Feeling Guilty and Entitled: Paradoxical Consequences of Unethical Pro-organizational Behavior

Journal of Business Ethics 183 (3):865-883 (2022)
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Abstract

Given the paradoxical nature of unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB), that it simultaneously involves sincere extraordinary efforts to help the organization but violates ethical norms, we examined its paradoxical psychological and behavioral outcomes in the workplace. We hypothesized that UPB generates simultaneous but conflicting feelings: On one hand, guilt (for having behaved unethically) and on the other, psychological entitlement (for having done something positive for the organization). In turn, these conflicting psychological states differentially affect two conflicting behaviors. Feelings of guilt motivate customer service behavior but reduce self-serving cheating, whereas psychological entitlement does the opposite. We further hypothesized that moral identity centrality moderates the paradoxical effects of UPB. Data from three studies using experimental and field methodologies demonstrated support for all hypotheses. We discuss the theoretical and managerial implications of these findings.

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