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Researchers have reported various influences which impact individuals’ unethical behavior in organizations (Brown and Trevin˜o 2006). Much of this work has focused on behaviors that have a self-serving advantage for the individual. For example, an employee may steal from the organization in order to ‘‘right’’ a previous wrong committed by a supervisor or the organization (e.g., Skarlicki and Folger 1997). However, recent research has demonstrated that employees can also engage in unethical behavior to protect or promote the organization and its leaders (Umphress and Bingham 2011; Vadera and Pratt 2013). An example of this type of behavior occurs when individuals engage in accounting fraud to protect the company (Amernic and Craig 2010; Ertugrul and Krishnan 2011). Unethical behavior does not need to be as extreme as concealing serious crimes, and could involve lying to clients, withholding information from the public, or giving a good recommendation on behalf of an incompetent employee to another company. All of these behaviors would be committed with the purpose of helping the organization achieve its goals (Umphress and Bingham 2011). These activities fall under the umbrella of unethical proorganizational behavior (UPB), defined as ‘‘actions that are intended to promote the effective functioning of the organization or its members (e.g., leaders) and violate core societal values, mores, laws, or standards of proper conduct’’ (Umphress and Bingham 2011, p. 622). Unethical behavior, more broadly defined, goes beyond organizational norms and concerns committing an action which is incompatible with larger societal norms (Donaldson and Dunfee 1994). UPB involves pro-organizational behaviors which fit this definition of unethical behavior. However, while UPB may not be in the best interest of the organization in the long term, the concept focuses on the employees’ intentions. UPB is a type of pro-organizational workplace violation, where the behavior occurs with the purpose of advancing both organizational and personal interests (Vadera and Pratt 2013). From a practical perspective, UPB is important to understand due to its potentially devastating consequences on a variety of stakeholders. UPB has a great deal of ethical relevance on a societal level since these types of behaviors can greatly affect not only the organization, but also people outside of the organization (Vadera and Pratt 2013). For example, a high-profile case of UPB involved officials at Pennsylvania State University not properly reporting to the authorities a football coach’s inappropriate actions with children (Palazzolo 2011). As a result of UPB, public trust can be comprised, organizational reputations can be ruined, and significant costs can be incurred by individuals outside the organization (Umphress and Bingham 2011). Therefore, due to the potential consequences of UPB, it is important to examine mechanisms which help explain when employees would engage in this type of unethical behavior. Our findings make several contributions to the understanding of UPB. First, the results link to the leadership literature by illustrating that leadership style affects UPB by interacting with how leaders frame problems to followers. The role of leadership is prominent in the definition of UPB (Umphress and Bingham 2011) and leaders are central in shaping followers’ unethical behavior (Brown and Trevin˜o 2006). Our research builds from prior research examining the relationship of leadership and organizational identification on UPB. Umphress et al. (2010) found that those who had high organizational identification and high positive reciprocity beliefs were the most likely to engage in UPB. Additionally, Effelsberg et al. (2013) reported that in Germany, transformational leadership is positively related to subordinates’ UPB, and organizational identifi- cation mediates this relationship. Miao et al. (2013) also found that in China, moderate amounts of ethical leadership may encourage UPB. We extend upon these studies by incorporating an additional contextual leader influence; specifically, leader framing, and our findings help explain under what conditions ‘‘positive’’ leadership types may encourage UPB. While the influence of leaders on employees’ UPB matters, as Effelsberg et al. (2013) suggest, it can be a nuanced process. We propose that UPB is affected by the combination of communication tactics utilized by supervisors and their leadership style, and, therefore, multiple leadership influences should be taken into account. Our research also suggests that even when leaders are not specific in how they would prefer the employees to behave, subordinates interpret situational cues. Subordinates observe leadership style and how leaders frame problems, and this ultimately has an important effect on their behavior. Finally, our findings highlight the importance of the individuals’ characteristics in their likelihood to engage in UPB. In addition to positive reciprocity beliefs (Umphress et al. 2010) and employees’ personal disposition to engage in (un)ethical behavior (Effelsberg et al. 2013), individuals’ promotion focus may also play a role, and we find that followers’ personal congruence with the leaders’ framed messages is relevant in predicting UPB. Individuals who are high in promotion regulatory focus tend to seek gains in their life, and we test whether this gain-seeking preference will affect the influential impact of leadership on subordinates’ actions. Taken together, the results of our study indicate that in order to understand employee UPB, an interactionist perspective is needed. Not only does the situational aspect involve multiple leader influences, but individual characteristics of the employee are also important. Our findings have theoretical implications for leadership theory and ethical decision making, as well as practical implications for how organizations can design interventions to prevent UPB from occurring in the workplace.
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