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.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Psychology
- Behavioral ethics
- Bottom-line mentality