Journal of Business Ethics Accepts Paper Co-Authored by School of Business Faculty

4.15.2024 Article, Ethics, Faculty News, Leadership
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A paper co-authored by James Farr Fellow and Associate Professor of Management John Sumanth, J. Tylee Wilson Chair in Business Ethics and Professor of Management Sean Hannah, Associate Dean of the Undergraduate Business Program and Associate Professor of Marketing Kenny Herbst, and Professor Emeritus Ron Thompson has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Business Ethics.

In their paper, “Generating the Moral Agency to Report Peers’ Counterproductive Work Behavior in Normal and Extreme Contexts: The Generative Roles of Ethical Leadership, Moral Potency, and Psychological Safety,” the team utilizes Bandura’s Theory of Moral Thought and Action as a lens through which to better understand employees’ willingness to report their peers’ counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) and the contextual forces shaping this motivation.

Across three field studies of working professionals in both normal and extreme contexts, the researchers find that moral potency acts as a key driver of peer reporting intentions and that three critical contextual factors also influence the generation and effects of moral potency: Whether a potential informant 1) works for an ethical leader, 2) is embedded in a psychologically safe climate promoting interpersonal risk-taking, and 3) operates in a more normal or extreme context.

“Getting co-workers to report their peers’ wrongdoing is no easy task, it requires a great deal of courage to speak up,” said Sumanth. “In our latest research, we find that in traditional office environments, working for ethical leaders and in a psychologically safe climate – where people can easily express their ideas and/or concerns without fear of reprisal – can help generate the moral courage employees need to be willing to report their peers’ counterproductive work behaviors.”

Across normal work contexts, such as traditional office environments, high levels of psychological safety strengthened the relationships between ethical leadership and moral potency and between moral potency and peer reporting intentions. However, in more extreme work contexts, psychological safety had the opposite effects.

“In more extreme work contexts, such as firefighting units, where teammates have significant interdependencies for each other’s safety and wellbeing, we interestingly find that psychological safety reduced employees’ desire to report their peers, particularly when firefighters had been exposed to a high number of extreme events,” said Sumanth.

“We suspect that the strong social cohesion and team norms many firefighting units enjoy may operate as a critical boundary condition that constrains the positive effects of psychological safety and discourages individuals from acting against their peers for minor transgressions that do not directly impact the core mission of the team. Thus, leaders need to think about how to cultivate higher levels of psychological safety, while recognizing its potential downsides in certain contexts, if they want to ultimately reduce the levels of CWBs in their workplace.”

Recognized as one of the 50 journals used by the Financial Times in the prestigious Business School research rank, the Journal of Business Ethics aims to improve the human condition by promoting ethical discussion and debate in business.