Whereas previous research on ego depletion and ethics suggests that employees who are depleted of their self-control resources are more likely to engage in unethical behavior, our current research focuses on how observers perceive and react to depleted employees’ unethical behavior. Integrating ego depletion and attribution theories, we hypothesize and find that observers judge depleted employees’ unethical behavior more leniently than non-depleted employees as a result of lower levels of perceived intentionality. These perceptions in turn lead to lower levels of punishment. Results further suggest that not all types of depletion lead to the same effects on observers’ lenient moral judgments—depletion due to externally imposed reasons are more likely to result in lenient moral judgment, compared to depletion due to internally imposed reasons.
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Due to budget constraints, we were unable to conduct a large-sample study on Qualtrics Panels. Nevertheless, we ran a pilot study with the same exact manipulations and measures used in Study 2 on MTurk with a larger sample size (N = 320). The results were virtually identical to Study 2 and are available upon request.
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Conflict of interest
All authors declare no conflict of interest.
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 was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
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Zhang, Y., Yam, K.C., Kouchaki, M. et al. Cut You Some Slack? An Investigation of the Perceptions of a Depleted Employee’s Unethicality. J Bus Ethics 157, 673–683 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-017-3690-4
- Ego depletion
- Ethical decision making
- Perceptions of unethicality