Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 80, Issue 2, pp 327–347 | Cite as

Perceptions of Deception: Making Sense of Responses to Employee Deceit

Open Access


In this research, we examine the effects that customer perceptions of employee deception have on the customers’ attitudes toward an organization. Based on interview, archival, and observational data within the international airline industry, we develop a model to explain the complex effects of perceived dishonesty on observer’s attitudes and intentions toward the airline. The data revealed three types of perceived deceit (about beliefs, intentions, and emotions) and three additional factors that influence customer intentions and attitudes: the players involved, the beneficiaries of the deceit, and the harm done by the perceived lie. We develop a model with specific propositions to guide organizations with respect to apparently deceitful behavior of their employees. Implications and directions for future research are provided, focusing on the question of whether organizations should consistently encourage honesty or train their employees to be effective liars.


blame causal attributions customer’s perception of a company (CPC) customer service employee deception image perceived dishonesty reputation sensemaking qualitative research 



The authors would like to thank the Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research for financial support and two anonymous reviewers from this journal for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this work.


  1. Akeroff G. A. (1983) Loyalty Filters. American Economic Review 73: 54–63Google Scholar
  2. Anand V., Ashforth B., Joshi E. (2004) Business as Usual: The Acceptance and Perpetuation of Corruption in Organizations. Academy of Management Executive 18(2): 39–53Google Scholar
  3. Aronson E. (1992) The Return of the Repressed: Dissonance Theory Makes a Comeback. Psychological Inquiry 3(4): 303–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ashforth B. E., Humphrey R. H. (1993) Emotional Labor in Service Roles: The Influence of Identity. Academy of Management Review 18: 88–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Atkinson A. A., Shaffer W. (1998) Standards for Field Research in Management Accounting. Journal of Managerial Accounting Research 10: 41–68Google Scholar
  6. Baier A. (1993) Why Honesty is a Hard Virtue. In: Flanagan O., Rorty A. O. (eds) Identity, Character and Morality: Essays in Moral Psychology. MIT Press, Cambridge, MAGoogle Scholar
  7. Bansal, P.: 2003, ‹From Issues to Actions: The Importance of Individual Concerns and Organizational Values in Responses to Natural Environmental Issues’, Organization Science 14(5), 510–227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bell B. S., Tetlock P. E. (1989) The Intuitive Politician and The Assignment of Blame in Organizations. In: Rosenfeld P., Giacalone R. A. (eds) Impression Management in the Organization. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, England, pp 105–123Google Scholar
  9. Bok S. (1989) Lying: Moral Choice and Public and Private Life. Vintage Books, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
  10. Burnett J. (2002) Managing Business Crises: From Anticipation to Implementation. Quarum Books, Westport, CTGoogle Scholar
  11. Byrne D. E. (1971) The Attraction Paradigm. Academic Press, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
  12. Byrne, J. A.: 2002, ‚After Enron: The Ideal Corporation’, Business Week August 26, 68Google Scholar
  13. Camden C., Motley M. T., Wilson A. (1984) White Lies in Interpersonal Communication: A Taxonomy and Preliminary Investigation of Social Motivations. Western Journal of Speech Communication 48: 309–325Google Scholar
  14. Cialdini R. B. (1996) Social Influence and the Triple Tumor Structure of Organizational Dishonesty. In: Messick D. M., Tenbrunsel A. E. (eds) Codes of Conduct: Behavioral Research into Business Ethics. Sage, New York, pp. 44–57Google Scholar
  15. Cialdini R. B. (1989) Indirect Tactics of Image Management: Beyond Basking. In: Giacalone R. A., Rosenfeld P. (eds) Impression Management in the Organization. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 45–56Google Scholar
  16. Cialdini R. B., Petrova P. K., Goldstein N. J. (2004) The Hidden Costs of Organizational Dishonesty. MIT Sloan Management Review 45(3): 67–73Google Scholar
  17. DePaulo P. J., DePaulo B. M., Tang J., Swaim G. W. (1989) Lying and Detecting Lies in Organizations. In: Giacalone R. A., Rosenfeld P. (eds) Impression Management in the Organization. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, NJ, pp. 377–393Google Scholar
