Corporate social responsibility (CSR) aspirations by companies have been identified as a motivating factor for active employee participation in CSR implementation. However, a failure to practise what one preaches can backfire and lead to attribution of hypocrisy. Drawing on a qualitative study of an award-winning sustainability pioneer in the cosmetics sector, we explore the role of moral judgement in how and when employees interpret word–deed misalignment in CSR implementation as hypocritical. First, our case reveals that high CSR aspirations by companies raise employees’ moral expectations. Second, we develop a framework that explains variations in employees’ hypocrisy interpretations based on consequentialist and deontological forms of moral judgement. Our research advances a contextual view of hypocrisy, not as an objective characteristic of an organisation, but as an outcome of interpretative processes of perceived motives and results in CSR implementation. Our framework thereby explains why even highly committed organisations may face accusations of hypocrisy.
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Appendix: Data Sources
Appendix: Data Sources
Specification of collected data
Use in the analysis
From January/2018 to December/2019
Gather perceptions and examples of misalignments and hypocrisy
Number of interviews: 30
Gather data from different subunits and hierarchical positions in the organisation
– Managerial: 5
– Coordination: 11
– Operational: 5
– Sellers: 8
23 h of interviews
From 30 to 100 min
From 2007 to 2017:
Triangulate and verify information from our respondents
– Sustainability report 2007: 43 pages
Gather data regarding specific sustainability objectives and indicators
– Sustainability report 2008: 99 pages
– Sustainability report 2009: 147 pages
– Sustainability report 2010: 114 pages
– Sustainability report 2011: 134 pages
– Sustainability report 2012: 189 pages
– Sustainability report 2013: 175 pages
– Sustainability report 2014: 84 pages
– Sustainability report 2015: 122 pages
– Sustainability report 2016: 150 pages
– Sustainability report 2017: 122 pages
– Sustainability report 2018: 125 pages
– Sustainability Vision (launched in 2015): 44 pages
Minutes from meetings on sustainability:
Understand the language and details in specific projects that came up in the interviews
Eight meetings from January to April 2019
About this article
Cite this article
Lauriano, L.A., Reinecke, J. & Etter, M. When Aspirational Talk Backfires: The Role of Moral Judgements in Employees’ Hypocrisy Interpretation. J Bus Ethics 181, 827–845 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-021-04954-6