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When it comes to honesty at work, it seems that some choose the path of least resistance.

How much effort workers think it takes to behave honestly in the workplace could have a big impact on whether they take dishonest actions, according to research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Lead author Julia Lee of the University of Michigan said the research was inspired by the prevalence and high cost of employee fraud. Estimates put the cost at up to $3.7 trillion worldwide of dishonest behavior by employees.

“There is so much research on whether morality or doing the right thing is driven by deliberation or moral intuition,” said Lee, assistant professor of management and organizations at U-M’s Ross School of Business.

“The link to what real people think about this was missing in the research. When you see a kid drowning, most people jump in without thinking. For others, it might require a lot of mental calculation to do the right thing.”

Lee said she found that previous research on the topic of honesty and effort didn’t probe the theories individuals held about the subject, and that seemed a crucial part of understanding why people behave dishonestly.

“In today’s world truth really matters,” she said. “Your implicit belief about whether honesty requires effort or not might construct how you think about reality.”

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