Employee Responses to Wrongdoing in Organisations: The Role of Psychological Processes in Employee Silence and Whistle-blowing

Marissa Edwards (2011). Employee Responses to Wrongdoing in Organisations: The Role of Psychological Processes in Employee Silence and Whistle-blowing PhD Thesis, School of Business, The University of Queensland.

       
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s33606138_phd_finalthesis.pdf This is the final version of my thesis with approved changes. application/pdf 2.57MB 33
Author Marissa Edwards
Thesis Title Employee Responses to Wrongdoing in Organisations: The Role of Psychological Processes in Employee Silence and Whistle-blowing
School, Centre or Institute School of Business
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-09
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Neal M. Ashkanasy
Jerald Greenberg
Sandra Lawrence
Total pages 292
Total colour pages 1
Total black and white pages 291
Language eng
Subjects 15 Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services
Abstract/Summary For more than two decades, researchers have sought to identify the factors that influence how employees respond to wrongdoing in work settings. Although investigations into whistle-blowing suggest that organisational, contextual and individual-level factors can play important roles, a growing body of work into the nature of employees' decision-making suggests that psychological processes (including perceptions, appraisals and emotions) may also exert an important effect. Additionally, researchers have generally neglected to explore alternative responses to wrongdoing, particularly employees' decisions to withhold their concerns from management (i.e., silence). In this thesis, I sought to explore how and why employees respond to wrongdoing in work settings in certain ways, and particularly to understand why people choose to remain silent or engage in whistle-blowing. This thesis consists of seven chapters. In Chapter 1, I provide an overview of the research, define key constructs of interest, and present my research questions. I also explain my methodological approach and provide a summary of the studies. In Chapter 2, I provide a review of the literature, first considering the nature of wrongdoing in organisations and then focusing on how employees respond to wrongdoing. I review the history of whistle-blowing and silence in organisations and then consider recent work into the potential role of emotion in encouraging these behaviours. In Chapter 3, I present a case study (Study 1) of a series of adverse events that occurred in an Australian healthcare setting. Using a modified approach to grounded theory, I explored the nature of the adverse events, how employees responded behaviourally to the adverse events, and focused in particular on how organisational and contextual factors helped to shape key perceptions that encouraged silence. Results indicated that employees responded to the adverse events using different behavioural strategies over time, and that shared sensemaking and critical events influenced their decision-making. The analyses revealed further that employees' emotional responses may have influenced their decisions to engage in silence and whistle-blowing, and I investigated this proposition in the following study. Specifically, in Chapter 4 (Study 2), I present the results of interviews with participants who observed or experienced various forms of wrongdoing in work settings. In this study I sought to investigate more deeply the nature of employees' decision-making following wrongdoing, particularly the role of emotions, and identify any additional behavioural responses to wrongdoing. The results revealed that people experienced a range of emotional responses immediately following an episode of wrongdoing, most frequently anger, fear and distress. Consistent with the results of the case study, key perceptions encouraged people to withhold their concerns from management, including the danger and futility of reporting wrongdoing, perpetrator power and uncertainty; whereas perceived personal responsibility for reporting, perpetrator intentionality, and personal values (e.g., addressing injustice) were among perceptions and appraisals that encouraged formal reporting to management. Additionally, the analysis indicated that certain perceptions appeared to encourage anticipated emotions about silence and whistle-blowing, which in turn influenced participants' behaviour. I also identified a broader range of behavioural responses to wrongdoing, including two distinct forms of confrontation. In Chapter 5 (Study 3), I developed a scale measuring two individual-level perceptions about formally reporting wrongdoing in one's organisation: that it is dangerous and that it is futile to report wrongdoing to management (i.e., a psychological climate of silence). In Chapter 6 (Study 4), I integrated the findings of the previous three studies and conducted a quantitative study to determine the role of psychological processes and a psychological climate of silence in shaping responses to wrongdoing. Here, I developed a continuous scale to measure level of reporting behaviour, ranging from silence to formal reporting outside of the organisation (i.e., external whistle-blowing). The results of a survey of 119 employees from a range of organisations revealed that, consistent with hypotheses, anticipated fear and anticipated regret associated with whistle-blowing inconsistently mediated relationships between perpetrator power and level of reporting. Additionally, anticipated guilt associated with remaining silent mediated the relationships between the moral intensity of the wrongdoing and level of reporting, and perpetrator intentionality and level of reporting. Further, a psychological climate of silence was found to moderate the relationship between anticipated regret and level of reporting, such that anticipated regret had a stronger effect on level of reporting behaviour when a climate of silence was stronger rather than weaker. In Chapter 7, I present the findings with respect to each research question, and consider the contributions and limitations of these studies, as well as directions for future research. Taken together, I hope that the results presented in this thesis will offer major theoretical and practical contributions to our understanding of how people respond to wrongdoing in organisational settings and provide evidence that perceptions, appraisals and anticipated emotions play important roles in determining employees' behaviour.
Keyword Employee silence
Whistle-blowing
Emotions
Workplace deviance
Additional Notes One page should be printed in colour, p. 206 The following pages should be printed in landscape: 74, 75, 87, 133, 134, 198

 
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Created: Wed, 15 Feb 2012, 12:59:18 EST by Marissa Edwards on behalf of Library - Information Access Service