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IACM 2023

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The Unexpected Burden of Loyalty

Loyalty has been portrayed as a “double-edged sword” that can motivate people to engage in ethical or unethical behavior on behalf of their loyal ties (Berry et al., 2021). Prior work implies that this is the case because loyalty, being itself a moral value, can “blind” people to the ethical consequences of their behavior (Hildreth et al., 2016). Here we integrate theory on loyalty, social identity, and behavioral ethics to suggest that learning about a loyal tie’s unethical behavior, and engaging in unethical behavior on behalf of that tie, can significantly impact perceptions of the self and the actor’s behavior, which has negative downstream consequences for the workplace. Specifically, we demonstrate that learning about a loyal tie’s (vs. not loyal tie’s) wrongdoing increases moral self-threat, and decreases moral clarity (i.e., the certainty of their moral judgment of the wrongdoing). As a result, people are more likely to stay silent about the loyal tie’s wrongdoing, indicate a willingness to remain silent on behalf of the wrongdoer for their future wrongdoings, and are less likely to engage in organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs). We demonstrate that the effect of a loyal tie’s wrongdoing on moral self-threat is reduced, and moral clarity increased, when participants highly identify with the organization.

Zachariah Berry
Cornell University
United States


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