Managers’ Restorative Versus Punitive Responses to Employee Wrongdoing: A Qualitative Investigation

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A growing body of literature has examined managers’ use of restorative practices in the workplace. However, little is currently known about why managers use restorative practices as opposed to alternative (e.g., punishment) responses. We employed a qualitative interview technique to develop an inductive model of managers’ restorative versus punitive response in the context of employee wrongdoing. The findings reveal a set of key motivating and moderating influences on the manager’s decision to respond to wrongdoing in a restorative versus punitive manner. The findings also suggest that managers’ personal needs and perceived duties in the aftermath of employee wrongdoing are generally more consistent with restorative responses than punishment responses, which helps explain managers’ use of restorative workplace practices.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Managers were asked to discuss two separate incidents in random order—one involving a punishment response and one involving a restorative response. A restorative response was described as “emphasizing repairing harm and restoring victims and third parties after being harmed by an offender, while also helping the offender by doing things like trying to reintegrate them back into the workplace.”


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Correspondence to Nathan Robert Neale.

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Interview Protocol

Think back on the situation within the last year where one of your employees harmed or transgressed a colleague or another employee within the organization and you responded with punishment. Punishment is defined as “application of a negative consequence or withdrawal of a positive consequence” from an employee under your supervision. Do you feel comfortable with this definition and understand what I mean by punishment?Footnote 1

  1. 1.

    Background of the incident:

    1. A.

      What was the nature of the transgression? ______________________

    2. B.

      How long ago did this happen? ____________________________

    3. C.

      How long had you known the people involved? ________

    4. D.

      How long have you supervised or managed each of those involved? ________

  1. 2.

    Manager’s needs: Thinking about the same incident, let’s talk about what your needs were. If the following questions are not answered, ask-

    • What were your needs immediately following the transgression?

    • What were your needs as you responded to the transgression?

    • How did your needs change or evolve as this process unfolded?

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Neale, N.R., Butterfield, K.D., Goodstein, J. et al. Managers’ Restorative Versus Punitive Responses to Employee Wrongdoing: A Qualitative Investigation. J Bus Ethics 161, 603–625 (2020) doi:10.1007/s10551-018-3935-x

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  • Justice
  • Manager
  • Needs
  • Punishment
  • Restorative