Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 156, Issue 1, pp 71–88 | Cite as

Deterring Unethical Behavior in Online Labor Markets

  • William D. Brink
  • Tim V. Eaton
  • Jonathan H. GrenierEmail author
  • Andrew Reffett
Original Paper


This study examines how codes of conduct, monitoring, and penalties for dishonest reporting affect reporting honesty in an online labor market setting. Prior research supports the efficacy of codes of conduct in promoting ethical behavior in a variety of contexts. However, the effects of such codes and other methods have not been examined in online labor markets, an increasingly utilized resource that differs from previously examined settings in several key regards (e.g., transient workforce, lack of an established culture). Leveraging social norm activation theory, we predict and find experimental evidence that while codes of conduct and monitoring without economic penalties are ineffective in online settings, monitoring with economic penalties activates social norms for honesty and promotes honest reporting in an online setting. Further, we find that imposing penalties most effectively promotes honest reporting in workers who rate high in Machiavellianism, a trait that is highly correlated with dishonest reporting. In fact, while in the absence of penalties we observe significantly more dishonest reporting from workers who rate high versus low in Machiavellianism, this difference is eliminated in the presence of penalties. Implications of these findings for companies, researchers, online labor market administrators, and educators are discussed.


Corporate ethics Social norm theory Online labor markets Honesty Mechanical Turk 



We would like to thank two anonymous reviewers as well as Annie Farrell, Michele Frank, Eric Marinich, Jon Pyzoha, and workshop participants at Miami University for constructive feedback and Chunying Piao for research assistance. The authors also appreciate the financial support of the Farmer School of Business and the Department of Accountancy at Miami University. Jonathan Grenier would like thank PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP for financial support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • William D. Brink
    • 1
  • Tim V. Eaton
    • 1
  • Jonathan H. Grenier
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrew Reffett
    • 1
  1. 1.Miami UniversityOxfordUSA

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