The Pressure to Be Dishonest

“Honesty in business is a relic of the past, and those who try to practice it are doomed to failure.”​—Stephen, U.S.A.

DO YOU agree with that grim assessment? Admittedly, dishonesty often brings rewards​—at least in the short term. As a result, those who try to be honest are subjected to intense pressure in the following areas.

Personal Temptation. Who would not enjoy having more money or some additional luxuries? When presented with an opportunity for dishonest financial gain, it can be hard to resist.

● “I award contracts on behalf of my company. Offers of bribes are common. The lure of easy money is a strong one.”​—Franz, Middle East.

Pressure to Maximize Profits. In recent years, businesses worldwide have struggled with poor economic conditions. They must also cope with rapidly changing technology and increased regional and global competition. Employees may feel that resorting to dishonesty is the only way to meet performance goals set by owners and managers.

● “We thought we had to do it. . . . Otherwise, we’d ruin the company.”​—Reinhard Siekaczek, arrested for bribery.​—The New York Times.

Pressure From Others. Coworkers or customers may at times suggest, or even demand, that you join them in dishonest schemes.

● “A manager of a major client approached me and said that I would lose his business if I didn’t pay him his ‘share of the business’​—essentially, a kickback.”​—Johan, South Africa.

Culture. In some cultures, it is customary for business transactions to be accompanied by an exchange of gifts. Depending on the size and circumstances of the gift, the boundaries of honest business practices can easily become blurred. In many lands, corrupt officials demand money before performing their duties and willingly accept payment in exchange for special treatment.

● “It is always a challenge to distinguish a tip from a bribe.”​—William, Colombia.

Environment. Those who live in severe poverty or in countries where there has been a breakdown in civil order face the greatest pressure of all. In such environments, those who are unwilling to cheat or steal may be viewed as poor providers for their families.

● “Dishonesty is considered normal, necessary, and acceptable as long as you’re not caught.”​—Tomasi, Congo Kinshasa.

How Honesty Breaks Down

The pressure to be dishonest has a profound effect. A survey of business managers in Australia reported that 9 out of 10 considered bribery and corruption to be “wrong but  unavoidable.” Those surveyed said that they would be willing to ignore their morals to win a contract or benefit their company.

Yet, those who engage in dishonesty often see themselves as honest. How do they reconcile their self-image with their behavior? Journal of Marketing Research reports: “People behave dishonestly enough to profit but honestly enough to delude themselves of their own integrity.” To ease their internal struggle, people excuse, minimize, or justify dishonesty in a variety of ways.

For example, dishonesty may be described in terms that sound less morally offensive. Lying or cheating becomes “cutting corners” or “being competitive.” A bribe may be described as merely “a favor” or “an expediting fee.”

Others excuse questionable behavior by relaxing their definition of honesty. Tom, who works in the financial industry, observes: “People’s perception of honesty has more to do with what they can get away with legally than with what is actually the truth.” David, a former business executive, says: “Although dishonesty is frowned upon when exposed, it is viewed as acceptable if you can get away with it. People who get away with it are considered smart for their ‘creativity.’”

Many would even claim that dishonesty is necessary for success. A longtime businessman remarks: “A competitive attitude often moves people to say, ‘You have to do whatever it takes to get the job.’” But is that true? Or are those who try to justify dishonesty actually ‘deceiving themselves with false reasoning’? (James 1:22) Consider the practical advantages of honesty presented in the next article.

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“People’s perception of honesty has more to do with what they can get away with legally than with what is actually the truth”

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Many claim that dishonesty is necessary for success