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Coffee Talk: Surprising Healthy Value to Having Family Photos in the Workplace

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Photos of family decreases unethical behavior at workplace.

Discover how that keeping photos of your family just might keep you from wrong-doing in the workplace.


According to a new study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, while experts acknowledge that environmental cues in the workplace can influence unethical behavior, recently they discovered one cue in particular that actually encourages employees to behave more ethically—family photos.

A Washington University in St. Louis news piece reports that displaying family photos or photos of friends at the work desk cuts down on employee fraud and other unethical behavior such as padding expense reports for their own benefit.

In fact, one of the studies found that employees having photos of loved ones on their desk filed expense claims that were on average eight dollars less than those filing the same type of claims who had no family photos on their desks.

“If numerous employees submit monthly expense reports to a company, it’s easy to imagine the financial impact of the reduction in unethical behavior over time,” said Ashley Hardin, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Olin Business School and the lead author of the study.

While a concrete understanding of how photos actually alter behavior in the workplace is under question, Dr. Hardin theorizes that the photos are cues that prevent the employees from focusing on self-interest types of thoughts that can lead to making unethical choices. In other words, photos of close others are “reminders” that somehow can lead to positive workplace behavior.

The author of the study believes that employers allowing employees to arrange family photos around their workspace can be beneficial to both parties and offers a solution to some workplace problems. However, employers that strictly enforce a separation of family life from work life, might be inadvertently predisposing their employees to behave unethically or badly.

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“Our results suggest that subtle adjustments to the physical context can alter employee behavior, and it should, therefore, be possible to design organizational interventions that help to inhibit fraud and other forms of undesirable behavior.”

Coffee Talk is meant to encourage discourse between you and someone you are having coffee with, as well as for the comments section below. If you agree or disagree with the topic and what is said, or have something you would like to share, Coffee Talk is there for you.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between coffee and healthy living. For continual updates about the benefits of coffee on your health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image Source: Courtesy of photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash


Picture this: Employee fraud decreases when they see family photos” by Jill Young-Miller Washington University in St. Louis, the Source 18 August 2020.

Show me the … family: How photos of meaningful relationships reduce unethical behavior at work” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes; Volume 161, November 2020, Pages 93-108, Ashley E. Hardin et al.