Ying Hong, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Leading People and Organizations
Portrait headshot of Ying Hong grinning in red lipstick and she is wearing a black cardigan
Earlier this year, aerospace manufacturer The Boeing Company made headlines after several missing bolts sent a door plug flying off a plane mid-flight. Luckily, no one was harmed, but the incident, among others in recent months, sparked a federal investigation into the firm’s production practices. The Federal Aviation Administration identified non-compliance issues in Boeing’s manufacturing, product control, parts handling, and storage, and the safety breaches were determined to be the result of deviant workplace behavior, shaking the trust of customers, shareholders, and federal regulators.

Deviant workplace behavior—such as gossip, absenteeism, production slowdowns, and theft—is motivated by employee greed, self-interest or the desire to purposely harm a business. It is counterproductive and can threaten a company’s success. However, according to Ying Hong, Ph.D., associate professor of the Leading People and Organizations area at the Gabelli School, it doesn’t necessarily have to spell the downfall of a business. She argues that implementing an effective human resource management (HRM) system can help companies discourage such behaviors and achieve a higher ethical standard and better output among employees.

“One way that our approach addresses these kinds of [unethical behaviors] is to manage through HRM systems,” Hong explained. “The idea of strategic human resource management is that we can plan, design, and implement HRM systems in a way that helps a company achieve objectives such as having higher safety standards or other ethical behaviors.”

In the paper “An Investigation of the Relationship Between Ethics-Oriented HRM Systems, Moral Attentiveness, and Deviant Workplace Behavior,” Hong and her coauthors surveyed over 230 participants from 84 small and medium businesses in Pakistan. The research, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, details the effects an HRM system had on employees’ tendencies to perceive and interpret moral issues in the workplace. Supervisors also evaluated employees on whether they displayed deviant workplace behavior. The paper concluded that women and lower-income employees are more open to HRM protocol and display less of these behaviors.

Hong reasons that low-income workers are more likely to follow an ethics-oriented HRM system with the hope of future promotions or bonuses for adhering to the rules. Women, she said, tend to view moral behavior “as a way to care for others” and are more likely to conform to the HRM system than their male peers. Either way, a sound HRM system will motivate all workers to perform well to avoid violations and poor performance evaluations and change how they perceive their moral behavior in the process.

Ethics-oriented HRM systems can help people become more morally astute, she added. “That way, they perceive the ethical elements in their daily life more accurately and also can interpret them, make decisions, and engage with those behaviors.”

Hong believes that businesses everywhere can thrive by adopting HRM systems with high ethical standards. For example, businesses can hire and train employees with high moral standards, align performance reviews and incentives with ethical standards, and allow opportunities for employees to voice concerns. It helps to boost a company’s reputation, increase employee morale, and attract like-minded job candidates.

“Those who are unethical will be fired or they’ll quit because they don’t thrive in the environment,” she said. “The people who stay are going to build a very strong culture of ethics for the businesses, then deliver high-quality products and services.”

— Gabrielle Simonson, Claire Curry