Men who engage in workplace misconduct ‘significantly’ more likely to cheat

Men who engage in workplace misconduct are “significantly” more likely to cheat on their partners, a new study suggests.

The research, published in the scientific journal PNAS, examined the connection between professional and personal misconduct — using data from the 2015 hack of infidelity website Ashley Madison as a measure.

Police officers, financial advisers and company executives were “more than twice as likely to engage in corporate misconduct” if they were Ashley Madison users, researchers John M. Griffin and Samuel Kruger from the University of Texas and Gonzalo Maturana from Emory University concluded.

“By ensnaring leaders in entertainment, politics, business, media, education, and the law, and highlighting the magnitude of workplace sexual misconduct, the #MeToo movement has generated renewed interest in personal conduct,” they wrote.

“However, there is substantial disagreement as to how personal and professional conduct relate to one another. Despite its limitations, Ashley Madison usage provides us with a unique large-sample measure to empirically analyse an important question that has previously been addressed solely with speculation and anecdotes.”

The findings, they said, draw a strong link between unethical behaviour in personal and professional settings, suggesting the #MeToo movement’s focus on eliminating sexual misconduct “may have the auxiliary effect of reducing fraudulent workplace activity”, reports.

The 2015 Ashley Madison hack included data on 36 million user accounts, including one million paid users in the United States.

The company was fined US$1.6 million ($3.1m) by the Federal Trade Commission over the data breach, which led to extortion attempts, family breakups and reports of suicides. In 2017, Ashley Madison agreed to pay US$11.2m to settle two dozen lawsuits brought by members.

The study’s authors said they discussed using the data “with many people, including attorneys, who confirm that the data are permissible to use for research purposes because the data are now in the public domain”.

The researchers looked at professional behaviour in four settings — Chicago police officers with substantial complaints against them, financial advisers engaging in misconduct, white-collar criminals subject to US Securities and Exchange Commission action, and chief executives and chief financial officers of firms that engage in misconduct.

Ashley Madison users were identified based on name and address. To avoid possible false matches, the researchers focused on users with paid transactions, which could be matched to both names and credit card billing addresses.

They also used detailed public records searches based on names, locations and employment information to identify residential and mailing addresses that could be matched to Ashley Madison users.

“While our methodology for finding professionals in the Ashley Madison data is entirely based on publicly available data, we believe we may be the first to systematically perform this match,” they wrote.

“In particular, news searches for ‘Ashley Madison’ and the executive names in our sample do not find any press mentions, and we find no evidence of stock return reactions when the Ashley Madison data were released, whereas stock prices generally react negatively to news of scandals.”

The results were “highly statistically significant”, the researchers said.

In the control group of police officers without misconduct, 1.3 per cent had paid Ashley Madison transactions, compared with 2.9 per cent among officers who engaged in misconduct — more than twice as high.

Similarly, 1.4 per cent of financial advisers in the control group were paid members, but among advisers who engaged in misconduct 3.3 per cent had paid Ashley Madison transactions.

Among the alleged white-collar criminals, 8.3 per cent had Ashley Madison accounts, a high rate of usage relative to the general population, which was 1 per cent after controlling for the gender and age of SEC defendants.

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Meanwhile, the researchers identified 47 CEOs, 48 CFOs and 159 other top executives who were paid Ashley Madison users, out of a sample of 20,811 public company employees. They found that having either a CEO or a CFO who had used Ashley Madison doubled a firm’s probability of committing corporate infractions.

“While Ashley Madison usage predicts professional conduct across multiple settings, we recognise that it is an imperfect proxy. Ashley Madison usage represents a subset of overall marriage infidelity and excludes many other forms of unethical personal behaviour,” the authors wrote.

“Most people make serious mistakes at some point in their life in various forms, and personal character attributes, judgment, and values can change significantly over time. Given these data limitations, the strong empirical findings are even more compelling evidence that personal conduct is closely related to workplace actions.

“More broadly, our findings suggest that personal and professional lives are connected and cut against the common view that ethics are predominantly situational. This supports the classical view that virtues such as honesty and integrity influence a person’s thoughts and actions across diverse contexts and has potentially important implications for corporate recruiting and codes of conduct.”


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