Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 156, Issue 1, pp 173–188 | Cite as

Understanding the Effects of Political Environments on Unethical Behavior in Organizations

  • Matthew ValleEmail author
  • K. Michele Kacmar
  • Suzanne Zivnuska
Original Paper


Based on a framework that integrates job demands-resources theory (Bakker and Demerouti in J Manag Psychol 22:309–328, 2007), social cognitive theory (Bandura in Social foundations of thought and action, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1986; in Pervin L, John O (eds) Handbook of personality, Guilford Press, New York, pp 154–196, 1999) and regulatory focus theory (Higgins in Am Psychol 52:1280–1300, 1997), the purpose of this research is to investigate the relationship between perceptions of organizational politics and subsequent moral disengagement and unethical behavior. We conducted a laboratory study and also collected data in two separate surveys 6 weeks apart from 206 individuals working full time to investigate the relationships presented in our model. In both studies, we examined the direct relationship of politics perceptions on unethical behavior in organizations as well as the indirect relationship through the influence of moral disengagement. We investigated the moderating effect of regulatory focus (prevention-focus and promotion-focus) on the relationship between moral disengagement and unethical behavior using the survey data. Results indicated that perceptions of politics were significantly related to our mediator, moral disengagement, which was significantly related to our dependent variable, unethical behavior. However, only prevention-focus moderated the relationships examined. Implications for future research and managerial practice are discussed.


Politics Moral disengagement Regulatory focus Unethical behavior 



This study was funded through the Award of University Professional Development funds provided to Matthew Valle and Suzanne Zivnuska. No outside funding was obtained/used.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Atinc, G., Darrat, M., Fuller, B., & Parker, B. W. (2010). Perceptions of organizational politics: A meta-analysis of theoretical antecedents. Journal of Managerial Issues, 22, 494–513.Google Scholar
  2. Bacharach, S. B., Bamberger, P., & Conley, S. C. (1990). Work processes, role conflict, and role overload: The case of nurses and engineers in the public sector. Work and Occupations, 17, 199–228.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22, 309–328.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  5. Bandura, A. (1990). Selective activation and disengagement of moral control. Journal of Social Issues, 46, 27–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bandura, A. (1991). Social cognitive theory of moral thought and action. In W. M. Kurtines & J. L. Gewirtz (Eds.), Handbook of moral behavior and development: Theory, research, and applications (pp. 45–103). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  7. Bandura, A. (1999). Social cognitive theory of personality. In L. Pervin & O. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality (pp. 154–196). New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bandura, A. (2015). Moral disengagement: How people do harm and live with themselves. New York, NY: Worth.Google Scholar
  9. Barsky, A. (2011). Investigating the effects of moral disengagement and participation in unethical work behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 104, 59–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Beaudoin, C. A., Cianci, A. M., & Tsakumis, G. T. (2015). The impact of CFOs’ incentives and earnings management ethics on their financial reporting decisions: The mediating role of moral disengagement. Journal of Business Ethics, 128, 505–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Becker, T. E. (2005). Potential problems in the statistical control of variables in organizational research: A qualitative analysis with recommendations. Organizational Research Methods, 8, 274–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bedi, A., & Schat, A. C. H. (2013). Perceptions of organizational politics: A meta-analysis of its attitudinal, health, and behavioural consequences. Canadian Psychology, 54, 246–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Beersma, B., Homan, A. C., Van Kleef, G. A., & De Dreu, C. K. W. (2013). Outcome interdependence shapes the effects of prevention focus on team processes and performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 121, 194–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Beu, D. S., & Buckley, M. R. (2004). This is war: How the politically astute achieve crimes of disobedience through the use of moral disengagement. Leadership Quarterly, 15, 551–568.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bock, T. D., & Kenhove, P. V. (2010). Consumer ethics: The role of self-regulatory focus. Journal of Business Ethics, 97, 241–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Buchanan, D. (2008). You stab my back, I’ll stab yours: Management experience and perceptions of organization political behavior. British Journal of Management, 19, 49–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Carlson, K. D., & Wu, J. (2012). The illusion of statistical control: Control variable practice in management research. Organizational Research Methods, 15, 413–435.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Caruso, E. M., & Gino, F. (2011). Blind ethics: Closing one’s eyes polarizes moral judgment and discourages dishonest behavior. Cognition, 118, 280–285.