Making our groups better? The roles of moral disengagement and group identification in the learning of pro‐group unethical behaviour

Julie N. Y. ZHU, Long W. LAM, Yolanda Na LI, Maggie Q. SHAO*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

Abstract

Pro-group unethical behaviour (PGUB) refers to a set of behaviours that conflict with moral standards but are beneficial to the interests of an actor's workgroup. Drawing on social cognitive theory, this research investigates whether, how, and when perceived co-worker PGUB leads employees to engage in the same unethical behaviour. We propose that moral disengagement is a crucial mechanism through which PGUB is transmitted from co-workers to employees and that this relationship is further amplified by employees' group identification. The results of three field studies featuring different samples consistently highlight the mediating role of moral disengagement in the relationship between perceived co-worker PGUB and employee PGUB. Furthermore, employees who identify strongly with their workgroup are more likely to exhibit moral disengagement and learn their co-workers' PGUB than are employees with low group identification. The findings of this research provide insights for both theory and practice.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology
Early online date25 Jun 2024
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Jun 2024

Bibliographical note

This research shows that PGUB can spread within workgroups. We introduce moral disengagement as the cognitive process by which employees learn such unethical behaviours with good intentions. Our findings identify group identification as a crucial boundary condition that can strengthen the learning effect. As such, our research sheds new light on the roles of moral disengagement and group identification in shaping ethical judgements and in the learning of unethical behaviour in the workplace.

Publisher Copyright: © 2024 The Author(s). Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of The British Psychological Society.

Keywords

  • group identification
  • moral disengagement
  • pro-group unethical behaviour
  • social cognitive theory

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