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Walking The Talk

Andrea M. Scheetz, T. Fogarty
Published 2019 · Economics

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Based on exchange theory and the generalized norm of reciprocity, psychological contracts perceived by employees are believed to have dysfunctional consequences for organizations if breached. This paper aims to study the willingness of employees to report fraud, as such is an important aspect of internal control for organizations.,A 2 × 2 between-subjects experiment was conducted in which 99 participants with diverse accounting backgrounds were first asked questions about their preconceived beliefs (psychological contract) regarding how reports of unethical conduct would be managed, and their reaction if these beliefs were broken (psychological contract violation). Participants were given a hypothetical situation of fraud and then asked to indicate their likelihood of reporting fraud to a supervisor.,The main hypotheses are that employees will be less likely to report fraud when the organization fails to signal the presence of a positive ethical environment or when management reacts weakly to previous reports of unethical activity. The data and findings support these hypotheses. Additional testing also reveals that a psychological contract violation mediates the relationship between the outcome of previous reports and the intention to report fraud.,As with any experimental study, this study’s results come with limitations. Reading an overly simplistic scenario that omits real world details and providing intention to report is very different from actually reporting fraud in one’s own place of employment. Therefore, reporting intentions may vary from actual reporting behavior. Further, reporting motivation (self-defense, altruism, etc.) and concern over retaliation are not measured.,Employees have expectations surrounding ethical corporate environments. Psychological contract violations occur as a result of broken expectations and are common in the workforce. In this study, a breakdown in the internal control environment because of a poor ethical culture, caused an even greater breakdown in internal controls because of employees’ decreased reporting intentions.,Psychological contract violations impact employees’ intention to report fraud. These violations need to be understood so that additional measures and safeguards can be instituted when employees are not acting as a fraud defense or detection mechanism. During such times when there is a breakdown in this type of internal control (that is, when employees might be hesitant to report fraud), extra safeguards against fraud, additional procedures to detect fraud, and enhanced employee training encouraging reporting of suspected unethical conduct, become even more important.,Strong experimental methods provide a rigorous way to evaluate a problem of our day: job insecurity caused by rampant organizational turbulence. The hidden cost is expressed in terms of how less can be expected of employees as a first line of defense against fraud.
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