Moral Character in the Workplace
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2014, Forthcoming
70 Pages Posted: 7 May 2014 Last revised: 26 Jun 2014
Date Written: April 1, 2014
In two three-month diary studies and a large cross-sectional survey, we identified distinguishing features of adults with low versus high levels of moral character. Adults with high levels of moral character tend to consider the needs and interests of others and how their actions affect other people (e.g., they have high levels of Honesty-Humility, empathic concern, guilt proneness), regulate their behavior effectively, specifically with reference to behaviors that have positive short-term consequences but negative long-term consequences (e.g., they have high levels of Conscientiousness, self-control, consideration of future consequences), and value being moral (e.g., they have high levels of moral identity-internalization). Cognitive moral development, Emotionality, and social value orientation were found to be relatively undiagnostic of moral character. Studies 1 and 2 revealed that low-moral-character employees committed harmful work behaviors more frequently and helpful work behaviors less frequently than high-moral-character employees, according to their own admissions and coworkers’ observations. Study 3 revealed that low-moral-character adults committed more delinquent behavior and had more lenient attitudes toward unethical negotiation tactics as compared to high-moral-character adults. By showing that individual differences have consistent, meaningful effects on employees’ behaviors, after controlling for demographic variables (e.g., gender, age, income) and basic attributes of the work setting (e.g., enforcement of an ethics code), our results contest situationist perspectives that de-emphasize the importance of personality. Moral people can be identified by self-reports in surveys, and these self-reports predict consequential behaviors months after the initial assessment.
Keywords: moral character; unethical behavior; counterproductive work behavior; organizational citizenship behavior; personality; delinquency
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