Toward Understanding Employees 'Responses to Leaders' Unethical Pro-organizational Behavior: An Outcome Favorability Perspective

Yahua Cai, Haoding Wang, SC Schuh, Jinsong Li, WL Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal

1 Citation (Web of Science)


The uncovering of several recent corporate scandals has brought to light unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB) in organizations. A growing body of research has provided insights into employees' UPB and its antecedents. However, our understanding of leader UPB and its effects remains limited. In this study, we develop and test a theoretical model that explains employees' responses to their leader UPB. By drawing on the theory of motivated reasoning and the trust literature, we posit that, in general, leader UPB is linked to unfavorable responses from employees such as a lower perception of leaders' trustworthiness, which, in turn, reduces the citizenship behaviors of employees. However, our model also shows that these effects do not emerge automatically but depend on a crucial boundary condition-followers' outcome favorability, or the extent to which followers personally benefit from leader UPB. Specifically, we contend that negative responses to leader UPB arise mainly when followers' outcome favorability is low but decrease significantly when followers' outcome favorability is high. The results of two multi-wave, multi-source field studies support our hypothesized model. These findings offer a new, instrumental perspective on followers' responses to unethical leader behaviors, with valuable theoretical and practical implications.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Business Ethics
Early online date3 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Leader unethical pro-organizational behavior (UPB)
  • Motivated reasoning theory
  • Organizational citizenship behavior
  • Outcome favorability

Indexed by

  • ABDC-A
  • FT
  • SSCI


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