Organizational Moral Disengagement: Suspending Morality at Work

Irene Skovgaard-Smith, Roberta Fida, Claudio Barbaranelli, Marinella Paciello, Rosalind Searle, Mamoona Arshad, Matteo Ronchetti

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


While individual’s wrongdoing through mechanisms of moral disengagement has grown in study, limited attention has been paid to collective moral disengagement. Although this has been mentioned in relation to well-known cases of corporate scandals and harmful industry practices and products, a distinct concept of organizational moral disengagement has not previously been theoretically developed or empirically operationalized. This is what we aim to do in this paper. Drawing on Bandura’s moral agency theory, we conceptually define organizational moral disengagement (OrgMD) as individual’s perception of the organizational suspension of morality which justifies and exonerates unethical activities. Using three studies, we develop and test the concept of OrgMD, devising a valid measure with demonstrable conceptual and empirical distinctiveness from personal moral disengagement, and showing a specific relationship with unethical pro-organizational conduct. Study 1 and Study 2 followed a two-wave design with the participation of UK employees (N=301 and N=297 respectively). Study 3 followed a cross-sectional design with the participation of 297 Italian employees. OrgMD is confirmed as unidimensional, with all the items loading onto one latent dimension (Hypothesis 1). OrgMD, although correlated, is different from personal moral disengagement (Hypothesis 2), and found to better predict unethical pro-organizational behavior (Hypothesis 3), compared to personal MD. We also show cross-cultural invariance of OrgMD based on data from two countries. Overall, in this paper we advance understanding of the role of perceptions of organizational disengagement mechanisms which justify malpractices and valorize unethical activities as permissible or even desirable.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 31 Mar 2023
EventThe 83rd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management: Putting the Worker Front and Center - Boston, Massachusetts, USA, Boston, United States
Duration: 4 Aug 20238 Aug 2023


ConferenceThe 83rd Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
Abbreviated titleAOM 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address


  • Collective moral disengagement
  • organizational moral disengagement
  • Unethical pro-organizational behaviour (UPB)
  • social cognitive theory
  • counterproductive work behavior

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