Our research tidbits this week looks at how the prevailing work climate influences employee behaviour, or not.

The influence of the ethical climate when employees retaliate against self-serving leaders
Leaders have been shown to sometimes act self-servingly. Yet, leaders do not act in isolation and the perceptions of the ethical climate in which leaders operate is expected to contribute to employees taking counteractive measures against their leader (that is, employees’ desire for retaliation, and supervisor-directed deviance).

The authors contend that in an ethical climate employees feel better equipped to stand up and take retaliation measures. Moreover, the authors argue that this is explained by employees’ feelings of trust. In two studies using different methods (an experimental study and a multi-source study), the authors predict and find evidence that the relationship between self-serving leader behaviour and employees’ desire for retaliation and supervisor-directed deviance is stronger when the ethical climate is high rather than low. Moreover, the authors show that trust in the leader mediates these relationships.

Stijn Decoster, Jeroen Stouten & Thomas M. Tripp. 2021. When Employees Retaliate Against Self-Serving Leaders: The Influence of the Ethical Climate.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(1), 195–213.

Supervisor’s moral courage and teamwork quality and team creativity
Drawing on the interactionist perspective of innovation and on the sustainable ethical strength framework, the present research examines the moderating role of supervisors’ moral courage to go beyond compliance in the relationships between teamwork quality, team creativity, and team idea implementation.

Two field studies, using multi-source and multi-wave data, indicated that teamwork quality was positively related to team idea implementation via team creativity, particularly when team supervisors revealed moral courage to go beyond compliance. When supervisors lacked such courage, teams struggled to develop creative ideas and to implement them. Robustness checks and tests of alternative theoretical explanations indicated that the model and findings are robust.

From a theoretical perspective, the findings indicate that, due to its empowering and promotion focused orientation, supervisors’ courage to go beyond compliance has relevance for the teamwork and team innovation domains, playing an important moderating role in defining whether quality teamwork leads to enhanced team creativity and team idea implementation.

Carlos Ferreira Peralta, Maria Francisca Saldanha, Paulo Nuno Lopes, Paulo Renato Lourenço & Leonor Pais. 2021. Does Supervisor’s Moral Courage to Go Beyond Compliance Have a Role in the Relationships Between Teamwork Quality, Team Creativity, and Team Idea Implementation?

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(4), 677–696.

Insubordinate responses to unethical supervisory treatment
Research that examines unethical interpersonal treatment has received a great deal of attention from scholars and practitioners in recent years due to the remarkable impact of mistreatment in the workplace. However, the literature is incomplete because we have an inadequate understanding of insubordination, which the authors define as “subordinates’ disobedient behaviours that intentionally exhibit a defiant refusal of their supervisors’ authority.”

In this study, the authors integrate social exchange theory and the advantageous comparison component of moral disengagement within the integrative model of experiencing and responding to mistreatment at work. Then, the authors explain why subordinates disengage from moral control as they balance experiencing abusive supervision with perpetrating insubordination within negative supervisor–subordinate social exchange relationships.

In Studies 1–4, the authors validate a five-item measure of insubordination and demonstrate its content, convergent, discriminant, criterion-related, and predictive validity. In Study 5 (n = 287), the authors demonstrate that there is a positive indirect effect of abusive supervision on insubordination through negative social exchange relationship quality that strengthens for subordinates who perceive higher levels of supervisors’ task performance than others.

Overall, this study advances the conversation in the business ethics literature by creating a solid conceptual, empirical, and theoretical foundation for a cohesive program of insubordination research that meaningfully builds on prior findings in unethical interpersonal treatment research.

Jeremy D. Mackey, Charn P. McAllister & Katherine C. Alexander. 2021. Insubordination: Validation of a Measure and an Examination of Insubordinate Responses to Unethical Supervisory Treatment.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(4), 755–775.

Unethical pro-organisational behaviour and positive leader–employee relationships
Unethical pro-organisational behaviours (UPB) are unethical, but prosocially-motivated, acts intended to benefit one’s organisation. This study examines the extent to which employees are willing to perform UPB to benefit a liked leader.

Based on social exchange theory, the authors hypothesised that LMX would mediate the association of interpersonal justice with UPB willingness. Moral identity and positive reciprocity beliefs were examined as moderators. Higher LMX was significantly and positively related to UPB willingness, and the indirect effect of interpersonal justice on UPB via LMX was significant and positive. These findings suggest that LMX and interpersonal justice could have a previously-unexplored dark side. Moral identity had a negative direct relationship with UPB, but it did not moderate the relationship of LMX with UPB. Thus, LMX facilitates UPB willingness even when employees are high in moral identity.

LMX is associated with many positive outcomes, but the results show that high LMX may also increase willingness to perform unethical behaviours to benefit one’s leader. These results contribute to the literature by identifying a potential negative outcome associated with high LMX.

Will Bryant & Stephanie M. Merritt. 2021. Unethical Pro-organizational Behavior and Positive Leader–Employee Relationships.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(4), 777–793.

Ethical leadership & employee entitlement, engagement, and performance
Drawing on theoretical arguments from psychology, the authors investigate the implications of employee entitlement in organisational settings. Specifically, the authors utilise workplace engagement theory to suggest that due to their skewed sense of deservingness, employees high in entitlement are less likely to experience workplace engagement.

Furthermore, the negative relationship between employee entitlement and workplace engagement is strengthened when ethical leadership is low, yet mitigated when ethical leadership is high. Finally, the authors predict that under conditions of low ethical leadership, reductions in engagement explain why employee entitlement results in hindered job performance. This mediated effect does not hold when ethical leadership is high.

The authors tested their theoretical model utilising field data from employees and their direct supervisors in the financial services industry (N = 243). The results support the theoretical model. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Toby Joplin, Rebecca L. Greenbaum, J. Craig Wallace & Bryan D. Edwards. 2021. Employee Entitlement, Engagement, and Performance: The Moderating Effect of Ethical Leadership.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(4), 813–826.