Social Accounting and Unethical Behavior: Does Looking Fair Undermine Actually Being Fair?
In organizations, it is inevitable that some business activities might seem unfair to subordinates. Social accounts—the explanations managers give their subordinates for those decisions—are known to be a useful tool for managing subordinates’ fairness concerns. Over three decades of research, we learn that social accounts are effectiveness in improving subordinates’ fairness perceptions and reducing their negative reactions. Yet, we have only limited understanding about how social accounts affect the perceptions and behaviors of managers—those who construct and give them. The purpose of this dissertation is to examine the extent to which constructing accounts affects account-givers’ perceptions and behaviors.
Drawing on research in social account and behavioral ethics, a model was developed to test the positive effect of constructing accounts on unethical behavior (direct effect) through moral disengagement and guilt (indirect effect). In respect to account types, it was hypothesized that constructing justifications would lead to higher moral disengagement, less guilt, and more unethical behavior, compared with constructing excuses. Account feedback was hypothesized to moderate the indirect effects of justifications and excuses on unethical behaviors such that account acceptance would strengthen moral disengagement and weaken guilt, and in turn, increase unethical behavior.
Two experimental designed studies were conducted to test these hypotheses. In Study 1, utilizing a sample of 128 management students, constructing accounts was found to have a positive effect on unethical behavior (i.e., nepotism) with guilt but not moral disengagement explaining some of the variances in this relation. In contrast to my hypotheses, constructing excuses was found to increase guilt more than constructing justifications. Using a sample of 136 management students, Study 2 generally replicated the results found in Study 1: constructing accounts was found to increase unethical behavior (i.e., dishonesty) through guilt, with excuses having a greater effect. This dissertation concludes with a discussion on contributions, practical implications, limitations, and the direction for future research on social accounts and behavioral ethics.