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The relationship between destructive unethical practices of senior leaders and employee moral voice in Australian organisations

Strauss, Ilsé (2022) The relationship between destructive unethical practices of senior leaders and employee moral voice in Australian organisations. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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Evidence of the destructive nature of unethical leadership can be seen in the oppressive and manipulative strategies used by senior leaders to morally mute employees. When senior leaders are the perpetrators of immorality, speaking up about ethical issues may become highly complex for employees. This research aimed to identify the relationship between unethical practices of senior leaders and employee moral voice. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 12 participants who held executive, managerial and employee positions in public and private sectors across Australia, who were asked to report their current and past experiences with unethical leaders.The results show that employees were quiescently mute about ethical issues, such as bullying and organisational injustices, due to fear of confrontation and retribution from leaders. Participants reported that unethical senior leaders used various ‘ethical distortions’, including euphemistic labelling, shaming and moral justifications, to morally mute employees. Furthermore, senior leaders exhibited extreme prioritisation of self-interested values, which motivated the strategic orchestration of a morally mute climate for personal gain. Moral disengagement theory was applied for a socio-cognitive perspective of perceived self-regulatory mechanisms used by senior leaders to absolve themselves of guilt for immoral behaviours. The current research concludes that a socio-cognitive triadic interplay of factors caused senior leaders to morally disengage from ethical issues, which resulted in employee moral mutism. Implications and future research opportunities are discussed, including the need for organisations to identify and eliminate policies and practices that mute employees' moral voice.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Business
Notes: Research Masters with Training
Supervisor(s): Steele, Andrea, Akstinaite, Vita and Paull, Megan
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