Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 114, Issue 1, pp 45–53 | Cite as

Predicting Counterproductive Work Behavior from Guilt Proneness

  • Taya R. CohenEmail author
  • A. T. Panter
  • Nazli Turan


We investigated the relationship between guilt proneness and counterproductive work behavior (CWB) using a diverse sample of employed adults working in a variety of different industries at various levels in their organizations. CWB refers to behaviors that harm or are intended to harm organizations or people in organizations. Guilt proneness is a personality trait characterized by a predisposition to experience negative feelings about personal wrongdoing. CWB was engaged in less frequently by individuals high in guilt proneness compared to those low in guilt proneness, controlling for other known correlates of CWB. CWB was also predicted by gender, age, intention to turnover, interpersonal conflict at work, and negative affect at work. Given the detrimental impact of CWB on people and organizations, it may be wise for employers to consider guilt proneness when making hiring decisions.


Counterproductive work behavior Guilt proneness Unethical behavior Morality Personality Individual differences 



This research was made possible through the support of the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and a grant by the Berkman Faculty Development Fund at Carnegie Mellon University. We also wish to thank the members of the Character Project at Wake Forest University for valuable feedback on this research.


  1. Berry, C. M., Carpenter, N. C., & Barratt, C. L. (2012). Do other-reports of counterproductive work behavior provide an incremental contribution over self-reports? A meta-analytic comparison. Journal of Applied Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0026739.
  2. Bolger, N., Davis, A., & Rafaeli, E. (2003). Diary methods: Capturing life as it is lived. Annual Review of Psychology, 54, 579–617. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bollen, K., & Lennox, R. (1991). Conventional wisdom on measurement: A structural equation perspective. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 305–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buhrmester, M., Kwang, T., & Gosling, S. D. (2011). Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A new source of inexpensive, yet high-quality, data? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–5. doi: 10.1177/1745691610393980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cammann, C., Fichman, M., Jenkins, G. D., & Klesh, J. R. (1983). Assessing the attitudes and perceptions of organizational members. In S. E. Seashore, E. E. Lawler, P. H. Mirvis, & C. Cammann (Eds.), Assessing organizational change: A guide to methods, measures, and practices (pp. 71–138). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  6. Chance, Z., Norton, M. I., Gino, F., & Ariely, D. (2011). Temporal view of the costs and benefits of self-deception. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:  10.1073/pnas.1010658108.
  7. Cohen, T. R., Panter, A. T., Turan, N., & Morse, L. A. (2012). The WECT Project: Workplace experiences and character traits [project information]. Retrieved from
  8. Cohen, T. R., Wolf, S. T., Panter, A. T., & Insko, C. A. (2011). Introducing the GASP scale: A new measure of guilt and shame proneness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(5), 947–966. doi: 10.1037/a0022641.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dalal, R. S. (2005). A meta-analysis of the relationship between organizational citizenship behavior and counterproductive work behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(6), 1241–1255. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.90.6.1241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Edwards, J. R., & Bagozzi, R. P. (2000). On the nature and direction of relationships between constructs and measures. Psychological Methods, 5, 155–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fleeson, W., & Noftle, E. E. (2009). In favor of the synthetic resolution to the person-situation debate. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(2), 150–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Flynn, F. J., & Schaumberg, R. L. (2011). When feeling bad leads to feeling good: Guilt-proneness and affective organizational commitment. Journal of Applied Psychology. doi: 10.1037/a0024166.
  13. Fox, S., & Spector, P. E. (Eds.). (2005). Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  14. Funder, D. C. (2008). Persons, situations and person–situation interactions. In O. P. John, R. Robins, & L. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality (3rd ed., pp. 568–580). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  15. Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101(2), 366–385. doi: 10.1037/a0021847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Haidt, J. (2007). The new synthesis in moral psychology. Science, 316(5827), 998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hampson, S. E. (2011). Personality processes: Mechanisms by which personality traits “get outside the skin”. Annual Review of Psychology. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-120710-100419.
  18. Iida, M., Shrout, P. E., Laurenceau, J.-P., & Bolger, N. (2012). Using diary methods in psychological research. In H. Cooper, P. Camic, D. Long, A. T. Panter, D. Rindskopf, & K. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methodology in psychology (3 volumes). Washington, DC: APA Books.Google Scholar
