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How Encouraging Employees to Display Family Photos Can Help Your Bottom Line

  • Study finds that employees who display photos of loved ones in their workspace are less likely to commit unethical behavior than those who don’t
  • Theory that the photos help decrease thinking that prioritizes economic norms, which in turn helps to reduce minor transgressions
  • Findings could help companies to reduce padded expense reports and other financial malfeasance that can affect a company’s profits

Countless employees have personalized their office or cubicle with photos of their family members or other loved ones, giving them a glimpse of someone close to them whenever they take a quick break. Now a new study finds that these photo displays may have another benefit as well: reducing unethical behavior in the workplace.

A trio of researchers conducted a field survey of workers to see if they displayed photos of their loved ones at work, then followed up with supervisors to determine the extent of any financial transgressions committed by the employees. They found that those with even one photo of a loved one were less likely to engage in behavior such as padding expense reports, misappropriating petty cash, or stealing inventory.

In a follow-up experiment to determine whether the photos influenced behavior or only affected the supervisors’ assessments, the researchers had undergraduates pay themselves based on dice rolls or the number of math problems they solved. Those with photos of family members in front of them paid themselves significantly more than those who displayed landscape photos while working.

The researchers suggest that family photos help disrupt an underlying economic mindset  prioritizing efficiency, rationality, and self-interest. While these facets may seem appropriate for the workplace, they can also result in reduced compassion and a higher propensity for immoral behavior. The study concludes that family photos can help cut down on minor financial transgressions, which cost companies an average of 5 percent of their revenues each year.

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