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From Bad to Worse: A Social Contagion Model of Organizational Misbehavior

Organizational misbehavior is defined as any intentional action by a member of an organization that violates core organizational and/or societal norms. Much of the literature on organizational misbehavior focuses on individual level determinants while giving very little attention to the social factors. Although some research indicates that organizational misbehavior is socially contagious, the mechanism that facilitates such transmission has not been theorized or meaningfully tested. I argue that a work groups misbehavior influences individual member misbehavior through the creation of social information (i.e., awareness and prevalence of misbehavior), and this relationship is moderated by motivation (i.e., injustice), group factors (i.e., cohesion and informal sanctions) and personality (i.e., negative affectivity and honesty/humility). Using a longitudinal research design, I test this model by investigating the change in work team members behavior over time and using a sample of 47 work teams and 214 team members. My results indicate that interpersonally directed misbehavior (such as making fun of coworkers, political backstabbing, gossip, or ethnic, racial or religious remarks) and organizationally directed misbehavior (ie., stealing office supplies, surfing the internet instead of working, showing up late for work or taking a longer break than is permitted) are spread through the social information that team members have of their coworkers misbehavior. Perceptions of low work group cohesion, informal sanctions against misbehavior, and Honesty-Humility strengthened this relationship. Low interactional justice perceptions increased these effects for interpersonally directed misbehavior but not for organizationally directed misbehavior. Managers and organizational leaders can discourage this behavior through the recruitment and selection (hiring) process, managing organizational culture, and addressing issues of fairness and justice in the workplace.
Date17 April 2007
CreatorsFerguson, Merideth
ContributorsSandra Robinson, Neta Moye, Ray Friedman, Bruce Barry
Source SetsVanderbilt University Theses
Detected LanguageEnglish
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