Predicting someone’s propensity to morally disengage (IO Psychology)

Topic: Assessment, Personality, Ethics, Counter-Productive Work Behavior, Workplace Deviance
Publication: Personnel Psychology (SPRING 2012)
Article: Why employees do bad things: Moral disengagement and unethical organizational behavior
Authors: Celia Moore, James R. Detert, Linda Klebe Treviño, Vicki L. Baker, & David M. Mayer
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

Organizations obviously want their employees to be ethical. While there are existing measures that are used to predict who will act immorally, the authors of this paper proposed a new construct that they called an individual’s propensity to morally disengage – an individual difference in how people think about ethical decisions and behavior that allows them to act unethically without feeling bad about it.

Celia Moore and her colleagues developed a measure of an individual’s propensity to morally disengage. In a series of studies, they then validated the measure for working adults by showing that the propensity to morally disengage was positively related to unethical behavior after accounting for a number of other related traits, orientations, and emotions. Predicted outcomes included self-, supervisor-, and coworker-reported unethical behavior, decisions to commit fraud, and self-serving decisions in the workplace.

You may be wondering how this paper is relevant to practitioners. This new measure of the propensity to morally disengage predicts unethical behavior, and it is short – it only includes eight items. While it has yet to be validated for employee selection, this measure certainly shows promise for its ability to predict unethical behavior. The authors also found that this measure had a low correlation with social desirability, so it seems to be fairly resistant to test-takers faking their responses to receive a good score. If your organization is using a lengthy integrity test in the selection process for the sole purpose of predicting those who would conduct unethical behavior, then this new measure may be something your organization might want to consider using instead.

Moore, C., Detert, J. R., Treviño, L. K., Baker, V. L., & Mayer, D. M. (2012). Why employees do bad things: Moral disengagement and unethical organizational behavior. Personnel Psychology, 65, 1-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1744-6570.2011.01237.x

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management


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