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date: 06 December 2023

Employee Work Experiences, Feelings, and Moralitylocked

Employee Work Experiences, Feelings, and Moralitylocked

  • Remus IliesRemus IliesBocconi University
  •  and Sherry AwSherry AwJames Cook University


Since the late 1990s, organizational psychology has gone through an “affective revolution,” producing a large body of work demonstrating how emotions and feelings are part and parcel of organizational life that have far-reaching effects on employees’ attitudes, cognitions, and behaviors. This stream of research has been particularly important in providing new insights into the origins of (im)moral behavior in the workplace—while (im)moral behavior was traditionally thought to be a result of personality, i.e., individuals with certain traits would be predisposed to engage in deviant behaviors, organizational psychologists now know that employees’ daily emotions too may facilitate (or inhibit) moral behavior. It is therefore important to have a comprehensive understanding of not only how and why emotions may influence moral behavior, but also the antecedents and predictors of these affective states, such as employees’ experiences of workplace events.

Further, emotions may be studied not only as broad, diffuse states of positive and negative affect but also as discrete emotions (e.g., anger, happiness, anxiety, and guilt). Particularly relevant to the discussion of moral behaviors are the moral emotions of empathy and compassion, guilt, shame, and gratitude. Examining these discrete emotions (as opposed to broad positive and negative affective states) would allow for a more nuanced and comprehensive understanding of how the individual discrete emotions may influence (or be influenced by) employees’ moral cognitions—moral disengagement and moral licensing, and subsequently their moral behaviors (counterproductive work behaviors and organizational citizenship behaviors). For instance, while gratitude is often thought of as a self-transcendent, moral emotion that encourages prosocial and ethical behaviors, it is possible that under specific situations, feelings of gratitude may instead facilitate moral disengagement or moral licensing strategies, and free employees to perform unethical behaviors instead. Similarly, guilt, shame, and compassion too may have complex relationships with the moral cognitions and behaviors. Finally, while much of emotions research involves within-individual, fluctuating emotional and psychological states, it would be remiss to neglect these relationships within the context of individual differences (e.g., propensity to feel guilt and shame, empathy).


  • Organizational and Institutional Psychology

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