**Bankers Working from Home Set Higher Ethical Standards, Study Finds**
A recent study published in the European Financial Management journal challenges the belief that working from the office ensures higher ethical standards among employees. The study reveals that bankers working remotely from their homes actually exhibit a higher level of ethical conduct compared to their office-based counterparts. This finding has implications for firms like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs, which have pushed for their employees to return to the office full-time.
**The Surprising Data: Ethical Behavior in the Remote Workplace**
The study analyzed misconduct reports from one of the top five banks in the UK and compared the behavior of 162 traders working from home during the lockdown period. The research uncovered that remote traders had only a 7.3% chance of sparking a misconduct alert, while those working in-office had a significantly higher likelihood of 37.6%. This indicates that the office environment, often celebrated for its professionalism and integrity, actually had over five times more incidents of misconduct compared to the remote workplace.
**Contagious Unethical Behavior**
The study identifies a phenomenon where unethical conduct spreads. Similar to a yawn being contagious in a monotonous office meeting, one instance of unethical behavior can lead to a series of similar actions. This pattern is akin to situations in high school, where the desire to fit in prompts individuals to make poor choices. Even in the financial industry, where integrity is highly valued, no one is immune to the infectious nature of unethical behavior. However, the research suggests that removing traders from an office environment plagued with unprofessional conduct significantly reduces the likelihood of them engaging in similar misconduct.
**The Strengths of Remote Work in Ensuring Ethical Behavior**
Remote work has shown unexpected strengths in fostering ethical conduct. One reason for this is the decreased access to inside information and market rumors, which often catalyze financial misconduct. In an office environment, such information can easily be exchanged through informal conversations, whereas remote work limits these opportunities. Traders working from home are less likely to engage in under-the-table information exchanges, contributing to a lower prevalence of misconduct.
**Cognitive Biases and Ethical Behavior**
Cognitive biases play a significant role in shaping ethical behavior, often without individuals realizing it. Two specific biases, confirmation bias and status quo bias, shed light on this issue. Confirmation bias involves favoring information that aligns with pre-existing beliefs or values. In an office setting, where information flows freely, this bias can reinforce harmful beliefs that bending the rules is accepted. However, remote work isolates individuals from such damaging confirmations, leading to a decrease in misconduct. On the other hand, status quo bias encourages individuals to resist change or uncertainty. Traders accustomed to a cutthroat office culture may be reluctant to alter their behavior, even when faced with clear ethical guidelines. Remote work eliminates many immediate pressures and norms of the office, reducing the influence of this bias.
**The Future of Ethics in a Hybrid Model**
As we transition to a hybrid work model, there is an opportunity to redefine ethical norms. The study suggests that the domestic environment, often associated with distractions and informality, can be a powerful tool in combating financial misconduct. The traditional office-focused mindset should be discarded, and the home office should be recognized as a place where integrity can thrive. Regardless of the physical location of work, prioritizing integrity should always be a top priority.
**About the Author**
Gleb Tsipursky, Ph.D., known as “the office whisperer,” specializes in helping tech and finance industry executives drive collaboration and innovation in hybrid work environments. As the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, a future-of-work consultancy, he brings over 20 years of consulting experience with Fortune 500 companies. Tsipursky is a bestselling author of seven books, including “Never Go With Your Gut” and “Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams.”