  18. DePaulo B. M., Kashy D. A., Kirkendol S. E., Wyer M. M., Epstein J. A. (1996) Lying in Everyday Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70(5): 979–995CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. DePaulo B. M., Rosenthal B., Green C. R., Rosenkrantz J. (1982) Diagnosing Deceptive and Mixed Messages from Verbal and Nonverbal Clues. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 18(5): 433–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Dougherty D., Borrelli L., Munir K., Sullivan A. O. (2000) Systems of Organizational Sense Making for Sustained Product Innovation. Journal of Engineering Technology Management 17(3–4): 321–355CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dutton J. E., Ashford L. S. J., Lawrence K. A., Miner-Rubino K. (2002) Red Light, Green Light: Making Sense of the Organizational Context for Issue Selling. Organization Science 13(4): 355–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Eckman P. (1992) Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage. W.W. Norton and Company, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  23. Elaad E. (2003) Effects of Feedback on the Overestimated Capacity to Detect Lies and the Underestimated Ability to Tell Lies. Applied Cognitive Psychology 17(3): 349–363CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Elsbach K. D., Sutton R. I., Principe K. E. (1998) Averting Expected Challenges Through Anticipatory Impression Management: A Study of Hospital Billing. Organization Science 9(1): 68–86Google Scholar
  25. Erickson R. J., Wharton A. S. (1997) Inauthenticity and Depression: Assessing the Consequences of Interactive Service Work. Work and Occupupations 24(2): 188–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Festinger L. (1957) A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. White Plains, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Fombrun C. J. (1996) Reputation: Realizing Value from the Corporate Image. Harvard Business School Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  28. Gephart R. P. (1993) The Textual Approach: Risk and Blame in Disaster Sensemaking. Academy of Management Journal 36(6): 1465–1514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Gioia D. A., Thomas J. B. (1996) Identity, Image, and Issue Interpretation: Sensemaking During Strategic Change in Academia. Administrative Science Quarterly 41(3): 370–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Glaser B., Strauss A. (1967) The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Weidenfeld, LondonGoogle Scholar
  31. Grandey A., Dickter D. N., Sin H.-P. (2004) The Customer is not Always Right: Customer Aggression and Emotion Regulation of Service Employees. Journal of Organizational Behavior 25: 397–413CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Grandey A., Fisk G. M., Mattila A. S., Jansen K. J., Sideman L. A. (2005) Is ‚Service with a Smile’ Enough? Authenticity of Positive Displays During Service Encounters. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 96: 38–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Griffith T. L. (1999) Technology Features as Triggers for Sensemaking. Academy of Management Review 24(3): 472–488CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Griffith J. (2001) Do Satisfied Employees Satisfy Customers? Support-services Staff Morale and Satisfaction Among Public School Administrators, Students, and Parents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 31(8): 1627–1658CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grover S. L. (1993a) Why Professionals Lie: The Impact of Professional Role Conflict on Reporting Accuracy. Organization Behavior and Human Decision Processes 55:251–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Grover S. L. (1993b) Lying, Deceit, and Subterfuge: A Model of Dishonesty in the Workplace. Organization Science 4(3): 478–495Google Scholar
  37. Hastie R. (1984) Causes and Effects of Causal Attribution. Journal of Personality and Social Pscyhology 46(1): 44–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Heider F. (1958) The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations. John Wiley, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
