“An Experimental Examination of the Effects of Individual and Situational Factors on Unethical Behavioral Intentions in the Workplace”

This article describes the explorations of Professor Gwen E. Jones and Professor Michael J. Kavanagh into what variables effect individuals’ intentions to act unethically.  They chose to perform an experiment where three situation variables: (1) quality of work experience, (2) peer influences – unethical vs. ethical, and (3) managerial influences – unethical vs. ethical, and three individual variables: (4) locus of control, (5) Machiavellianism, and (6) gender.

When looking at the situational influences, the authors hypothesized that poor quality of work experience, unethical peer influence, and unethical managerial influence would have a profound impact on one’s own unethical behavior.  While the situational variables are simple to understand, in order to understand their hypotheses concerning the individual variables, you first must understand exactly how they defined locus of control, Machiavellianism, and gender.

An individual can have two different types of locus of control (LOC), internal or external.  Those with internal LOC perceives outcomes to be a direct result of his or her efforts where those with external LOC perceives outcomes to be from external forces beyond his or her control.  Individuals with high Machiavellianism tend not to be easily swayed by loyalty and are effective manipulators of others.  Gender of course dealing simply with whether an individual is male or female.  The authors of the study hypothesized that individuals with external LOC, high Machiavellianism, and males will report higher unethical behavioral intentions.

The experiment was done twice, first with 138 upper level grad students with an average age of 21 and split evenly between males and females, and then with 154 students enrolled in MBA night classes with an average age of 27 and average of 5 years work experience.  The procedure they used was as follows:  (1) read and sign consent form, (2) complete a questionnaire measure LOC, Machiavellianism, and social desirability (3) read a scenario depicting an ethically ambiguous situation, (4) complete a questionnaire about the dilemma, (5) complete a short questionnaire checking the experimental manipulations, and (6) complete a demographics questionnaire.

Results:  Peer and managerial influence showed significant causative effect in both experiments, yet only peer influence was significantly correlated with behavior intentions in Experiment 1 and only managerial influence was significantly correlated with behavioral intentions in Experiment 2.  The quality of work hypothesis was supported by both of the experiments.  Of the individual variables, Machiavellianism had the strongest relationship with the dependent variable, while LOC had mixed results across the experiments and gender showed no correlation to unethical intentions.

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2 Responses

  1. Helpful?

  2. To a degree. They seemed to have posed some pretty commonsensical theories, that were most likely going to hold true. I am going to read the second article and see if that addresses more of what I was interested in writing this paper about – I wanted to focus more on the way that the environment of Enron manipulated the employees to act unethically.

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