Author by : Jessica Alynn Kennedy
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Description : This dissertation examines how power, defined as higher rank in a hierarchy, affects dissent, the expression of disagreement with a value, goal, or practice embraced by a group majority. I examine this relation in the context of ethics in organizations in order to understand whether those higher in organizational hierarchies are more likely to intervene when unethical practices are ongoing in organizations. I propose that although possessing power confers the psychological and social freedom to dissent, the process of attaining power makes individuals unlikely to see the need to dissent. Specifically, I suggest that advancing to a position results in greater identification with the group. By creating this identification, power may lead individuals to adopt the morality embedded in the group. As a result, advancing in the hierarchy may cause individuals to see existing practices as more ethical, and high power individuals may dissent less than those who have not advanced in the hierarchy. I refer to this as the theory of power attainment. On the basis of this theory, I propose a negative relation between power and dissent. I explored this topic in a series of five studies. The first study explored lay perceptions of power and ethics. It examined whether organizational members considered high power individuals more responsible for ethics in organizations, and members' lay theories of how attaining power affects individuals' ethics. In this study, I found that 73 percent of survey respondents believed advancing in a hierarchy makes individuals more responsible for the organization's ethics, but only 42 percent believed that power inclines individuals to do so. Moreover, 42 percent reported that advancing in the hierarchy makes individuals less ethical. Thus, although most individuals perceived high power people to be responsible for organizational ethics, most respondents did not think high power individuals generally fulfill this responsibility. The second study examined the relations between power, group identification, and dissent. It used the priming methodology currently dominant in the research on power to examine two central hypotheses: Power increases group identification and decreases dissent. In this study, I found attaining power enhanced group identification. However, attaining power had no effect on dissent using this approach. The third study examined the effect of power on dissent in a laboratory study. It examined these central hypotheses as the prior study: Those who advance to a position of power in a group identify more with the group and dissent less than individuals who do not advance to power. In this study, individuals ostensibly interacted with a group and were randomly selected or not selected to advance in the group hierarchy. They later had the opportunity to dissent when the group decided whether to lie to obtain additional compensation for participating in the study. In this study, a negative relation between power and dissent emerged. Relative to a control condition, high power individuals dissented less. This occurred regardless of whether groups recommended lying or telling the truth. Low power had no effect on dissent relative to the control condition. Increased group identification among high power individuals explained the negative relation between power and dissent. Attaining power caused greater identification with the group and therefore, less dissent. The findings of Study 3 were puzzling in light of current power research, which has found that power decreases conformity. Study 4 aimed to integrate the findings of Study 3 with the existing power research by examining moral awareness as a moderator of the effect of power on dissent. I predicted that high power individuals would dissent more than others when their personal moral standards were salient due to the freedom power confers, but less when these standards were not salient because power makes individuals more susceptible to social influence from the group. In this study, individuals did or did not advance to a position of power in the group. Then, before they saw an ethically questionable negotiation strategy recommended by the group, they either wrote about the ethical virtues they saw as important in the negotiation (high moral awareness condition) or the goals they saw as important in the negotiation (low moral awareness condition). This study found a main effect of power on views of the group decision's ethicality. High power individuals rated the group's decision as more ethical than did individuals in a control condition. Moral awareness had no effect of power on dissent. Finally, Study 5 examined the relation between power and dissent using archival survey data. In an archival study of over 11,000 employees in 22 U.S. federal government agencies, I found evidence that higher power was associated with lower odds of perceiving and reporting unethical activity. However, among individuals who did perceive unethical activity, higher power was associated with higher odds of dissent, consistent with existing power theory. This research suggests that attaining power changes how individuals react to social influence; power appears to enhance conformity with the choices of those who accorded power. Because this finding stands in stark contrast to prior research on power, this research highlights the value of examining power in a social context. This research also provides one explanation for how unethical practices may persist in organizations. Power confers the psychological and social freedom to dissent and is widely perceived to confer responsibility for ensuring ethical behavior, policies, and practices in organizations. However, advancing in power appears to lead individuals to see the organization's values, goals, and practices as more ethical than they would otherwise. Therefore, by the time individuals achieve the psychological and social freedom to dissent, they may not see the need for dissent. As a result, high power individuals may not intervene to stop unethical practices.