When Employees Retaliate Against Self-Serving Leaders: The Influence of the Ethical Climate

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Journal of Business Ethics


© 2019, Springer Nature B.V. Leaders have been shown to sometimes act self-servingly. Yet, leaders do not act in isolation and the perceptions of the ethical climate in which leaders operate is expected to contribute to employees taking counteractive measures against their leader (that is, employees’ desire for retaliation, and supervisor-directed deviance). We contend that in an ethical climate employees feel better equipped to stand up and take retaliation measures. Moreover, we argue that this is explained by employees’ feelings of trust. In two studies using different methods (an experimental study and a multi-source study), we predict and find evidence that the relationship between self-serving leader behavior and employees’ desire for retaliation and supervisor-directed deviance is stronger when the ethical climate is high rather than low. Moreover, we show that trust in the leader mediates these relationships.

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