Concern for the Transgressor’s Consequences: An Explanation for Why Wrongdoing Remains Unreported

Abstract

In the aftermath of shocking workplace scandals, people are often baffled when individuals within the organization were aware of clear-cut wrongdoing yet did not inform authorities. The current research suggests that moral concern for the suffering that a transgressor might face if a crime were reported is an under-recognized, powerful force that shapes whistleblowing in organizations, particularly when transgressors are fellow members of a highly entitative group (i.e., a group that is perceived as highly unified). Two experiments show that group entitativity heightens concern about possible consequences that the transgressor would face if a crime were to be reported, and that this concern reduces the likelihood of reporting wrongdoing in organizations to authorities. Further, the studies identify a mechanism through which concern about the transgressor is heightened in highly entitative groups: potential reporters perceive that the transgressor felt remorse for their crime. Thus, when fellow members of highly entitative organizations commit crimes, people are more likely to imagine that these transgressors felt anxiety or guilt about their actions, and this prompts greater concern for transgressors in ways that encourage people to let them “off the hook.” We discuss the implications of these findings for how reporting to authorities can be encouraged within highly entitative organizations.

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Khan, S.R., Howe, L.C. Concern for the Transgressor’s Consequences: An Explanation for Why Wrongdoing Remains Unreported. J Bus Ethics (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04568-4

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Keywords

  • Moral judgment
  • Whistleblowing
  • Transgressions
  • Remorse
  • Entitativity