Moral disengagement can become a powerful, progressive and transformative process through which self-sanctions are gradually diminished until misbehavior is normalized and can be routinely performed with little concern for the consequences.
A new study led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK and International Telematic University UNINETTUNO, Italy, focuses on how to reduce the power of moral disengagement.
“Although self-efficacious individuals are in general more self-regulated and motivated to behave in line with their standards, this does not mean they are morally infallible,” said Dr. Roberta Fida, of UEA’s Norwich Business School.
The first dimension of moral self-efficacy refers to beliefs about a person’s own ability to self-reflect on past moral failures and anticipate how to do better going forward. The second refers to beliefs in their capabilities to self-regulate moral behavior and do the right thing when tempted or under pressure.
The study was conducted with the support of the Italian National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work (INAIL). It involved 1308 Italian employees, who were surveyed three times over three months.
They were asked to rate how often they had engaged in different behaviors, their level of agreement with a set of statements about different moral disengagement mechanisms, and their perceived capabilities to master moral challenges and reflect on their moral failures.
The survey results show that highly morally efficacious individuals are more likely to ‘bounce back after a failure, and learn from their mistakes, rather than routinize misbehavior and repeatedly deviate from their moral compass.
Rather, they have the resources to restore their moral compass, to mindfully re-engage morally, and are therefore less likely to continue justifying and engaging in wrongdoing.
For individuals with low moral self-efficacy, moral disengagement normalizes wrongdoings, so they can be routinely performed with little anguish.
They are less aware of the internal and social forces that work in interrelated ways to disengage their moral standards and bypass their moral control system, making it difficult to mitigate or stop the process to prevent the thoughtless routinization of their misconduct.
The results of this research broaden our understanding of how to prevent the routinization of wrongdoing at work by helping people develop and strengthen their moral self-efficacy.
Organizations should create opportunities to reflect on the complexities of moral decision-making, the mechanisms often at play in the justification of wrongdoing, and the capabilities needed to master moral challenges.