Viewing Pornography Increases Unethical Behavior at Work

Melissa Lewis Western, associate professor in the School of Accountancy at BYU.

New research discovers employees who view pornography aren’t just costing companies millions of dollars in wasted time, they’re causing harm to the company.

A study published in the Journal of Business Ethics finds that viewing pornography at work increases unethical behavior. Given unethical employee behavior is linked to a number of negative organizational outcomes — like fraud and collusion — employee pornography consumption is putting organizations at risk.

“Pornography is often framed as an issue affecting only individuals and relationships outside of a business context,” said study co-author Melissa Lewis-Western, a Brigham Young University professor of accountancy. “But businesses are made up of people, and people make decisions, and businesses function off the decisions people make. If you have a societal phenomenon that a lot of people are participating in and it negatively impacts individuals’ decisions, that has the potential to impact organizational-level outcomes.”

The study included an experiment with 200 participants and a nationally-representative survey of 1,000 other individuals. In the experiment, one group was tasked with recalling and recording their last experience viewing pornography. The researchers chose not to expose participants directly to pornography due to ethical concerns and concerns of selection and demand effects. Meanwhile, members of the control group were asked to recall and record their most recent experience exercising. Both groups were then employed to watch the entirety of a boring 10-minute video consisting of a blue background with a monotone voice speaking with subtitles.

Researchers found 21 percent of those who had recalled their last experience viewing porn did not finish viewing the video, but lied about it. Only 8 percent of those in the control group did not finish the video and lied about it. This represented a statistically significant 163 percent increase in shirking work and lying for those who view pornography. Similar evidence was obtained from the survey. The experiment also found that the rise in unethical behavior is caused by an increased propensity to dehumanize others; pornography consumption increases the viewer’s propensity to view others as objects or less than human.

Authors, which include BYU accounting professor David Wood and former BYU graduate student Nathan Mecham, say because porn consumption causes dehumanization, the incidence of sexual harassment or hostile work environments is likely to increase with increases in employee pornography consumption. “Organizations should be mindful of those risks,” said Mecham, now a Ph.D. student at the University of Pittsburgh.

“If you have a larger portion of your employees that are consuming pornography at work, it’s likely changing their behaviors and those changes are likely negative,” Lewis-Western said. “Regardless of your stance on pornography, most people want to be good employees, they want to be fair to men and women and they don’t want to be unethical. That’s where we need to start the conversation. We need to refrain from viewing pornography to create work environments that are inclusive to all.”

The researchers suggest companies take steps to reduce pornography consumption at the office, including:

  • Preventative controls such as internet filters and blocking devices
  • Policies that prohibit porn consumption at work, with penalties
  • Hiring employees who are less likely to view pornography than others

“Almost everyone cares about the #MeToo movement and women, but if you care about that, then you have to care about this issue too,” Lewis-Western said. “If your manager is regularly watching pornography at work, then our research suggests that the way you are treated is going to be different in negative ways.”

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