Our research tidbits this week provide a timely look at what employees perceive as ethical behaviour.

When do followers perceive their leaders as ethical?
In the aftermath of various corporate scandals, management research and practice have taken great interest in ethical leadership. Ethical leadership is referred to as “normatively appropriate conduct” (Brown et al. in Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 97(2):117–134, 2005), but the prescriptive norms that actually underlie this understanding constitute an open question.

The authors address this research gap by turning to relational models theory (Fiske in Structures of social life: the four elementary forms of human relations, Free Press, New York, 1991), which contextualises four distinct moralities in four distinct interactional norms (i.e., the relational models). The authors expect that the norms inherent in each model dictate the type of leader relationship that followers deem ethical.

Specifically, the authors hypothesise that, for each norm, followers will perceive leaders as less ethical the more discrepant, i.e., the more incongruent, followers’ ideal relational norm is with the perceived norm that they attribute to their actual leader–follower interaction. The authors tested the respective incongruence hypothesis in a cross-sectional survey of 101 Dutch employees.

Polynomial regression and surface response analyses provide support for the hypothesised incongruence effects in each of the four relational models, suggesting that normatively appropriate conduct should not be limited to caring (i.e., community-oriented) behaviours. Indeed, all four relational models can predict ethical leadership perceptions. The authors discuss the implications in the context of ethical leadership research and managerial practice.

Natalija Keck, Steffen R. Giessner, Niels Van Quaquebeke & Erica Kruijff. 2020. When do Followers Perceive Their Leaders as Ethical? A Relational Models Perspective of Normatively Appropriate Conduct.

Read this Open Access article online for free

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(3), 477–493.

Company ethics and attracting the talent
Whilst previous studies indicate perceived company ethicality as a driver of job seekers’ job-pursuit intentions, it is poorly understood how and why ethical market signals actually affect their application decisions.

Perceptions of company ethicality result from market signals that are either within the control of the company (e.g. ethical certifications) and from market signals that are beyond the company’s control (e.g. ethical eWoM). Building on communication and information processing theories, this study therefore considers both types of ethical market signals, and examines the psychological mechanisms through which they affect job seekers’ intention to apply for a job.

The results from a controlled online experiment show that both types of ethical market signals increase job seekers’ job-pursuit intentions. These relationships are mediated by applicants’ attitude towards the job advertisement, their perceptions of corporate employment image and self-referencing.

Consequently, the present study alerts practitioners to consider the effects of company-controlled and non-company-controlled ethical market signals, particularly when aiming to recruit highly-qualified millennial candidates.

Victoria-Sophie Osburg, Vignesh Yoganathan, Boris Bartikowski, Hongfei Liu & Micha Strack. 2020. Effects of Ethical Certification and Ethical eWoM on Talent Attraction.

Read this Open Access article online for free

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(3), 535–548.

CEO personality effects on ethical misconduct
In recent years, misconduct by CEOs has led to firings, scandals, and financial losses for companies. This study explores personality antecedents of CEO misconduct using Five-Factor Model personality traits and personality disorder profile similarity indices.

The sample of 259 CEOs used in the analysis includes CEOs who were involved in well-publicised misconduct scandals as well as CEOs who had no misconduct scandals. Teams of trained raters measured CEO personality using psychometric personality rating scales and video-based assessment methods.

Logistic regression results provided some support for hypotheses regarding relationships between ethical misconduct, fraud, excessive risk taking, and sexual misconduct and personality traits including “Big Five” traits and personality disorder profile similarity indices.

James R. Van Scotter & Karina De Déa Roglio. 2020. CEO Bright and Dark Personality: Effects on Ethical Misconduct.

Journal of Business Ethics, 16(3), 451–475.

How a bullying culture affects the perceived importance of an ethical issue
Bullying can precipitate many negative outcomes at work, but previous research does not adequately address how such misbehaviour affects employee dispositions and attitudes; how these characteristics impact ethical decision making is also underexplored.

Given these research gaps, the purpose of this study is to assess (1) the impact of bullying on Machiavellianism and job satisfaction, and (2) the influences of Machiavellianism and job satisfaction on perceived ethical issue importance, a measure of ethical decision making.

Three hundred eighty‐four sales and business employees working for different firms operating in the United States answered a self‐report questionnaire. The findings showed that, after accounting for social desirability bias, workplace bullying was positively associated with Machiavellianism and negatively associated with job satisfaction. Machiavellianism was negatively related to the perceived importance of an ethical issue embedded in a vignette highlighting Machiavellianism and latent bullying behaviours.

In addition, job satisfaction was positively related to ethical issue importance. Finally, both Machiavellianism and job satisfaction mediated the relationship between bullying experiences and importance of an ethical issue, as evidenced by their significant indirect effects. HR professionals should minimise bullying and Machiavellianism to reduce the corrosive effect on the ethical environment and enhance work attitudes and ethical decisions.

Valentine, Sean & Fleischman, Gary. 2018. From schoolyard to workplace: The impact of bullying on sales and business employees’ machiavellianism, job satisfaction, and perceived importance of an ethical issue.

Human Resource Management, 57(1), 293-305.

The relationship between organisational identification and internal whistle-blowing in an ethical climate
Based on the theory of planned behaviour, this paper explores the relationship between an employee’s identification with the employing organisation (organisational identification) and the employee’s intention to whistle-blow via organisational internal channels (internal whistle-blowing intention), incorporating a joint moderator that combines perceived ethical climate and proactive personality.

After analysing data from 726 employees in China, the results show that organisational identification is positively associated with internal whistle-blowing intention and that the relationship is jointly moderated by perceived ethical climate and proactive personality, i.e. organisational identification more positively predicts internal whistle-blowing intention in individuals who have a high proactive personality and perceive a strong ethical climate.
The results are discussed in terms of the implications for theory and practice.

Liu, Yan, + four other authors. 2018. The relationship between organisational identification and internal whistle-blowing: the joint moderating effects of perceived ethical climate and proactive personality.

Review of Managerial Science, 12(1), 113-134.

Perceived ethical leadership and customer purchasing intentions
Ethical leadership has so far mainly been featured in the organisational behaviour domain and, as such, treated as an intra-organisational phenomenon. The present study seeks to highlight the relevance of ethical leadership for extra-organisational phenomena by combining the organisational behaviour perspective on ethical leadership with a classical marketing approach.

In particular, the authors demonstrate that customers may use perceived ethical leadership cues as additional reference points when forming purchasing intentions. In two experimental studies ( N  = 601 and N  = 336), the authors find that ethical leadership positively affects purchasing intentions because of customers’ concerns for moral self-congruence. The authors show this by means of both mediation and moderation analyses.

Interestingly, the effect of perceived ethical leadership on purchasing intentions holds over and above the ethical advertising claims (e.g., cause-related marketing) that are commonly used in marketing. The authors conclude by discussing the possible ramifications of ethical leadership beyond its effects on immediate employees.

Van Quaquebeke, Niels + three other authors. 2019. Perceived Ethical Leadership Affects Customer Purchasing Intentions Beyond Ethical Marketing in Advertising Due to Moral Identity Self-Congruence Concerns.

Journal of Business Ethics, 156(2), 357-376.