Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 159, Issue 2, pp 519–534 | Cite as

To Help My Supervisor: Identification, Moral Identity, and Unethical Pro-supervisor Behavior

  • Hana Huang JohnsonEmail author
  • Elizabeth E. Umphress
Original Paper


Under some circumstances, individuals are willing to engage in unethical behaviors that benefit another entity. In this research we advance the unethical pro-organizational behavior construct by showing that individuals also have the potential to behave unethically to benefit their supervisors. Previous research has not examined if employees engage in unethical acts to benefit an entity that is separate from oneself and if they will conduct these acts to benefit a supervisor. Our research helps to address these gaps. We also demonstrate that unethical behavior to benefit a supervisor, what we term unethical pro-supervisor behavior, is more likely to occur if individuals are more (versus less) identified with their organization or supervisor. That is, feeling a sense of oneness with one’s organization or supervisor can result in employees engaging in unethical behavior to help their supervisor. Further, this positive relationship is weakened if the employee possesses higher levels of moral identity. We test our hypotheses with a two-part laboratory study, a field study, and a time-lagged field study. Theoretical and practical implications of this work are discussed.


Identification Moral identity Unethical pro-organizational behavior Unethical pro-supervisor behavior 



We thank Marie Mitchell for helpful feedback on this research.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

Hana Huang Johnson declares that she has no conflict of interest. Elizabeth E. Umphress declares that she has no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Business and EconomicsUniversity of IdahoMoscowUSA
  2. 2.Foster School of BusinessUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA

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