Why good guys finish last: The role of justification motives, cognition, and emotion in predicting retaliation against whistleblowers

By: John J. Sumanth, David M. Mayer, Virginia S. Kay


Sumanth, J. J., Mayer, D. M., & Kay, V. S. (2011). Why good guys finish last: The role of justification motives, cognition, and emotion in predicting retaliation against whistleblowers. Organizational Psychology Review, 1: 165-184.

Abstract:

Despite the public’s growing dissatisfaction with unethical behavior in modern organizations, research suggests that individuals who blow the whistle in an attempt to stop illicit activity often suffer retaliation at the hands of those who stand to benefit from the wrongdoing. To date, relatively little work has been undertaken exploring the boundary conditions and mechanisms for when and why retaliation occurs, with perceived differences in power and resource dependence between the whistleblower and retaliator being offered as the primary explanations. In this article, we attempt to build upon this theoretical foundation by introducing cognitive (i.e., moral disengagement) and affective (i.e., moral emotions) mechanisms as underlying drivers of the whistleblowing–retaliation relationship. Additionally, we use the theoretical lens of system justification theory to explore how perceived threats to an individual’s ego, group, and/or system heighten cognitive and affective responses that drive an individual to retaliate in seemingly paradoxical ways. Implications for practice and future research directions are discussed.