Moral recognition for workplace offenses underlies the punitive responses of managers: A functional theoretical approach to morality and punishment

Ethics and Behavior 33 (6):505-528 (2023)
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There is considerable variability across people in their punitive responses to employee offenses in the workplace. We attempt to explain this variability by positing a novel antecedent of punishment: moral recognition. We find consistent evidence that identifying moral considerations and implications for workplace offenses predicts punitive responses toward employees who commit those offenses. Drawing on functional theoretical accounts of morality and punishment, we posit that people are motivated to punish others to the extent that they believe a moral offense has been committed, because much of what it means to commit a moral offense (as opposed to a non-moral offense) is to act in a way that prevents, or inhibits, cooperative behavior to achieve social goals. Punishment can discourage group members from committing those offenses in the future, thereby regulating behavior in a way that facilitates cooperation and social cohesion. We offer correlational and causal evidence that the link between moral recognition and punishment is explained, in part, by participants’ beliefs that committing these offenses prevents cooperative behavior to achieve organization-related goals.



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