Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Psychological Contract Breach, Organizational Disidentification, and Employees' Unethical Behavior: Organizational Ethical Climate as Moderator

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Psychological Contract Breach, Organizational Disidentification, and Employees' Unethical Behavior: Organizational Ethical Climate as Moderator

Article excerpt

Employees' unethical behavior refers to an employee's behavior that is either illegal or morally unacceptable to the wider community. The negative effects of employees' unethical behavior on organizations are not only serious but also extensive. This behavior may cause pecuniary loss (e.g., through stealing or responsibility shirking), reputational damage (e.g., through cheating or dishonesty), and lack of legitimacy (e.g., through cheating or bribery), and has thus been extensively researched over the past decade (Nafei, 2015). Further, unethical behavior can spread beyond the original setting (Gino, Ayal, & Ariely, 2009; Kaptein, 2011).

The approach of previous researchers to the mechanism of unethical behavior has been from three perspectives: bad apple (Trevino & Youngblood, 1990), bad barrel (Welsh & Ordóñez, 2014), and interactionist (Brass, Butterfield, & Skaggs, 1998; Treviño, Weaver, & Reynolds, 2006), in which unethical behavior is attributed to personal traits (such as gender, age, education level, work experience, moral philosophy, moral values, Machiavellian doctrine, and locus of control), institutionalization of ethics (environmental factors, such as competitive intensity, work goal setting, and rewards and punishment), or interaction between personal and environmental factors. We considered that the interactionist perspective that integrated the other two perspectives was explanatorily advantageous. However, although the interaction's effect on unethical behavior in an organization was emphasized in this perspective (Treviño, et al, 2006), how the consequence of specific interactions affected employees' unethical behavior or when this would happen, was not explained. Thus, we aimed to refine the interactionist perspective and develop a theory to explain the mechanism of employees' unethical behavior.

Within a hierarchical organization, the most important interaction occurs between employees and their supervisor, and this results in various organizational performances and individual subjective beliefs (Settoon, Bennett, & Liden, 1996). Of these subjective beliefs that determine employees' behavior change, psychological contract is one (Randall, 1989). Psychological contract refers to a belief in payment in exchange for reciprocal obligations. The belief is that some form of a promise has been made and that the terms and conditions of the contract have been accepted by both parties (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994).

Psychological contract breach refers to an employee's perception that the organization has failed to meet its obligations to him or her (Robinson, 1996). Previous researchers have focused on the suppressive effect of psychological contract breach on employees' positive behavior, such as conscientiousness, creative behavior, organizational citizenship behavior, and job satisfaction (Kiazad, Seibert, & Kraimer, 2014; Rayton & Yalabik, 2014; Restubog, Bordia, & Tang, 2006; Restubog, Hornsey, Bordia, & Esposo, 2008), but they have rarely focused on the facilitating effect of psychological contract breach on employees' negative behavior, such as counterproductive or deviant behavior. Recently, empirical researchers have reported that psychological contract breach can result in employees' unethical behavior (Hill, Eckerd, Wilson, & Greer, 2009; Restubog, Zagenczyk, Bordia, Bordia, & Chapman, 2015). However, although Johnson and O'Leary-Kelly (2003) explained that each psychological contract breach is not equal, to our knowledge, there is no theory that explains why psychological contract breach sometimes results in employees' unethical behavior, rather than employees reducing their positive behavior. In this study, we set out to address this gap.

We therefore aimed to make three main contributions to the literature. First, we examined a relatively new antecedent of employees' unethical behavior, namely, psychological contract breach, which we argued is a personal rather than an interactive factor. …

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