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When Aspirational Talk Backfires: The Role of Moral Judgements in Employees’ Hypocrisy Interpretation


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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This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

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Correspondence to Lucas Amaral Lauriano.

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Appendix: Data Sources

Appendix: Data Sources

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


Subunits: 20



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


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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).

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