  39. Hraba J., Radloff T., Gray-Ray P. (1999) A Comparison of Black and White Social Distance. Journal of Social Psycholgy 139(4): 536–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hochschild A. R. (1983) The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. University of California Press, Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  41. Jones T. M., Ryan L. (1997) The Link Between Ethical Judgement and Action in Organizations: A Moral Approbation Approach. Organization Science 8(6): 663–680CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kaun D. E. (1994) Lying as Standard Operating Procedure: Deception in the Weapons Testing Process. Journal of Socio-Economics 23(3): 229–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kezar A., Eckel P. (2002) Examining the Institutional Transformation Process: The Importance of Sensemaking, Interrelated Strategies, and Balance. Research in Higher Education 43(3): 295–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lerman L. G. (1990) Lying to Clients. University of Pennsylvania Law Review 659: 705–709Google Scholar
  45. Leung K., Li W., Au Y. (1998) The Impact of Customer Service and Product Value on Customer Loyalty and Purchase Behavior. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 28: 1731–1741CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Lippard P. V. (1988) ‚Ask Me No Questions, I’ll Tell You No Lies’: Situational Exigencies for Interpersonal Deception. Western Journal of Speech Communications 52: 91–103Google Scholar
  47. Louis M. R., Sutton R. I. (1991) Switching Cognitive Gears: From Habits of Mind to Active Thinking. Human Relations 44(1): 55–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Maitlis S. (2005) The Social Processes of Organizational Sense Making. Academy of Management Journal 48(1): 21–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mann S. (1999) Hiding What We Feel, Faking What We Don’t. Element Books Limited, Boston, MAGoogle Scholar
  50. Miles M. B., Huberman A. M. (1994) Qualitative Data Analysis: An Expanded Sourcebook (2nd ed.). Sage, Thousand Oaks, CAGoogle Scholar
  51. Morris J. A., Feldman D. C. (1996) The Dimensions, Antecedents, and Consequences of Emotional Labor. Academy of Management Review 21: 986–1010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Murphy A. G. (1998) Hidden Transcripts of Flight Attendant Resistance. Management Communication Quarterly 11(4): 499–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Napach B.: (1999) Air Passenger Complaints Finally Bring Congressional Action. Medical Economy 76(7): 27–28Google Scholar
  54. Nelms, D. W.: 1996, ‚Imaging’s New Demands’, Air Transport World 22(2), 34–38Google Scholar
  55. Nyberg D. (1993) The Varnished Truth: Truth Telling and Deceiving in Ordinary Life. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  56. Ong A. D., Weiss D. J. (2000) The Impact of Anonymity on Responses to Sensitive Questions. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 30(8): 1691–1708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Patton M. Q. (1990) Qualitative Evaluation and Research Methods. Sage, Newbury Park, CAGoogle Scholar
  58. Raelin J. A. (1984) An Examination of Deviant/Adaptive Behaviors in the Organizational Careers of Professionals. Accounting Management Review 9: 413–427Google Scholar
  59. Robertson D. C., Rymon T. (2001) Purchasing Agents’ Deceptive Behavior: A Randomized Response Technique Study. Business Ethics Quarterly 11(3): 455–479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Rokeach M. (1960) The Open and Closed Mind: Investigations into the Nature of Belief Systems and Personality Systems. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. Rupp D. E., Spencer S. (2006) When Customers Lash Out: The Effects of Customer Interactional Injustice on Emotional Labor and the Mediating Role of Discrete Emotions. Journal of Applied Psychology 91: 971–978CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schein V. (1979) Examining an Illusion: The Role of Deceptive Behaviors in Organizations. Human Relations 32: 287–295CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Schneider B., Bowen D. E. (1985) Employee and Customer Perceptions of Service in Banks: Replication and Extension. Journal of Applied Psychology 70(3): 423–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Scott E. D. (2003) Plane Truth: A Qualitative Study of Employee Dishonesty in the Airline Industry. Journal of Business Ethics 42(4): 321–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Scott E., Jehn K. (2003) Multiple Stakeholder Judgments of Employee Behaviors: A Contingent Prototype Model of Dishonesty. Journal of Business Ethics 46(3): 235–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Shapiro D. L. (1991) The Effects of Explanations on Negative Reactions to Deceit. Administrative Science Quarterly 36: 614–630CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Shapiro, D. L., R. J. Lewicki and P. Devine: 1995, ‚When Do Employees Choose Deceptive Tactics To Stop Unwanted Organizational Change?: A Relational Perspective’, in R. J. Lewicki, B. H. Sheppard, and R. Bies (eds.), Research on Negotiation in Organizations (Elsevier, Amsterdam), pp .155–183Google Scholar