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Chang, C. H., Rosen, C. C., & Levy, P. E. (2009). The relationship between perceptions of organizational politics and employee attitudes, strain, and behavior: A meta-analytic examination. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 779–801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chang, C., Rosen, C. C., Siemieniec, G. M., & Johnson, R. E. (2012). Perceptions of organizational politics and employee citizenship behaviors: Conscientiousness and self-monitoring as moderators. Journal of Business and Psychology, 27, 395–406.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Chowdhury, R. M. I., & Fernando, M. (2014). The relationships of empathy, moral identity and cynicism with consumers’ ethical beliefs: The mediating role of moral disengagement. Journal of Business Ethics, 124, 677–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Christian, J. S., & Ellis, A. P. J. (2014). The crucial role of turnover intentions in transforming moral disengagement into deviant behavior at work. Journal of Business Ethics, 119, 193–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Chugh, D., Bazerman, M., & Banaji, M. (2005). Bounded ethicality as a psychological barrier to recognizing conflicts of interest. In D. Moore, D. Cain, G. Lowenstein, & M. Bazerman (Eds.), Conflict of interest: Challenges and solutions in business, law, medicine, and public policy (pp. 74–95). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Cohen, A. (2015). Organizational politics. In Fairness in the workplace: A global perspective (pp. 31–42). Palgrave MacMillan.Google Scholar
  25. Cropanzano, R., Howes, J. C., Grandey, A. A., & Toth, H. P. (1997). The relationship of organizational politics and support to work behaviors, attitudes, and stress. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 18, 159–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Crowe, E., & Higgins, E. T. (1997). Regulatory focus and strategic inclinations: Promotion and prevention in decision-making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 69, 117–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., Nachreiner, F., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2001). The job demands-resources model of burnout. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 499–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Detert, J. R., Treviño, L. K., & Sweitzer, V. L. (2008). Moral disengagement in ethical decision making: A study of antecedents and outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 374–391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dukerich, J. M., Kramer, R. M., & Parks, J. M. (1998). The dark side of organizational identification. In D. Whetten & P. Godfrey (Eds.), Identity in organizations: Developing theory through conversations (pp. 245–256). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  30. Ellen, B., Ferris, G., & Buckley, M. (2013). Leader political support: Reconsidering leader political behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 24, 842–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fedor, D., Maslyn, J., Farmer, S., & Bettenhausen, K. (2008). The contributions of positive politics to prediction of employee reactions. Journal Applied Social Psychology, 38, 76–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ferris, G. R., Frink, D. D., Galang, M. C., Zhou, J., Kacmar, K. M., & Howard, J. L. (1996). Perceptions of organizational politics: Predictors, stress-related implications, and outcomes. Human Relations, 49, 233–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ferris, G. R., Frink, D. D., Gilmore, D. C., & Kacmar, K. M. (1994). Understanding politics: Antidote for the dysfunctional consequences of organizational politics as a stressor. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 24, 1204–1220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ferris, G. R., & Hochwarter, W. A. (2011). Organizational politics. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), APA handbook of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 435–459). Washington, DC: APA.Google Scholar
  35. Ferris, G. R., & Kacmar, K. M. (1992). Perceptions of organizational politics. Journal of Management, 18, 93–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ferris, G. R., Russ, G. S., & Fandt, P. M. (1989). Politics in organizations. In R. A. Giacalone & P. Rosenfeld (Eds.), Impression management in the organization (pp. 143–170). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  37. Ferris, G. R., Treadway, D. C., Perrewe, P. L., Brouer, R. L., Douglas, C., & Lux, S. (2007). Political skill in organizations. Journal of Management, 33, 290–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ferris, G. R., & Treadway, D. C. (Eds.). (2012). Politics in organizations: Theory and research considerations. New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  39. Fornell, C. D., & Larcker, F. (1981). Evaluating structural equation models with unobservable variables and measurement errors. Journal of Marketing Research, 18, 39–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Franke, G. R., Crown, D. F., & Spake, D. F. (1997). Gender differences in ethical perceptions of business practices: A social role theory perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 920–934.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gandz, J., & Murray, V. V. (1980). The experience of workplace politics. Academy of Management Journal, 23, 237–251.Google Scholar
