Ethical Decision Making and Psychological Entitlement

AuthorStephanie Thomason,Amy Brownlee
Date01 December 2018
Published date01 December 2018
Business and Society Review 123:4 631–659
© 2018 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Busi ness Ethics at Bentley Uni versity. Published by
Wiley Period icals, Inc., 350 Main St reet, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 9 600 Garsington
Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, U K. DOI: 10.1111/basr.12158
Ethical Decision Making and
Psychological Entitlement
Job candidates who possess characterist ics likely to
result in organizat ionally desired outcomes are va luable,
yet not always easily identified. Offeri ng validation sup-
port for selection tools that organiz ations can use to iden-
tify such ca ndidates is therefore important. The present
study examines t he construct of psychological entitle-
ment to determine if it can be used to identi fy indiv iduals
who are more likely to make sound eth ical judgments in
organizations. Speci fically, we exami ne the relationship
between psychological entitlement and eth ical decision
making, po siting that indiv iduals with h igh levels of psy-
chological entitlement are more likely to ma ke less ethical
decisions and to use less ethical upwa rd inf luence tactics
than those w ith opposing character istics. We adminis-
tered a survey to 174 participants using the
Multidimensional Eth ics Scale, the Subordinate Influence
Ethics Sca le, and the Psychological Entitlement Scale. To
test our hypotheses, we used hierarch ical multiple
Stephanie T homason is an A ssociate Dir ector of the TE CO Energy Center for L eadership,
Associate P rofessor of Management i n the Department of M anagement, John H. Sykes C ollege
of Business, The Un iversity of Tamp a, FL and Past P resident of the Nation al Society for
Experient ial Education. E-mai l: Amy Brow nlee is an Associ ate Professor
of Management at t he University of Tampa, FL. E -mail: abrownlee@
regression. Results suggest that indiv iduals with h igh
levels of psychological entitlement are more likely to con-
sider unethical actions as eth ical, given several sc enar-
ios. In addition, individuals w ith high levels of psychological
entitlement are more likely to consider self-servi ng and
maliciously-intended upward inf luence tactics as accept-
able when used to advance in an organi zation. They are
also less likely to consider pro-organi zational upward
inf luence tactics to be acceptable when used to advance
in organ izat ions.
In a recent ethics study on workplace productivity involv ing
1,946 U.S. adults, researchers found that 73% of those work-
ing had encountered ethical lapse s in the workplace—a nd 36%
were distracted by these eth ical lapses (LR N 2007). Furt hermore,
individuals who ex perienced these lapses and d istractions were
mainly younger workers between t he ages of 18 and 34. The
researchers noted that such lapses can re sult in time loss, rep-
utational damage, work qual ity problems, increased productivity
costs, and employee recruitment and retention problems (LRN
2007 ).
Such results provide support for the notion that hirin g ethical
job candidate’s benefits organizations, yet identify ing these indi-
viduals is not always easy. Hiri ng managers someti mes make poor
hiring deci sions and fail to disti nguish between eth ical and un-
ethical job candidates. Such decisions can be det rimental to a n
organi zation’s perfor mance.
Previous resea rch has shown that cert ain indiv idual charac-
teristics correspond to ethica lity in organ izations. For example,
research has found that job cand idates with lower levels of psycho-
logical entitlement were more likely to choose to work for a more
socially responsible organi zation despite the fact that they would
be working for less pay (Thomason et al. 2015). Campbell and col-
leagues (2004) found that individua ls with hig h levels of psycho-
logical entitlement scale (PE S) were more likely to feel that they
deserved to take Ha lloween candy designated for chi ldren in a de-
velopmental laboratory than les s entitled individual s. Additionally,
Campbell and colleagues (200 4) found that highly entitled i ndi-
viduals felt that they deser ved higher sala ries than t heir counter-
parts when faced wit h the hypothetica l situation of cost-cutting

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