Stripped of Agency: The Paradoxical Effect of Employee Monitoring on Deviance



Journal of Management, Ahead of Print.
Organizations have long sought to mitigate risks associated with unsupervised employee conduct (e.g., employee deviance) through employee monitoring, an approach consistent with traditional theorizing. Yet the effectiveness of employee monitoring as a deviance deterrent has been called into question by emerging evidence suggesting that monitored employees may actually engage in higher levels of deviance. To address this critical tension and shed light on why and when monitoring leads to deviance, we draw upon social cognitive theory to examine the self-regulatory consequences of employee monitoring. We theorize that monitoring paradoxically creates conditions for more (not less) deviance by diminishing employees’ sense of agency, thereby facilitating moral disengagement via displacement of responsibility. Integrating fairness heuristic theory, we further argue that overall justice provides a powerful heuristic that mitigates the potential loss of sense of agency associated with monitoring. Accordingly, we suggest that employee perceptions of high justice will attenuate displacement of responsibility and, in turn, deviance. Across a field study and an experimental study, we find converging support for our predictions and rule out alternative explanations. This research provides important theoretical and practical insights into how monitoring can be used effectively without also promoting unintended consequences.



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