Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) Terry College of Business found that when employees feel left out, they act out.
"When a person believes that they are at risk for exclusion, they assume that there is something about their personality or their make-up that suggests they're not a valued group member, so they have to do something above and beyond what they're currently doing in order to demonstrate their value to the group," said Marie Mitchell, co-author of the research and professor of management at UGA.
"So they engage in behaviours that are pretty seedy. They undermine anybody outside that work-group, they cheat to enhance their group's performance level, they lie to other work-groups," Mitchell said.
Such behaviours can ripple throughout an organization, causing managers to expect unrealistic performance goals and contribute to an overtaxing, suspicious environment, the study found.
Researchers conducted an experiment in which participants took a personality test and were divided into groups of four and asked to talk with each other for 15 minutes.
Following the discussion, they were told they would be taking two tests that would be scored against a different group. While all four members would take the first test, the group would vote on three members to move on to a second.
The team manipulated perceived risk of exclusion by asking participants to report on which members of the four-member group they felt should participate in the last group task.
The participants then received an update informing them about the feedback on how the team rated whether they would move forward to the last task.
The researchers randomly assigned who received high versus low perceived risk of exclusion information.     

Participants in the high risk for exclusion group were told that only one member voted to have them continue to the last task.
Participants in the low risk for exclusion group were told that three members voted to have them continue to the last task.
After members were primed to feel potential exclusion, they were given a test which consisted of unanswerable anagrams. Participants were asked to record how many anagrams they unscrambled.
Since there were no correct answers, every reported instance of solving the anagrams was a lie.
"There's a general human tendency when faced with these kind of situations for individuals to misreport what they did. But those who had a high-need for social approval and were in the group that were being excluded, they were far more likely to cheat," Mitchell said.
The research was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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