Linda Treviño and coauthors examine the cognitive process behind unethical behavior to better understand organizationally embedded deviance. Key findings include:
According to Bandura’s theory of self-regulation, moral behavior is generally self-regulated by internalized moral standards that keep behavior in line. When this self-regulation process is interrupted and these moral standards are disengaged, individuals can be unethical without feeling guilty.
The workplace provides ample opportunity for moral disengagement, including displacement and diffusion of responsibility.
Organizations should train employees to be on the lookout for certain modes of thinking that lead to moral disengagement, and establish measures to reduce the likelihood that morally deviant behavior goes unchecked.