Our research tidbits this week considers the factors that can predict unethical behaviour patterns or leanings.

Do power and status predict unethical decisions?

This study examines the varying roles of power, status, and national culture in unethical decision-making. Most research on unethical behaviour in organisations is grounded in Western societies; empirical comparative studies of the antecedents of unethical behaviour across nations are rare.

The authors conduct this comparative study using scenario studies with four conditions (high power vs. low power × high status vs. low status) in both China and Canada. The results demonstrate that power is positively related to unethical decision-making in both countries. Status has a positive effect on unethical decision-making and facilitates the unethical decisions of Canadian participants who have high power but not Chinese participants who have high power.

To explicate participants’ unethical decision-making rationales, the authors ask participants to justify their unethical decisions; the results reveal that Chinese participants are more likely to cite position differences, whereas Canadian participants are more likely to cite work effort and personal abilities. These findings expand theoretical research on the relationship between social hierarchy and unethical decision-making and provide practical insights on unethical behaviour in organisations.

Yongmei Liu, Sixuan Chen, Chris Bell & Justin Tan. 2020. How Do Power and Status Differ in Predicting Unethical Decisions? A Cross-National Comparison of China and Canada.

Journal of Business Ethics, 167(4), 745–760.

Do personality traits influence unethical behaviour?
In this paper, the authors examine the relationships between three of the Big 5 personality traits (conscientiousness, openness to experience, and agreeableness) and willingness to justify unethical behaviour.

The authors also consider the moderating relationship of four of the GLOBE cultural dimensions (institutional collectivism, humane orientation, performance orientation, and assertiveness) on the above relationship. The authors tested the propositions on a sample of 38,655 individuals from 23 different countries obtained from the latest data available from the World Values Survey Group’s survey (WVS 2014).

The authors found that conscientiousness and agreeableness were both negatively associated with willingness to justify unethical behaviour. The researchers also conducted Hierarchical Linear Modelling and found significant interaction effects of selected GLOBE cultural dimensions (humane orientation, assertiveness, institutional collectivism, and performance orientation) on the relationships between personality traits and willingness to justify unethical behaviour. The authors provide managerial implications of the findings, as well as suggestions for future research.

Aditya Simha & K. Praveen Parboteeah. 2020. The Big 5 Personality Traits and Willingness to Justify Unethical Behavior—A Cross-National Examination.

Journal of Business Ethics, 167(3), 451–471.

Does identifying with an organisation predict unethical behaviour?
Previous research indicates that the depletion of self-regulatory resources can promote unethical behaviour that benefits the self. Extending this literature, the authors focus on norm-transgressing behaviour that is intended to primarily benefit others. In particular, the authors predicted a differing effect of self-regulatory resource depletion on dishonesty that benefits one’s group, depending on the degree of identification with the group.

Following a dual process approach, the authors argue that if identification with the group is strong, then people may have an automatic inclination to benefit their group even perhaps by lying. In contrast, if identification with the group is weak, then the default, uncontrolled impulse may be to tell the truth. Accordingly, identification with the social group should interact with self-regulatory resource depletion in predicting group-benefiting dishonesty.

Focusing on pro-organisational dishonesty, the authors tested the hypotheses in one field study with 1269 employees and in one experimental study with 71 university students. As predicted, the results revealed a highly significant interaction of organisational identification and self-control strength: Depletion of self-regulatory resources increased the level of pro-organisational dishonesty among those who identify highly with the organisation, but decreased the level of such behaviour among those who identify less.

Carolin Baur, Roman Soucek, Ulrich Kühnen & Roy F. Baumeister. 2020. Unable to Resist the Temptation to Tell the Truth or to Lie for the Organization? Identification Makes the Difference.

Journal of Business Ethics, 167(4), 643–662.

Are the rich more (un)ethical than the poor?
Are the rich more unethical than the poor? To answer this question, the current research introduces a key conceptual distinction between selfish and unethical behaviour. Based on this distinction, the current article offers 2 novel findings that illuminate the relationship between social class and unethical behaviour.

First, the effects of social class on unethical behaviour are not invariant; rather, the effects of social class are moderated by whether unethical behaviour benefits the self or others. Replicating past work, social class positively predicted unethical behaviour; however, this relationship was only observed when that behaviour was self-beneficial. When unethical behaviour was performed to benefit others, social class negatively predicted unethical behaviour; lower class individuals were more likely than upper class individuals to engage in unethical behaviour.

Overall, social class predicts people’s tendency to behave selfishly, rather than predicting unethical behaviour per se. Second, individuals’ sense of power drove the effects of social class on unethical behaviour. Evidence for this relationship was provided in three forms.
First, income, but not education level, predicted unethical behaviour.
Second, feelings of power mediated the effect of social class on unethical behaviour, but feelings of status did not.
Third, two distinct manipulations of power produced the same moderation by self-versus-other beneficiary as was found with social class.

The current theoretical framework and data both synthesise and help to explain a range of findings in the social class and power literatures.

Dubois, D., Rucker, D., Galinsky, A. & Kawakami, K. 2015. Social Class, Power, and Selfishness: When and Why Upper and Lower Class Individuals Behave Unethically.

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108 (3), 436-449.

Do abusive supervision and employee Machiavellianism predict unethical behaviour?
Drawing on trait activation theory, these authors examine a person-situation interactionist model to predict unethical behaviour in organisations. In particular, they examine abusive supervision as a condition under which employee Machiavellianism (Mach) is activated and thus more strongly predicts unethical behaviour.

The authors offer a more fine-grained analysis of the Mach–trait activation process by specifically examining the interactive effect of each Mach dimension (viz., Distrust in Others, Desire for Control, Desire for Status, and Amoral Manipulation) and abusive supervision onto unethical behaviour. They collected multisource field data to test their hypotheses across two studies. The researchers then tested their theoretical model utilising an experimental design.

The results of the field studies indicate that the interaction of amoral manipulation and abusive supervision is the most predictive of unethical behaviour, whereas the experimental findings indicate that the interaction of desire for control and abusive supervision is the primary predictor of unethical behaviour. Implications for the Machiavellianism literature and trait activation theory are discussed.

Greenbaum, R., Hill, A., Mawritz, M. & Quade, M. 2017. Employee Machiavellianism to Unethical Behavior: The Role of Abusive Supervision as a Trait Activator.

Journal of Management, 43 (2), 585-609.