME magazine special issue) argues that organizational rules create boundaries make untoward acts verboten.

Researcher Jean Decety argues tha the process of moral development “. . . continues throughout our entire life and is shaped by our values, cultures and social norms.” Companies either nurture or erode the empathy that people arrive with on their first day at work, which is why it is imperative to model compassionate behavior and provide kindness training. Education may encompass role play, along with immersive games. People who can feel what it’s like to be on the receiving end of rudeness may subsequently choose to do otherwise. When prisoners were told to imagine what it’s like to feel what others experience their brains acted similarly to the brains of people who were not diagnosed as psychopaths. Evil doers [narcissists and psychopaths] in the appropriate circumstances can change. It’s up to leaders to create environments that will incite this metamorphosis.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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