Doing Bad for the Good of the Organization: How Leaders Incite Unethical Employee Behaviors

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2021-08

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Abstract

Conventional wisdom and nascent empirical evidence suggest that many leadership theories do not adequately account for leaders’ destructive behaviors that ultimately harm both employees’ and organizations’ well-being (Brown & Mitchell, 2010; Tepper, 2007). Mesdaghinia and colleagues (2021) recently advanced the leader immorality encouragement (LIE) construct to address the pressure supervisors place on employees to engage in unethical behaviors that ostensibly benefit the organization. However, more research is needed to illuminate the extent of LIE’s nomological network. Therefore, the purpose of my dissertation was to (1) expand the criterion domain of LIE and (2) explore how outcome expectancies and ethical decision-making processes may mediate LIE’s detrimental effects onto employee outcomes. I collected longitudinal field survey data from 327 employees and 26 managers working in 28 Chinese hotels to investigate my hypotheses. I found that LIE had a positive total effect on unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB) willingness using aggregated path analysis but no significant total effects on workplace cheating behaviors, extra-role performance, nor quitting cognitions. A supplementary analysis revealed that punishment apprehension was the focal mechanism that transferred LIE’s positive effects onto UPB willingness, workplace cheating behaviors, and quitting cognitions. There were no significant indirect effects through instrumentality, moral disengagement, nor supervisor-directed anger. These findings offer new insights for leadership theory by highlighting the importance of social learning and negative affective reactions to adverse outcome expectancies stemming from managers’ unethical directives.

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Keywords

leader immorality encouragement, unethical pro-organizational behavior, instrumentality, punishment, moral disengagement, anger, ethical decision-making

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