Drawing by UK Artist Mike Juggins, titled ‘Let sleeping dog lie’

By Teresa Teo Lay Yan

Having a strong ethos of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in a company may not necessarily boost employees’ moral standard, according to two economists, John A. List and Fatemeh Momeni, of the University of Chicago, as stated in their recent papers.


The researchers in the above studies used the term ‘moral self-licensing’ to describe how an employee is more likely to give himself or herself the permission to undermine his or her personal ethics, after being called upon to do something good. In this particular instance, is to fulfil the CSR obligations of the company. The researcher recruited 3,000 online respondents to participate in this research study. Participants were asked to do some simple transcription and received 10% of their pay upfront for any completed job. On top of it, they were still be paid for any uncompleted assignments they marked as illegible. It deliberately sets the conditions for a higher tendency of ‘potential cheating’ to happen among the recruits. In some cases, participants were told that an equivalent percentage of their salaries would be donated to Unicef’s educational programs. The results indicated that the more charitable the researchers, the more likely for the participants to take advantage of their generosity. For example, cheating rose by 25% among the participants when the equivalent of 5% of workers’ wages were donated to charity. When the donated amount was raised to the equivalent of 28% of the wages, the proportion of cheaters shot up by more than 50% (Purtill, 2018).


It’s similar to someone who is dieting and decided to reward himself or herself with a candy bar after all the sweaty workout at the gym or a long abstinence from fatty rich food, quipped the researchers. It challenged the assumption that employees who are in line with their company’s social values and ethos are more likely to remain loyal, have better job satisfaction and are more productive.


Perhaps, corporate companies could take a leaf from the above phenomenon when it comes implementing initiatives or run campaigns to inculcate a strong CSR culture. A similar research study could be conducted for small and medium companies in the social enterprise sector in Singapore, to observe the phenomenon in our local context.

(360 words)



Purtill, C., 2018. Employees at socially-conscious companies are more likely to lie. QuartzatWork, Available at:

https://work.qz.com/1170682/employees-at-socially-conscious-companies-are-more-likely-to-lie/ [Retrieved 6 January 2017].