Moral intensity reduces the relationship between individual characteristics and unethical management behaviours, as higher moral intensity implies a lower likelihood that individuals will engage in unethical behaviour. Trevio, L. K., den Nieuwenboer, N. A., Kish-Gephart, J. J. (2014). (no) ethical behaviour in organizations. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 635-660. We want to fill this gap by empirically examining the moderating role of the contexts in which managers act to explain unethical management behaviours. Lehnert et al. (2015) found that the high complexity of the business environment made it difficult to isolate the influence of these contextual influences, and Bartlett (2003) proposed methodological considerations to achieve such contexts. We therefore use the case investigation methodology (Larsson 1993) to test contextual moderation effects, as it allows us to study real ethical management behaviour in all its complexity. However, while some early conceptual works in the organizing ethics literature (z.B Jones 1991; Trevio 1986) proposed how individual characteristics and contextual factors could combine and determine ethical and unethical behaviours, and few empirical studies of these moderating effects have been conducted.
Lehnert et al. (2015) observed in their review a series of ethics studies of the organization that were tested by moderators. However, few of them involved contextual moderation effects and contextual factors chosen for the most part. The authors found that it is necessary to focus on interactive effects in order to understand the limits of ethical behaviour. As a result, Kish-Gephart et al. (2010) noted that there was “a need for broader band research that studies more complex configurations of individual, moral and organizational environmental variables” (p. 23). Thus, while the organization`s literature has identified many individual, situal and moral issues, as well as organizational precursors of unethical management behaviour, the gap in existing research refers to how individual characteristics and contextual factors can combine. This gap is important because the complex interactions between individual characteristics and contextual influences offer great potential to more clearly understand the marginal conditions of unethical management behaviour. Psychologically, “strong” situations are characterized by strong incentives for specific behaviours and clear standards of behaviour, as well as obvious expectations of behaviours that are rewarded or punished. For example, in firms driven by fixed role expectations and related policies and procedures, individuals are likely to have less flexibility to express their disposition characteristics in a behavioural manner (Bowen and Ostroff 2004; House and Aditya 1997). These psychologically “strong” situations limit the individual`s decision-making ability and scope, as well as his or her ability to influence organizational outcomes.
Therefore, in such environments, it is less likely that people motivated by attributes such as personal gain or self-interest will have the opportunity to translate these trends into actual unethical management behaviour, due to the high discouragement of such behaviour embedded in the environment.