Unethical behavior in organizations has attracted much attention among researchers, yet we know little about when and why unethical behavior conducted by leaders that is intended to benefit the organization—or leader unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB)—might translate into employee unethical behavior. Drawing on a social-learning-of-principle perspective, which proposes that people can learn the principles that govern observed behaviors, we propose that employees, especially those with a high power distance orientation, can abstract and learn a moral disengagement behavioral principle by observing leader UPB. This learned moral disengagement behavioral principle then enables them to engage in unethical behaviors that may be intended to benefit or harm their organizations. In two multiwave field studies with data collected from real estate agents, we found overall support for our theoretical model but the moderating effect of power distance orientation. We discuss some key theoretical and practical implications of these findings.
|Number of pages||30|
|Journal||Journal of Management|
|State||Published - Feb 2022|
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors would like to acknowledge that this research was supported by grants from the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (People’s Republic of China) to the first author (No. 16503715) and the third author (No. 641311) and the Natural Science Foundation of China to the second author (No. 12002340211). We would like to thank Crystal Farh for her help on an earlier version of this paper.
© The Author(s) 2020.
- leader unethical pro-organizational behavior
- moral disengagement
- power distance
- principle learning
- social learning
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Strategy and Management