  19. Keenan, A., & Newton, T. J. (1985). Stressful events, stressors, and psychological strains in young professional engineers. Journal of Occupational Behavior, 6, 151–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kish-Gephart, J. J., Harrison, D. A., & Treviño, L. K. (2010). Bad apples, bad cases, and bad barrels: Meta-analytic evidence about sources of unethical decisions at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(1), 1–31. doi: 10.1037/a0017103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Marcus, B., Lee, K., & Ashton, M. C. (2007). Personality dimensions explaining relationships between integrity tests and counterproductive behavior: Big five, or one in addition? Personnel Psychology, 60(1), 1–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McCrae, R. R., Kurtz, J. E., Yamagata, S., & Terracciano, A. (2011). Internal consistency, retest reliability, and their implications for personality scale validity. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 15(1), 28–50. doi: 10.1177/1088868310366253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (1998–2011). Mplus User’s Guide (6th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Muthén & Muthén.Google Scholar
  24. Nesselroade, J. R. (2007). Factoring at the individual level: Some matters for the second century of factor analysis. In R. Cudeck & R. C. MacCallum (Eds.), Factor analysis at 100: Historical developments and future directions (pp. 249–264). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  25. Rai, T. S., & Fiske, A. P. (2011). Moral psychology is relationship regulation: Moral motives for unity, hierarchy, equality, and proportionality. Psychological Review, 118(1), 57–75. doi: 10.1037/a0021867.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Schmitt, N. (1996). Uses and abuses of coefficient alpha. Psychological Assessment, 8(4), 350–353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Spector, P. (2011). The relationship of personality to counterproductive work behavior (CWB): An integration of perspectives. Human Resource Management Review, 21, 342–352.Google Scholar
  28. Spector, P. E., & Fox, S. (2005). The stressor-emotion model of counterproductive work behavior. In S. Fox & P. E. Spector (Eds.), Counterproductive work behavior: Investigations of actors and targets (pp. 151–174). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Google Scholar
  29. Spector, P. E., Bauer, J. A., & Fox, S. (2010). Measurement artifacts in the assessment of counterproductive work behavior and organizational citizenship behavior: Do we know what we think we know? Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(4), 781–790. doi: 10.1037/a0019477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Spector, P. E., Fox, S., Penney, L., Bruursema, K., Goh, A., & Kessler, S. (2006). The dimensionality of counterproductivity: Are all counterproductive behaviors created equal? Journal of Vocational Behavior, 68(3), 446–460. doi: 10.1016/j.jvb.2005.10.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Spector, P. E., & Jex, S. M. (1998). Development of four self-report measures of job stressors and strain: Interpersonal conflict at work scale, organizational constraints scale, quantitative workload inventory, and physical symptoms inventory. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3, 356–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Stucky, B., Gottfredson, N. C., & Panter, A. T. (2012). Item factor analysis. In H. Cooper, P. Camic, D. Long, A. T. Panter, D. Rindskopf, & K. Sher (Eds.), APA handbook of research methodology in psychology. Washington, DC: APA Books.Google Scholar
  33. Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. (2002). Shame and guilt. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  34. Tangney, J. P., Stuewig, J., & Mashek, D. J. (2007). Moral emotions and moral behavior. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 345–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Tangney, J. P., Youman, K., & Stuewig, J. (2009). Proneness to shame and proneness to guilt. In M. R. Leary & R. H. Hoyle (Eds.), Handbook of individual differences in social behavior (pp. 192–209). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  36. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010a). 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC User Guide).
  37. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010b). American time use survey.
  38. Watson, D., Clark, L. A., & Tellegen, A. (1988). Development and validation of brief measures of positive and negative affect: The PANAS scales. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 1063–1070.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Wirth, R. J., & Edwards, M. C. (2007). Item factor analysis: Current approaches and future directions. Psychological Methods, 12(1), 58–79. doi: 10.1037/1082-989X.12.1.58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Wolf, S. T., Cohen, T. R., Panter, A. T., & Insko, C. A. (2010). Shame proneness and guilt proneness: Toward the further understanding of reactions to public and private transgressions. Self & Identity, 9(4), 337–362. doi: 10.1080/15298860903106843.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yu, C.-Y. (2002). Evaluating cutoff criteria of model fit indices for latent variable models with binary and continuous outcomes. Doctoral dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  42. Zettler, I., & Hilbig, B. E. (2010). Honesty–humility and a person–situation interaction at work. European Journal of Personality, 24, 569–582.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tepper School of BusinessCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA
  2. 2.University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations