Our research tidbits this week looks at what influences ethical behaviour in the workplace.

Understanding how leaders’ humility promotes followers’ emotions and ethical behaviours: Workplace spirituality as a mediator
We propose a meditational model that explains why and how leaders’ humility manifests into followers’ empathy, gratitude, and ethical behaviours. Building on social information-processing theory (SIP), the authors hypothesise that, when a leader has a high level of humility, his or her followers receive signals that increase perceptions of workplace spirituality, which fosters an environment of ethical behaviour, empathy, and gratitude.

The authors collected time-lagged survey data (three time intervals, each a month apart) from employees and their colleagues (n = 286) in nine organisations in Pakistan’s telecom, education, and industrial sectors. Using structural equation modelling (SEM), the authors show that a leader’s humility predicts his or her employees’ ethical behaviours, empathy, and gratitude. Moreover, perceptions of workplace spirituality mediated the time-lagged effects of a leader’s humility on his or her followers’ ethical behaviours, empathy, and gratitude.

The findings largely support the theoretical foundations that indicate that a leader’s humility has important implications for his or her followers’ positive emotions and behaviours through a unique process involving workplace spirituality.

Naseer, Saima, Syed, Fauzia, Nauman, Shazia, Fatima, Tasneem, Jameel, Ifrah & Riaz, Namra. 2020. Understanding how leaders’ humility promotes followers’ emotions and ethical behaviors: Workplace spirituality as a mediator.

The Journal of Positive Psychology, 15 (3), 407-419.

Link between organisational identification and counterproductive work behaviours
Although counterproductive work behaviours can be extremely damaging to organisations and society as a whole, we do not yet fully understand the link between employees’ organisational attachment and their intention to engage in such behaviours.

Based on social identity theory, the authors predicted a negative relationship between organisational identification and counterproductive work behaviours. The authors also predicted that this relationship would be moderated by ambivalent identification. The authors explored counterproductive work behaviours toward the organisation (CWB-O) and other individuals (CWB-I). Study 1, a survey of 198 employees, revealed that employees who identified strongly with their organisation reported lower levels of CWB-O, but as predicted, only when ambivalent identification was low. Study 2 involved a manipulation in the form of a scenario presented to 228 U.S. employees, generally replicated the findings of Study 1: the link between organisational identification and CWB-O was stronger for participants in the low ambivalence condition than for those in the high ambivalence condition.

The interaction effect of ambivalent and organisational identification on CWB-I was only marginally significant in the second study. These findings provide new evidence for the positive influence of organisational identification under conditions of low ambivalence on counterproductive behaviours toward an organisation.

Valeria Ciampa, Moritz Sirowatka, Sebastian C. Schuh, Franco Fraccaroli & Rolf van Dick. 2021. Ambivalent Identification as a Moderator of the Link Between Organizational Identification and Counterproductive Work Behaviors.

Journal of Business Ethics, 169(1), 119–134.

The more a supervisor is cc’d on email, the less trust is felt
The issue of trust has increasingly attracted attention in the business ethics literature. The aim is to contribute further to this literature by examining how the use of the carbon copy (cc) function in email communication influences felt trust.

The authors develop the argument that the use of cc enhances transparency—representing an important characteristic of workplace ethics—and hence promotes trust. The authors further argue that a downside of the cc option may be that it can also be experienced as a control mechanism, which may therefore negatively affect trust.

The results of the first study showed that the use of cc indeed enhances perceived transparency, but at the same time also leads to the experience of increased control. Building upon this insight, the findings of five subsequent studies consistently revealed that the use of cc negatively influences felt trust. More precisely, employees felt trusted the least when the supervisor was always included in cc (Studies 2 and 3). This effect on felt trust also negatively influenced how trustworthy the organisational climate was perceived (Study 4). The authors further replicated these results in two field surveys, which showed that the negative effect of cc on felt trust lowered perceptions of psychological safety (Study 5) and contributed to a culture of fear (Study 6).

Taken together, the findings suggest that when transparency in email communications is experienced as a control mechanism, its use is perceived as unethical, rather than as ethical. Implications and recommendations for future business ethics research are discussed.

Tessa Haesevoets, David De Cremer, Leander De Schutter, Jack McGuire, Yu Yang, Xie Jian & Alain Van Hiel. 2021. Transparency and Control in Email Communication: The More the Supervisor is Put in cc the Less Trust is Felt.

Journal of Business Ethics, 164(3), 549–563.

Sustainability leadership: Can you drink money?
Social and environmental shocks associated with freshwater management are inherently tied with the lives and well-being of all global citizens. Thus, exploring key actors’ roles is a critical element of this grand challenge. Utilising an inductive multiple case study, the authors explore sustainability leadership and subsequent organisational perspective-taking behaviours initiated by actors within freshwater management in response to the grand challenge.

A vibrant inductive model elicited three main themes: (1) identifying conditions for organisational perspective-taking, (2) modifying organisational frames of reference and (3) emergence of multi-level influence. The discussion extracts critical insights for sustainability leadership and highlights complexities involved in facilitating effective decision-making among diverse actors.

Fundamentally, this article contributes a distinct multi-level systems framework for sustainability leadership drawing from social–ecological systems theory and organisational resilience. The authors conclude by offering future research opportunities within sustainability leadership designed to bridge the gap between grand challenges and our abilities to solve them.

Gerson Francis Tuazon, Rachel Wolfgramm & Kyle Powys Whyte. 2021. Can You Drink Money? Integrating Organizational Perspective-Taking and Organizational Resilience in a Multi-level Systems Framework for Sustainability Leadership.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 469–490.

Social capital and managers’ use of corporate resources
This study investigates how social capital affects managers’ use of corporate resources. The authors find that for firms located in U.S. counties with a high level of social capital, (i) corporate cash holdings have higher marginal value, (ii) the contribution of capital expenditures to shareholder value is higher, and (iii) acquirers experience higher announcement-period abnormal stock returns.

The authors further find that social capital decreases both over- and under-investment, and thus improves ex post corporate investment efficiency. The evidence suggests that in communities with a high level of social capital, strong social norms and dense social networks constrain unethical corporate behaviour, which induces more efficient use of corporate resources.

Ziqi Gao, Leye Li & Louise Yi Lu. 2021. Social Capital and Managers’ Use of Corporate Resources.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(3), 593–613.