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Lead Your Team Managing

Don't Let 'Corporate Hypocrisy' Ruin Your Business

Don't Let 'Corporate Hypocrisy' Ruin Your Business
Credit: Tomas Urbelionis/Shutterstock

As a business owner or manager, it's important to practice what you preach. If you require employees to be available 24/7 while you're MIA, or you're constantly texting on the job while you prohibit employees from using their phones, for example, your hypocritical behavior is sending the wrong message to employees, and they may resent you for it.

Researchers from the University of Missouri (MU) looked at some of the retail industry's 15.7 million employees and found that these types of inconsistencies in corporate policies and managerial behavior — "corporate hypocrisy," as they call it — often decimates employee morale and, in turn, leaves a negative impression on customers.

"When [frontline retail employees] experience corporate hypocrisy, they have some visceral feelings," said Saheli Goswami, one of the researchers and a doctoral student in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences. "These impressions have a high chance of being translated from employees to the customers as the retail employees experience corporate hypocrisy," Goswami told Business News Daily.

Over time, unchecked corporate hypocrisy could lead to fewer sales, she added. [See Related Story: Unpredictable Bosses Worry Workers Most]

Goswami and Jung Ha-Brookshire, an associate professor of textile and apparel management and associate dean for research in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences, focused their research on the retail industry because they expected to find a higher prevalence of corporate hypocrisy there as they developed and refined their definition.

"[R]etail stores have part-time employees, so the company and manager are more likely to think of them as replaceable," Ha-Brookshire said. "The problem is that these employees interact with consumers all the time, and when consumers have a negative interaction, they tend to say they don't like that store or won't visit that brand anymore."

Although the retail industry was the focus of this particular study, the researchers said their findings extend across industries. Entrepreneurs and managers should be wary of the impacts of inconsistent behavior and policies on both their employees and customer base in order to avoid lost business, the researchers said.

"Retail employees can easily transfer their impressions to customers," Goswami said. "But in any other industry — say, finance — if I see my company, or even immediate supervisor, behaving hypocritically … I have access to share my perceptions beyond consumers. Because of … [websites like] Glassdoor, these perceptions definitely impact other industries."

Goswami and Ha-Brookshire said future research will include other industries and more thoroughly investigate the effect of corporate hypocrisy on employee turnover and overall productivity. Their initial hypothesis: Corporate hypocrisy is a drag on business across the board.

So, when you're crafting company policies or just supervising day-to-day workflow, it's important to hold yourself to the same standards as your employees. Moreover, make sure any changes, along with the rationale for the shift, are clearly communicated to your employees; the key is to make sure they feel appreciated and kept in the loop.

"Employees, including those who perceive hypocrisy, and the managers need to have a good idea about the corporate culture," Goswami said. "What is the organization about? What are their goals? What are their strategies? I might not agree with a practice or a goal, but that's something I [as an employee] need to be aware of, so my expectations are adjusted accordingly."

Enhancing managerial training beyond a simple task-based focus is also key, the researchers said. Including moral and ethical considerations in both the training and hiring of executives and managers would protect against contradictions that could dampen employee morale and future sales, they said.

Adam C. Uzialko

Adam received his Bachelor's degree in Political Science and Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. He worked for a local newspaper and freelanced for several publications after graduating college. He can be reached by email, or follow him on Twitter.