When People at Work Go Astray, What to Say and How to Say It: A Typology and Test of the Effect of Moral Feedback on Unethical Behavior
Unethical behavior is a phenomenon that is unavoidable in the workplace. Ethical transgressors, when caught, often receive feedback regarding their actions. Though such moral feedback—feedback that is in response to an ethical transgression—may be aimed at curtailing future unethical behavior, I seek to demonstrate that under certain conditions, moral feedback may promote subsequent unethical behavior. Specifically, I propose that moral intensity and affective tone are two primary dimensions of moral feedback that work together to affect ethical transgressor moral disengagement and future behavior. The notion of moral disengagement, which occurs when self-regulatory systems are deactivated, may account for situations whereby individuals perform unethical acts without associated guilt. Despite the burgeoning literature on this theme, research has yet to examine whether feedback from one individual can influence another individual’s moral disengagement. This is surprising considering the idea of moral disengagement stems from social cognitive theory which emphasizes the role that external factors have in affecting behavior. With my dissertation, I draw from research primarily in social psychology to explore how moral feedback affects transgressor moral disengagement. To do so, I develop a typology of moral feedback and test how each moral feedback type affects transgressor future behavior through moral disengagement.