The purpose of this paper is to investigate whether, and under what conditions, an individual’s punitive intent in response to ethical misconduct is shaped by their perceived forgiveness climate, which is their perception of how forgiving their organization is.
This study used the survey method embedded within a vignette-based experiment involving working adults.
Results show that higher perceived forgiveness climate is associated with lower punitive intent when an experience of being forgiven is salient to the disciplinary decision maker and when there are mitigating circumstances surrounding the ethical misconduct. When an experience of being unforgiven is salient to the disciplinary decision maker, higher perceived forgiveness climate is associated with higher punitive intent.
This study presents a more nuanced perspective on the conditions that shape punishment decision making in response to workplace ethical misconduct. As the findings may be specific to the measures and vignette used, future research should explore the replicability of these results using other measures and types of ethical misconduct.
The paper alerts disciplinary decision makers to the potential influence of their perceptions of the organizational context and of their personal experiences on their punishment decision making, helping avoid inappropriately punishing subordinates, which can generate employee resentment and inflated turnover.
This is the first study that examined the relationship between forgiveness and punishment in response to ethical misconduct in a workplace setting.
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