Thursday, 8 November 2012

Driven away by hypocrisy: when endorsing a caring workplace backfires for leaders

Interpersonal justice - treating others with care and respect - is something every organisation seeks to cultivate. Such a climate can lead to favourable team interactions,  better customer service and higher employee engagement, and managers can play their part by communicating standards and the importance of such behaviour. But can an expectation for interpersonal justice backfire? What about when the manager demonstrates they have no interest in following it themselves? This question led Rebecca Greenbaum, Mary Mawritz and Ronald Piccolo to examine the impact when an act of managerial mistreatment is also seen as a hypocritical one.

Hypocrisy has only recently garnered attention in the examination of 'dark-side' leadership behaviours. Also referred to as word-deed misalignment, it specifically denotes occasions where leaders espouse rules that they regularly break themselves - distinct from other types of immoral but at least consistent behaviours. According to Behavioural Integrity Theory, employees seek to predict and control future encounters with the leaders who hold power over them, so a hypocritical manager is a real issue, being hard to predict on the basis of their words.

The team surveyed 312 participants from a range of industries, the questionnaire tackling how much each experienced supervisory undermining (if they 'Talk bad about you behind your back), Leader Hypocrisy ('I wish my supervisor would practice what he/she preached'), and Interpersonal Justice Expectation, such as the extent to which you are asked to 'treat people with respect'. The questionnaire also probed intention to leave the organisation, and collected control data on similar variables such as trust in your leader and psychological contract breach, meaning whether you felt that specific promises made to had been broken.

After controlling for the other variables, higher levels of hypocrisy were associated with greater turnover intentions. Supervisor undermining was positively related to turnover, but close examination of the data revealed that this effect became significant only at a certain level of justice expectations. In other words, when employees didn't feel that their supervisor emphasised fair treatment, their own unfair treatment didn't reliably lead to greater intention to leave. This strongly suggests that hypocrisy is a driving factor here, the concern being less about the instances of undermining but the sense that the leader is hostile *and* unpredictable and therefore the employee has no control.

As the authors conclude, 'the promise of interpersonal justice expectation adds insult to injury as subordinates realise that their leader's behaviour deviates from the dignified and respectful behaviour they promote.' Managers who espouse organisational behaviours they have no intention of keeping may end up chasing employees away quicker than if they made no secret of their severe treatment of others. From the employee point of view, if you're going to work with a devil, better one you know.
ResearchBlogging.orgGreenbaum, R., Mawritz, M., & Piccolo, R. (2012). When Leaders Fail to "Walk the Talk": Supervisor Undermining and Perceptions of Leader Hypocrisy Journal of Management DOI: 10.1177/0149206312442386

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