Impacts of peers’ unethical behavior on employees’ ethical intention: Moderated mediation by Machiavellian orientation

Business Ethics: A European Review 28 (2):185-205 (2018)
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Abstract

Research suggests a direct negative relationship between peers’ unethical behavior and employees’ ethical intention. But several possible mechanisms might explain this relationship in more detail. For example, Machiavellianism is a personality trait characterized by interpersonal manipulation and the use of unethical means to achieve certain self‐interested ends, whether useful or pleasant. This article adopts an Aristotelian understanding of philia, related to three goods on which human relationships rest: useful, pleasant, and honest. We propose that Machiavellianism, a self‐interested, pragmatic personality orientation, might explicate the relationship between peers’ unethical behavior and ethical intention. The results of a structural equation model applied to a sample of 436 banking employees in Spain reveals that Machiavellianism partially mediates the relationship between peers’ unethical behavior and employees’ ethical intention. We also find that with a greater level of peers’ unethical behavior, the negative effect of Machiavellianism on ethical intention increases, and that when peers’ unethical behavior is nonexistent, the negative effect of Machiavellianism on ethical intention disappears. These findings advance current literature by revealing that unethical peers can indirectly influence ethical intention, through shaping Machiavellianism. Our study is also the first to show that pairing high Machiavellians with ethical peers can help to cancel out the negative influence of Machiavellianism on ethical intention.

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