  42. Gilmore, D. C., Ferris, G. R., Dulebohn, J. H., & Harrell-Cook, G. (1996). Organizational politics and employee attendance. Group and Organization Management, 21, 481–494.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Gino, F., Schweitzer, M. E., Mead, N. L., & Ariely, D. (2011). Unable to resist temptation: How self-control depletion promotes unethical behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 115, 191–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Gotsis, G., & Kortezi, Z. (2010). Ethical considerations in organizational politics: Expanding the perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 93, 497–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Graham, K. A., Ziegert, J. C., & Capitano, J. (2015). The effect of leadership style, framing, and promotion regulatory focus on unethical pro-organizational behavior. Journal of Business Ethics, 126, 423–436.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Hall, A., Hochwarter, W., Ferris, G., & Bowen, M. (2004). The dark side of politics in organizations. In R. Griffin & A. O’Leary-Kelly (Eds.), The dark side of organizational behavior (pp. 237–261). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  47. Hayes, A. F. (2013). Introduction to mediation, moderation, and conditional process analysis: A regression-based approach. New York, NY: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  48. Higgins, E. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52, 1280–1300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Higgins, E. (1998). Promotion and prevention: Regulatory focus as a motivational principle. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 30, pp. 1–46). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  50. Hochwarter, W. (2012). The positive side of organizational politics. In G. Ferris & D. Treadway (Eds.), Politics in organizations: Theory and research considerations (pp. 20–45). New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  51. Hochwarter, W. A., & Treadway, D. C. (2003). The interactive effects of negative and positive affect on the politics perceptions-job satisfaction relationship. Journal of Management, 29, 551–567.Google Scholar
  52. Hymel, S., Rocke-Henderson, N., & Bonnano, R. A. (2005). Moral disengagement: A framework for understanding bullying among adolescents. Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 1–11.Google Scholar
  53. Johnson, J. F., & Buckley, R. M. (2014). Multi-level organizational moral disengagement: Directions for future investigation. Journal of Business Ethics, 130, 291–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Johnson, R. E., Chang, C., & Yang, L. (2010). Commitment and motivation at work: The relevance of employee identity and regulatory focus. Academy of Management Review, 35, 226–245.Google Scholar
  55. Kacmar, K. M., Bozeman, D. P., Carlson, D. S., & Anthony, W. P. (1999). An Examination of the perceptions of organizational politics model: Replication and extension. Human Relations, 52, 383–416.Google Scholar
  56. Kacmar, K. M., & Carlson, D. S. (1997). Further validation of the perceptions of politics scale (Pops): A multiple sample investigation. Journal of Management, 23, 627–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Kane-Frieder, R., Hochwarter, W. A., & Ferris, G. R. (2014a). Terms of engagement: Political boundaries of work engagement-work outcomes relationships. Human Relations, 67, 357–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Kane-Frieder, R., Hochwarter, W. A., Hampton, H. L., & Ferris, G. R. (2014b). Supervisor political support as a buffer to subordinates’ reactions to politics perceptions. Career Development International, 19, 27–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Kark, R., & Van Dijk, D. (2007). Motivation to lead, motivation to follow: The role of the self-regulatory focus in leadership processes. Academy of Management Review, 32, 500–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Kish-Gephart, J. J., Harrison, D. A., & Treviño, L. K. (2010). Bad apples, bad cases, and bad barrels: Meta-analytic evidence about sources of unethical decisions at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 1–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lanaj, K., Chang, C., & Johnson, R. E. (2012). Regulatory focus and work-related outcomes: A review and meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 138, 998–1034.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Landells, E. M., & Albrecht, S. L. (2016). The positives and negatives of organizational politics: A qualitative study. Journal of Business and Psychology. doi: 10.1007/s10869-015-9434-5. (in press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Lindell, M. K., & Whitney, D. J. (2001). Accounting for common method variance in cross-sectional research designs. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 114–121.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Meisler, G., & Vigoda-Gadot, E. (2014). Perceived organizational politics, emotional intelligence and work outcomes. Personnel Review, 43, 116–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Miller, B. K., Rutherford, M. A., & Kolodinsky, R. W. (2008). Perceptions of organizational politics: A meta-analysis of outcomes. Journal of Business and Psychology, 22(3), 209–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Mischel, W. (1968). Personality and assessment. New York, NY: Wiley.Google Scholar
  67. Mitchell, T. R., Holtom, B. C., Lee, T. W., Sablynski, C. J., & Erez, M. (2001). Why people stay: Using job embeddedness to predict voluntary turnover. Academy of Management Journal, 44, 1102–1121.Google Scholar
