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To Blow or Not to Blow the Whistle: The Role of Rationalization in the Perceived Seriousness of Threats and Wrongdoing

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Abstract

Whistleblowers who need to decide whether or not they should report wrongdoing usually experience several anxieties and pressures before making a final decision. As whistleblowers continue to attract the attention of a wide range of stakeholders, more research is necessary to understand the effects of the perceived seriousness of threats (PST) and perceived seriousness of wrongdoing (PSW), as well as the effect of the rationalization process on the intention to blow the whistle. We make the original proposal that the rationalization process can affect how PST and PSW trigger whistleblowing intentions. We tested our model using employees of tax offices operating in an emerging economy. We suggest several research findings, which can be summarized as follows: (i) PST reduces individuals’ intention to blow the whistle. That is, the greater the threat perceived by whistleblowers, the higher the likelihood they will choose to remain silent; (ii) we find evidence of a positive relationship between PSW and whistleblowing intention, whereby PSW increases individuals’ intention to blow the whistle. That is, the more serious the wrongdoing perceived by potential whistleblowers, the more likely they are to choose to blow the whistle; and (iii) we find evidence of the important role of rationalization in moderating the relationships between PST, PSW, and whistleblowing intention. The implications of these findings for business ethics scholars, managers, and end-users interested in whistleblowing are also presented.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Steven Dellaportas (section editor), three exceptional reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on prior versions of this manuscript.

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Appendix

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Scenario

Mark has worked as an employee in one of the tax service offices (KPP Pratama) in Indonesia for 5 years, holding the position of account representative (AR). His salary is quite satisfying. He also has a good relationship with his colleagues and feels part of a team. Everything was going well, until 1 day he felt torn between conflicting emotions. In his last assignment, related to monitoring taxpayer compliance, he found evidence of bribery cases involving his supervisor conspiring with taxpayers to carry out tax avoidance. The amount of money involved was significant. Mark realized that this fraud was very serious and brought potential harm in terms of causing significant losses to the government and society at large. In addition, he also found evidence of a number of cases of extortion against other taxpayers. This caused him to be unable to sleep for several nights.

Following these discoveries, Mark considered reporting these findings to the general director of taxes or to the relevant authorities through available reporting mechanisms. However, he considered that by revealing this misconduct, there was an inherent risk that might haunt him in the future. If he wanted to pursue this case, there would be a risk of being laid off of work, being treated unfairly, verbal harassment and intimidation, or poor performance appraisal. Mark wanted to forget this case, but he reasoned that the truth must be revealed, even though it is difficult. However, with his current qualifications, he would not find another salaried position in the current economic climate. After thinking about this for several days, Mark decided to postpone making a decision about the case until he found the right solution.

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Latan, H., Chiappetta Jabbour, C.J. & Lopes de Sousa Jabbour, A.B. To Blow or Not to Blow the Whistle: The Role of Rationalization in the Perceived Seriousness of Threats and Wrongdoing. J Bus Ethics 169, 517–535 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04287-5

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