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Monday, June 30, 2014

Unethical for the Sake of the Group

Risk of social exclusion and pro-group unethical behavior

By S. Thau, R. Defler-Rozin, M. Marko and others
Journal of Applied Psychology, Apr 28 , 2014, No Pagination Specified. doi: 10.1037/a0036708


This research tested the idea that the risk of exclusion from one’s group motivates group members to engage in unethical behaviors that secure better outcomes for the group (pro-group unethical behaviors). We theorized that this effect occurs because those at risk of exclusion seek to improve their inclusionary status by engaging in unethical behaviors that benefit the group; we tested this assumption by examining how the effect of exclusion risk on pro-group unethical behavior varies as a function of group members’ need for inclusion. A 2-wave field study conducted among a diverse sample of employees working in groups (Study 1) and a constructive replication using a laboratory experiment (Study 2) provided converging evidence for the theory. Study 1 found that perceived risk of exclusion from one’s workgroup predicted employees’ engagement in pro-group unethical behaviors, but only when employees have a high (not low) need for inclusion. In Study 2, compared to low risk of exclusion from a group, high risk of exclusion led to more pro-group (but not pro-self) unethical behaviors, but only for participants with a high (not low) need for inclusion. We discuss implications for theory and the management of unethical behaviors in organizations.


Rising reports of corporate scandals and incidents of employees engaging in behaviors that are considered "illegal or morally unacceptable to the larger community" (Jones, 1991, p. 367) have increased scholarly attention to the nature and causes of unethical behavior in organizations.

Examples of unethical behaviors include stealing from one's employer, deceiving customers, and misrepresenting performance (Trevino, den Nieuwenboer, & Kish- Gephart, 2014).

The costs associated with just one type of these behaviors--employee theft--are estimated at as much as $40 billion yearly (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2013), which is nearly ten times the cost of all street crime combined, including burglaries and robberies (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2011).

A large body of research has identified characteristics of individuals, moral issues, and organizational contexts as antecedents of unethical behavior (Kish-Gephart, Harrison, & Trevin~o, 2010; Trevino, 1986; Trevino et al., 2014; Trevino, Weaver, & Reynolds, 2006).

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Reprints for the article can be emailed to this author.

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