Can we have too much of a good thing?
When it comes to money, the answer in the Psychology community is increasingly ‘yes’.
Psychologists have amassed considerable evidence for a causal link between money and self-interested behavior.
Well-off people are statistically more likely to cheat in a game, less likely to help a passerby and, in more concerning examples, more likely to steal and lie.
These qualities are even demonstrated in participants who are made artificially rich in an experimental context, suggesting that the effect is both immediate and causal.
Australia’s best known Consumer Psychologist, Adam Ferrier, spoke to Informa ahead of his speech at the Banking & Finance Ethics conference in June, about how wealth can unleash our ‘inner psychopath’.
“Having money imbues us with a sense of self-sufficiency”, he says, “When we feel that we don’t need others, the concept of a community becomes less important and we start to care less for people’s needs and feelings. This leads to a reduction in ethical and altruistic behavior. I’m using the term ‘psychopath’, really to get people’s attention and stop and listen to these important psychological findings”.
The research marks unfortunate news for any financial services business, whose north star is purely to make money.
“Many strong brands know that money is not the objective” says Ferrier. “Their mission is to do what they do really well…and the financial gain follows”.
Within financial services this mantra is less applicable. Success often depends on employees having an appetite for financial targets, along with competitive remuneration.
Leaders are then left with the difficult task of having to simultaneously breed two contradictory cultures: one of morality, one of financial greed.
How can we make this task more achievable?
“We need to take empathy seriously and teach it as a skill” says Ferrier. “Corporate empathy is now more than a buzzword…it’s a flourishing industry”.
On top of that Ferrier notes how a ‘paid less, incentivized more approach’ can have tremendous benefits for company culture and employee happiness. “Find out what is important to your staff, besides cash, and build it into a meaningful incentive scheme”, he says.
Ferrier will offer further advice on this subject at his forthcoming presentation.