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Through Thick And Thin: The Effects of Interpersonal Loyalty on Nepotistic Behavior at Work

This research examines the role of loyalty in fostering nepotism. Nepotism is widely regarded to be an unethical organizational practice associated with a host of personal, organizational, and societal costs, yet nepotism is pervasive in organizations and society. What then motivates people to engage in nepotism despite its stigma? Drawing on theories of loyalty and moral psychology we propose that interpersonal loyalty is a key motive driving nepotism because loyalty changes individuals’ perceptions of the ethicality of their nepotistic actions and increases their felt obligation to those they feel loyal to. In four studies employing archival, field study, and experimental methodology we examine the relationship between loyalty and nepotism in a variety of contexts from compatriot loyalty in sports teams, and alma mater loyalty in university admissions and business hiring, to coworker loyalty in promotions and project management. We find consistent evidence that loyalty not only increases individuals’ proclivity to engage in nepotism on behalf of their network ties but to expect those ties to act nepotistically for their benefit. These findings highlight the central role that loyalty plays in driving nepotism in organizations and helps to explain how and why loyalty drives nepotism at work.

Teodora Tomova Shakur
New York University
United States

John Angus Hildreth
Cornell University
United States


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