When Moral Tension Begets Cognitive Dissonance: An Investigation of Responses to Unethical Pro-Organizational Behavior and the Contingent Effect of Construal Level

Journal of Business Ethics 180 (1):339-353 (2021)
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Research on unethical pro-organizational behavior has predominantly focused on its antecedents, while overlooking how engaging in such behavior might affect employees’ psychological experience and their downstream work behaviors. Integrating cognitive dissonance theory with the moral identity literature, we argue that engaging in UPB restricts moral identity internalization as a result of attempts to alleviate the cognitive dissonance about moral self-regard, which in turn translates into decreased organizational citizenship behavior and increased counterproductive workplace behavior. Moreover, employees’ construal level weakens these indirect effects by alleviating the negative effect of engaging in UPB on moral identity internalization. The results from one experimental study and one multi-wave, multisource field study provide support for these predictions. Our research extends knowledge on the negative consequences of UPB for actors and organizations.



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