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Title: Counterproductive Work Behaviors and Moral Disengagement
Tutor: Avallone, Francesco
Issue Date: 12-Mar-2012
Abstract: In recent years counterproductive work behavior (CWB) has become an increasingly popular topic of study among organizational researchers (Penny & Spector, 2005; Yang & Diefendorff, 2009). The peculiarity of CWB is that they differ from common negative acts since they are not accidental and are intended specifically to damage by purposeful action even if unintentionally (Spector & Fox, 2005). These behaviors may include acts such as direct aggression, theft, purposely failing to follow instructions or to perform work incorrectly, in the interest of violating significant organizational norms (Spector, Fox, Penney, Bruursema, Goh, & Kessler, 2006), reducing the efficiency and job performance of its members (Hollinger & Clark, 1982), and basically threatening the health and well being of the organizations and its members. The latest financial scandals affecting American and European stock markets, as well as the increase of deviant behavior in organizations have raised questions about the ethics in the working context highlighting the need to understand these occurrences in order to prevent and tackle them (Chappell & Di Martino, 2006; Fox & Spector, 2005; Greenberg, 1997; Vardi & Weitz, 2004; Wellen, 2004). In fact, several studies showed that those behaviors are one of the most serious problems that organizations are facing in many countries (Chappel & Di Martino, 2006). US studies showed that only theft costs annually billions of dollars to organizations (Camara & Schneider, 1994; Greenberg, 1990, 1997) and the overall losses, caused by other forms of CWB, are bewildering. These behaviors not only affect the productivity but they create also discomfort to individuals or groups, compromise the quality of organizational life and damage property (material damage), hurting organization’s reputation as a whole (Vardi & Weitz, 2004). Overall CWB, both toward organizations and toward people in the organizations, violating organizational norms, harm directly or indirectly, their legitimate interests (Sackett & DeVore, 2002), reduce the efficiency and job performance of its members (Hollinger & Clark, 1982) and basically they threaten the health and well being of the organization and its members. Generally, the literature distinguishes between CWB directed towards organization (CWB-O) and CWB towards people in the organizations (CWB-P; Robinson & Bennett, 1995). Specifically, CWB-O target the organizations. They are acts such as sabotage, fraud and theft or leaving early from work, taking excessive breaks, deliberately working slowly, wasting resources and so on. CWB-P are acts exclusively directed to people working within organizations such as sexual harassment, verbal abuse, stealing among colleagues and even choosing favorites, peddling gossip and insulting colleagues. Although these two categories of behaviors are positively correlated (Judge, Scott, & Ilies, 2006; Lee & Allen, 2002), they have different relations with other variables (e.g. citizenship behaviors, perceived justice, situational constraints, personal traits; Berry, Ones, & Sackett, 2007; Hershcovis, Turner, Barling, Arnold, Dupré, Inness, et al., 2007). Several authors have focused on understanding the antecedents of CWB as well as on the processes that lead to such behaviors. Specifically, researchers have investigated the role in CWB process of both situational and personal factors. Among the theoretical models that focusing on CWB, the stressor-emotion model developed by Spector and Fox (2005) has the merit to consider both these two factors. The situational factors considered are job stressors. In line with this model, any frustrating condition in organizational life interfering with goals and job performance increase the likelihood to act CWB (see Figure 1). Whenever such stressors occur, individuals may experience negative feelings which may in turn, promote people to enact aggressive behavior as a strategy to reduce the emotionally unpleasant condition (Penney & Spector, 2005; Spector, 1998). This model (Chen & Spector, 1992; Fox & Spector, 1999, Spector, 1975, 1978, 1997; Storms & Spector, 1987) describes the processes that foster forms of aggression that are typically impulsive and are performed for the purpose of causing harm and releasing frustration. The literature on aggression has distinguished between impulsive (or reactive) aggression – based on negative affect that may lead to offensive reactions beyond one’s own control – and instrumental (or proactive) aggression – having to do with aggression that is purposefully carried out in accordance with one’s personal goals (see Fontaine, 2007). It seems likely that, CWB may share qualities that are attributed to both impulsive and instrumental subtypes of antisocial behaviors. For example, people who engaged in CWB may act out impulsive anger, but also with an intent of hurting a coworker so that he or she gains leverage in the work hierarchy. Thus, the present dissertation considers the possibility to extend the stressor-emotion model including cognitive processes that could capture the intentional and, sometimes, instrumental nature of CWB. Specifically we integrate two important traditions of research on aggressive behavior: 1) the frustration-aggression hypothesis, focusing on effects that negative emotions and affect regulation exert on aggression, and 2) the social-cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, 1990), addressing processes that promote or justify aggression. In particular this research proposes moral disengagement (MD) as a specific social-cognitive construct in the organizational context that may intervene in the process from perceived stressors to CWB, by promoting or justifying aggressive responses to frustrating conditions or events. In fact MD construct has proved to be an important variable in deviant and aggressive behaviors. (Bandura, 1986; Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 1996; Caprara, Fida, Vecchione, Tramontano, & Barbaranelli, 2009). This integrative approach may be extremely productive and promising for defining organizational strategies aimed at discouraging and contrasting CWB. In fact, unlike emotions, MD mechanisms are “malleable” to the reciprocal influences between individuals and context and can be learned (Moore, 2008). On the one hand, this means that it is likely that these individual cognitive maneuvers become crystallized over time when repeatedly dealing with job stressors, legitimizing recourse to aggressive and transgressive behaviors (Paciello, Fida Tramontano, Lupinetti, & Caprara, 2008). On the other hand, it is plausible that a context in which misconduct is frequently enacted through moral cognitive distortions, without being sanctioned, may in turn create a collective MD i.e. a kind of “morally disengaged culture” or “organizational moral disengagement” in which those mechanisms could be socialized, learned and activated, legitimizing CWB (Farnese, Tramontano, Fida, & Paciello, 2011). Furthermore, it is plausible that CWB could be the result of unethical decisions deriving from a distorted interpretation and application of shared norms and in a long-time perspective, these negative models may make easier and obvious the adoption of MD, contributing in turn to the creation of a “organizational moral disengagement”. In this theoretical framework we designed three studies presented as follows. In each study we aimed to predict CWB by understanding the motivational factors preceding it. The aim of the first study is to investigate the psychometric properties, in terms of factorial structure, reliability and pattern of correlations of the Spector and Fox’s CWB inventory and to present the validation of the Italian version of this scale. Specifically, both the factors structure of CWB Checklist and the nomological validity of this measure have been tested using a cross-validation approach and the analysis of correlation. The second study integrating two important traditions of research on aggressive behaviors, the stressor-emotion model (Spector & Fox, 2005) and the social-cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986), aims to test an integrative model of the stressor-emotion model that considers both attitudinal evaluations (Job Satisfaction) and social cognitive mechanisms (Moral Disengagement) as mediators of the relationship between workplace job stressors and both CWB towards organization (CWB-O) and persons (CWB-P). The aim of the third study is to investigate whether a form of an organizational moral disengagement (MD-O) could be measured and then to examine the role of such dimension in the stressor-emotion model tested in my previous study. Specifically, whether organizational moral disengagement affects both personnel moral disengagement (MD-P) and CWB. In particular, we expect that both job stressors and MD-O contribute to a lower job satisfaction that in turn affect CWB both directly and through the agency of MD-P.
Research interests: Moral disengagement, Counterproductive Work Behaviors, Job Stressors

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