Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 113, Issue 1, pp 133-145

First online:

Satisfying Individual Desires or Moral Standards? Preferential Treatment and Group Members’ Self-Worth, Affect, and Behavior

  • Stefan ThauAffiliated withOrganizational Behavior Subject Area, London Business School, Regent’s Park Email author 
  • , Christian TrösterAffiliated withDepartment of Management & Economics, Kühne Logistics University
  • , Karl AquinoAffiliated withOBHR Division, Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia
  • , Madan PillutlaAffiliated withOrganizational Behavior Subject Area, London Business School, Regent’s Park
  • , David De CremerAffiliated withRotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


We investigate how social comparison processes in leader treatment quality impact group members’ self-worth, affect, and behavior. Evidences from the field and the laboratory suggest that employees who are treated kinder and more considerate than their fellow group members experience more self-worth and positive affect. Moreover, the greater positive self-implications of preferentially treated group members motivate them more strongly to comply with norms and to engage in tasks that benefit the group. These findings suggest that leaders face an ethical trade-off between satisfying the moral standard of treating everybody equally well and satisfying individual group members’ desire to be treated better than others.


Group value model Leadership Norm compliance Social comparison Status Affect