  68. Moore, C. (2008). Moral disengagement in processes of organizational corruption. Journal of Business Ethics, 80, 129–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Moore, C. (2015). Moral disengagement. Current Opinion in Psychology, 6, 199–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Moore, C., Detert, J. R., Trevino, K., Baker, V. L., & Mayer, D. M. (2012). Why employees do bad things: Moral disengagement and unethical organizational behavior. Personnel Psychology, 65, 1–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Morrison, E. W., & Robinson, S. L. (1997). When employees feel betrayed: A model of how psychological contract violation develops. Academy of Management Review, 22, 226–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Munyon, T., Summers, J., Thompson, K., & Ferris, G. (2015). Political skill and work outcomes: A theoretical extension, meta-analytic investigation, and agenda for the future. Personnel Psychology, 68, 143–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Neubert, M. J., Kacmar, K. M., Carlson, D. S., Chonko, L. B., & Roberts, J. A. (2008). Regulatory focus as a mediator of the influence of initiating structure and servant leadership on employee behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1220–1233.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Piccolo, R. F., & Colquitt, J. A. (2006). Transformational leadership and job behaviors: The mediating role of core job characteristics. Academy of Management Journal, 49, 327–340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Podsakoff, P. M., MacKenzie, S. M., Lee, J., & Podsakoff, N. P. (2003). Common method variance in behavioral research: A critical review of the literature and recommended remedies. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 879–903.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Robinson, S., & Bennett, R. (1997). Workplace deviance: Its definition, its manifestations, and its causes. Research on Negotiations in Organizations, 6, 3–27.Google Scholar
  77. Rosen, C. C., Harris, K. J., & Kacmar, K. M. (2009). The emotional implications of organizational politics: A process model. Human Relations, 62, 27–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Rosen, C., & Hochwarter, W. (2014). Looking back and falling further behind: The moderating role of rumination on the relationship between organizational politics and employee attitudes, well-being, and performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 124, 177–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Shrout, P. E., & Bolger, N. (2002). Mediation in experimental and nonexperimental studies: New procedures and recommendations. Psychological Methods, 7, 422–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Tenbrunsel, A. E., & Messick, D. M. (2004). Ethical fading: The role of self-deception in unethical behavior. Social Justice Research, 17, 223–236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Treviño, L. K., & Youngblood, S. A. (1990). Bad apples in bad barrels: A causal analysis of ethical decision-making behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 75, 378–385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Umphress, E. E., Bingham, J. B., & Mitchell, M. S. (2010). Unethical behaviors in the name of the company: The moderating effect of organizational identification and positive reciprocity beliefs on unethical pro-organizational behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95, 769–780.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Vadera, A. K., & Pratt, M. G. (2013). Love, hate, ambivalence, or indifference? A conceptual examination of workplace crimes and organizational identification. Organization Science, 24, 172–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Valle, M., & Perrewè, P. L. (2000). Do politics perceptions relate to political behaviors? Tests of an implicit assumption and expanded model. Human Relations, 53, 359–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Vigoda, E. (2000). Organizational politics, job attitudes, and work outcomes: Exploration and implications for the public sector. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 57, 326–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Vigoda, E. (2002). Stress-related aftermaths to workplace politics: The relationships among politics, job distress, and aggressive behavior in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23, 571–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Werhane, P. H., Hartman, L. P., Archer, C., Englehardt, E. F., & Pritchard, M. S. (2013). Obstacles to ethical decision-making. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Zhou, J., & Ferris, G. R. (1995). The dimensions and consequences of organizational politics perceptions: A confirmatory analysis. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 25, 1747–1764.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Zivnuska, S., Kacmar, K. M., Witt, L. A., Carlson, D. S., & Bratton, V. K. (2004). Interactive effects of impression management and organizational politics on job performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 25, 627–640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matthew Valle
    • 1
    Email author
  • K. Michele Kacmar
    • 2
  • Suzanne Zivnuska
    • 3
  1. 1.Martha and Spencer Love Professor of Business, Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Martha and Spencer Love School of BusinessElon UniversityElonUSA
  2. 2.Fields Chair of Ethics and Corporate Responsibility, Department of Management, McCoy College of BusinessTexas State UniversitySan MarcosUSA
  3. 3.Department of Management, College of BusinessCalifornia State UniversityChicoUSA

Personalised recommendations