Obedience in the workplace

Finally! I did my final exam on Social Psychology to finish my diploma in management at LSE. One of the questions that made me think the most was: why humans obey orders even if immoral. 

The most important study on this matter was carried out by Milgram (I do recommend you to have a look, it’s incredibly interesting). He suggested that we are socialised to obey and mentioned the ‘agentic shift’. Basically it refers to the fact that people feel less responsible about an action if they were told to do so. In other words, we may harm someone but don’t feel truly guilty because someone forced us. This effect is what many guards experienced during World War II, they said they were just obeying orders eventhough they killed many.

Concerning the workplace, many researchers have studied the effect of obedience. However, many of them made experiments where physical danger or harm was involved. Most of our jobs today do not require strong physical efforts – you don’t need to be a superhero to stay 8 hours at the office, sitting at your desk, watching the screen. Nonetheless, jobs today require great mental efforts and socialisation skills. Therefore, it’s common to receive orders from superiors that may represent some sort of psychological discomfort or which are even unethical.

Then, what would you do in a situation where your manager asks you to act in a way you don’t feel right? Well, I guess the best thing to do is to check your company’s code of conduct and freely speak to your superior about what you think.

Antonio González

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