  68. Shaver K. (1985) The Attribution of Blame: Causality, Responsibility and Blameworthiness. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  69. Sims R. L. (2002) Ethical Rule Breaking by Employees: A Test of Social Bonding Theory. Journal of Business Ethics 40(2): 101–109CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Spradley J., McCurdy D. (1972) The Cultural Experience: Ethnography in Complex Society. Science Research Associates, New York, NYGoogle Scholar
  71. Starbuck W. H., Milliken F. J. (1988) Challenger: Fine-tuning the Odds Until Something Breaks. Journal of Management Studies 25(4): 319–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Steinel, W.: 2004, Misleading in Social Decision-Making: A Motivational Approach. Dissertation, Universiteit van AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  73. Stratton P. (1998) Attributional Coding of Interview Data: Meeting the Needs of Long-Haul Passengers. In: Hayes N. (ed) Doing Qualitative Analysis in Psychology. Psychology Press, Hove, England, pp 115–142Google Scholar
  74. Strauss A. (1987) Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  75. Sutton R. I., Rafaeli A. (1988) Untangling the Relationship Between Displayed Emotions and Organizational Sales: The Case of Convenience Stores. Academy of Management Journal 31(3): 461–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Takala T., Urpilairen J. (1999) Managerial Work and Lying: A Conceptual Framework and an Explorative Case Study. Journal of Business Ethics 20(3): 181–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Thomas J. B., Clark S. M., Gioia D. A. (1993) Strategic Sensemaking and Organizational Performance: Linkages Among Scanning, Interpretation, Action, and Outcomes. Academy of Management Journal 36(2): 239–270CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tomlinson F., Egan S. (2002) Organizational Sensemaking in a Culturally Diverse Setting: Limits to the ‚Valuing Diversity’ Discourse. Management Learning 33(1):79–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Triandis H. C. (2001) Individualism–Collectivism and Personality. Journal of Personality 69(6): 907–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Triandis H. C., Carnevale P. J., Gelfand M., Robert C., Wasti A., Probst T. M., Kashima E., Dragones T., Chan D., Chen X. P., Kim U., de Dreu C., van de Vliert E., Iwao S., Ohbuchi K.-I., Schmitz P. (2001) Culture and Deception in Business Negotiations: A Multilevel Analysis. International Journal of Cross-Cultural Management, 1: 73–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Turban D. B., Cable D. M. (2003) Firm Reputation and Applicant Pool Characteristics. Journal of Organizational Behavior 24(6): 733–751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Turner R. E., Edgley C., Olmstead G. (1975) Information Control in Conversations: Honesty Is Not Always The Best Policy. Journal of Sociology 11(1): 69–89Google Scholar
  83. United States Department of Transportation (2000) U.S. flight complaintsGoogle Scholar
  84. Van Heerden C. H., Puth G. (1995) Factors that Determine the Corporate Image of South African Banking Institutions: An Exploratory Investigation. International Journal of Bank Marketing 13(3): 12–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Victor B., Cullen J. (1988) The Organizational Bases of Ethical Work Climates. Administrative Science Quarterly 33: 101–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Weick K. E. (1995) Sensemaking in Organizations. Sage, Newbury Park, CAGoogle Scholar
  87. Weiner B. (1986) An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion. Springer-Verlag, New York. Google Scholar
  88. Werner, O. W. and G. M. Schoepfle: 1987, Systematic Fieldwork: Ethnograph Analysis and Data Management, Vol. 2 (Sage, Newbury Park, CA)Google Scholar
  89. Yen H. R., Gwinner K. P., Su W. R. (2004) The Impact of Customer Participation and Service Expectation on Locus Attributions Following Service Failure. International Journal of Service Industry Management 15(1): 7–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social SciencesLeiden UniversityLeiden The Netherlands
  2. 2.Eastern Connecticut State UniversityWillimanticU.S.A.

Personalised recommendations