Employee unethical behavior to shame as an indicator of self-image threat and exemplification as a form of self-image protection: The exacerbating role of supervisor bottom-line mentality

Julena M. Bonner, Rebecca L. Greenbaum, Matthew J. Quade

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations

Abstract

Employee unethical behavior continues to be an area of interest as real-world business scandals persist. We investigate what happens after people engage in unethical behavior. Drawing from emotion theories (e.g., Tangney & Dearing, 2002) and the self-presentation literature (e.g., Leary & Miller, 2000), we first argue that people are socialized to experience shame after moral violations (Hypothesis 1). People then manage their shame and try to protect their self-images by engaging in exemplification behaviors (i.e., self-sacrificial behaviors that give the attribution of being a dedicated person; Hypothesis 2). We also examine the moderating role of supervisor bottom-line mentality (BLM; i.e., a supervisor's singular focus on pursuing bottom-line outcomes) in relation to our theoretical model. We argue that high supervisor BLM intensifies the employee unethical behavior to shame relationship (Hypothesis 3) and results in heightened exemplification as a way to protect one's self-image by portraying the self as a dedicated person who is worthy of association (Hypothesis 4). We test our theoretical model across 2 experimental studies and 2 field studies. Although our results provide general support for Hypotheses 1, 2, and 3, our results produced mixed findings for Hypothesis 4. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1203-1221
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Volume102
Issue number8
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology

Keywords

  • Behavioral ethics
  • Bottom-line mentality
  • Exemplification
  • Self-presentation
  • Shame

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