Moral character in the workplace

Taya R. Cohen*, A. T. Panter, Nazli Turan, Lily Morse, Yeonjeong Kim

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

152 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Using two 3-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 longterm 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 employees with low moral character committed harmful work behaviors more frequently and helpful work behaviors less frequently than did employees with high moral character, according to their own admissions and coworkers' observations. Study 3 revealed that adults with low moral character committed more delinquent behavior and had more lenient attitudes toward unethical negotiation tactics than did adults with high moral character. 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 deemphasize the importance of personality. Moral people can be identified by self-reports in surveys, and these selfreports predict consequential behaviors months after the initial assessment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)943-963
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume107
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Keywords

  • Counterproductive work behavior
  • Moral character
  • Organizational citizenship behavior
  • Personality
  • Unethical behavior

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