Contagious business: when we copy unethical behavior

Ponsioen, S., 2014, Groningen: University of Groningen, SOM research school. 163 p.

Research output: ThesisThesis fully internal (DIV)Academic

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Unethical behavior in organizations is an unfortunate phenomenon, causing a continuous effort of both scholars and practitioners to effectively reduce such behavior. This dissertation aims to enhance our understanding of unethical behavior in organizations by showing under what circumstances social interactions cause unethical behavior to be copied by one employee from another. Results show how individual attributes may cause some individuals to be more inclined than others to copy observed unethical behavior. More specific, people that have a high tendency to morally disengage are more susceptible to copy unethical behavior from a colleague, but only when their moral identity is low. Also, the results show that the interpersonal relation between the behavioral exemplar and the observer is of importance; status of the behavioral exemplar impacts one’s susceptibility to copy behavior of this exemplar. The specific direction of this influence depends on the type of behavior. People are more inclined to copy ethical behavior from colleagues with a high status, whereas unethical behavior is less likely to be copied from high status colleagues. Last, the influence of the organizational context was studied by looking at one’s degree of identification with the organization. Results show that employees are more willing to copy unethical behavior when their commitment with the organization is low. However, when the unethical behavior at stake is seemingly beneficial to the organization, employees that highly identify with the organization are more likely to follow and act upon unethical exemplars. Different theoretical and practical implications are drawn.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
Award date17-Apr-2014
Place of PublicationGroningen
Print ISBNs978-90-367-6899-3
Electronic ISBNs978-90-367-6898-6
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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