Power, self-regulation and the moralization of behavior

Journal of Business Ethics 83 (3):503 - 514 (2008)
The perception of behavior as a moral or conventional concern can be influenced by contextual variables, including status and power differences. We propose that social processes and in particular social role enactment through the exercise of power will psychologically motivate moralization. Punishing or rewarding others creates a moral dilemma that can be resolved by externalizing causation to incontrovertible moral rules. Legitimate power related to structure and position can carry moral weight but may not influence the power holder’s perceptions of rules and general norms of behavior. Social identity theory suggests moralization could be promoted by a concern for shared, defining values. However, the tendency to moralize another’s behavior can be injurious to shared identity. We explored white-collar employees’ perceptions of several categories of noxious or deviant workplace behaviors and regressed these perceptions on the tendency to use legitimate, referent, or reward and punish power; social identity; and the interaction of social identity and power, in particular legitimate power. Only the tendency to influence others through punishment or reward predicted moralization. Alternative causal explanations for the findings were addressed through the absence of any relationships between punishment and reward power and perceptions of deviant behaviors as wrong, upsetting, or requiring punishment. We discuss these results in the context of self and social processes, the social construction of morals and power, and the impact of managers’ behavior on group or organizational ethics
Keywords power  reward  punishment  legitimacy  social identity  morality  ethics  norms  deviant behavior  transgression
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