Are they among us? A conceptual framework of the relationship
between the dark triad personality and counterproductive work
School of Political Science, Division of Public Administration, University of Haifa, Haifa 31905, Israel
article info abstract
Received 19 February 2015
Received in revised form 29 June 2015
Accepted 10 July 2015
In light of the growing interest in the dark side of organizations in mainstream research, two con-
cepts related to organizational behavior and management literature have received attention in re-
cent years: counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) and dark triad traits (Machiavellianism,
narcissism, psychopathy). It is only natural that current studies have tried to ﬁnd a relationship
between them; however, their ﬁndings were not impressive. This paper contends that the reason
for the weak relationship found between the dark triad traits and CWBs is perhaps that studies
have ignored some important mediators and moderators in this relationship. This conceptual
paper presents a model of this relationship, arguing that perceptions of organizational politics
and perceived accountabilityare two mediators ofthe relationshipbetween the dark triadperson-
alities and CWBs. The model also advances four moderators: ﬁrst, political skill is expected to
moderate therelationship between the two mediators and the dark triad. Second, three organiza-
tional moderators (organizational transparency, organizational policies, and organizational cul-
ture/climate) are expected to moderate the relationship between the two mediators and CWBs.
After presenting the model and the resulting propositions, the paper concludes with suggestions
for future research regarding the proposed model.
© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Dark triad personality
Counter productive work behaviors (CWBs)
Counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) are deliberate actions that harm the organization or its members (O'Boyle, Forsyth, &
O'Boyle, 2011). They include a variety of acts that can be directed toward organizations (CWB-O) or toward other people (CWB-P).
Destroying organizational property, purposely doing work incorrectly, and taking unauthorized work breaks are examples of CWB-
O, whereas hitting a coworker, insulting others, and shouting at someone are forms of CWB-P. CWB is considered an umbrella term
that subsumes, in part or whole, similarconstructs concerning harmful behaviors at work, including aggression, deviance, retaliation,
and revenge (Spector & Fox, 2010). According to Berry,Carpenter, and Barratt (2012) each type of CWB was treated, until recently, as a
series of discrete incidents, resulting in separate literatures that focused on the measurement of speciﬁc CWBs,such as theft or harass-
ment. Although there are conceptual distinctions between these related constructs, recent studies consider them a broad class of
behaviors (Spector & Fox, 2010).
The growing interest in CWBs is not only due to conceptual/theoretical reasons, but also followed in the wake of public scandals
during this century (Spain, Harms, & LeBreton, 2014). CWBs are considered one of the most costly behaviors in terms of damage in-
curred by organizations. According to Bennett and Robinson (2000), 15% of the employees in their study had reportedly stolen from
their employer at least once. It has been estimated that 33% to 75% of all employees have engaged in behaviors such as theft, fraud,
Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
E-mail address: ACOHEN@POLI.HAIFA.AC.IL.
1053-4822/© 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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vandalism, sabotage, and voluntary absenteeism. Bennett and Robinson (2000) mentioned Lehmann, Holcom, and Simpson (1990)
who reported that almost 25% of an employee sample in a large city in the southwestern US indicated knowledge of drug abuse
among coworkers during the preceding year. Bennet and Robinson also mentioned Webb (1991), who found that 42% of a surveyed
sample of women reported experiencing sexual harassment at work, and data from Northwestern Life Insurance Company (1993)
showing 7%of an employee sample reported being victims of physical harassment. Wells (1999) reported that the collective damage
to companies due to acts of employee theft and fraud may reach as much as $400 billion dollars a year in the US alone according to the
most recentsurvey of fraud examiners, published by the Association of Certiﬁed Fraud Examiners (ACFE). Galperin and Burke (2006)
mentioned Mendoza (1999), who found that acts related to cyber deviance can cost up to US$7.1 billion per year. Other expenses re-
lated to workplace deviance include insurance losses, a diminished reputation, and reduced employee performance (Galperin &
Burke, 2006). According to Moore, Detert, Klebe Treviño, Baker, and Mayer (2012), the Association of Certiﬁed Fraud Examiners re-
cently estimated that global businesses suffer annual losses of U$2.9 trillion as a result of fraudulent activity. This is an enormous
amount, indicatingthat unethical behavior is farmore widespread thansuggested by the intense focus ona few high-proﬁle scandals
covered by the major news media.
Moreover, studies estimated that CWBs not only cost organizations billions of dollars annually, but also have negative conse-
quences for employees. For instance, being the target of these broad CWBs can lead to an employee's decreased job satisfaction and
increased stress and intentions to quit, among other things (Berry et al., 2012). Corporate psychopaths were found to be key contrib-
utors to conﬂict and bullying (Baughman, Dearing, Giammarco, & Vernon, 2012), and through this to low employee affective well-
being and high CWBs (Boddy, 2014). Clearly, CWB should be a major concern for organizations around the world (Fine, Horowitz,
Weigler, & Basis, 2010). Thus, it is crucial for organizational leaders and societal well-being that professionals understand and be
able to predict who is likely to engage in such behaviors (Moore et al., 2012).
Despite the growing interest in CWBs as a research issue, not enough is known about the determinants of CWBs. The ﬁndings of
several meta-analyses that were conducted on the relationship between CWBs and possible correlates exempliﬁed this contention.
Selgado (2002) found a weak to moderate relationship between CWBs and the big ﬁve personality dimensions. Berry, Ones, and
Sackett (2007) and Berry et al. (2012) found that CWBs are related (negatively) to agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional
stability. Weak to moderate relationships were found between CWBs and organizational justice, while the correlations between de-
mographic variables and CWBs were negligible. Hershcovis et al. (2007) found that of the personal variables, gender (male) and the
trait of anger were moderately related to workplace aggression. Other researchers also found a strong effect of gender (male)
(Baughman et al., 2012; Bowling & Burns, 2015). The dimensions of organizational justice and poor leadership were also moderately
related to workplace aggression (Hershcovis et al., 2007). Tests of integrity were found to be moderately related to CWBs in another
in-depth meta-analysis (Van Iddekinge, Roth, Raymark, & Odle-Dusseau, 2012). Aggression (Berry, Sackett, & Tobares, 2010) and
workplace harassment (Bowling & Beehr, 2006) were also found to be moderately related to CWBs. Finally, Schyns and Schilling
(2013), in their meta-analysis, found quite a strong relationship between CWBs and destructive leadership.
The magnitude of the correlations found in these meta-analyses was quite modest. This implies that other explanations and direc-
tions must be sought to understand the causes of CWBs. One of the most provocative explanations suggested in recent literature,
based on a clinical approach to CWBs (MacLane & Walmsley, 2010), is that the dark triad personalities are a possible determinant
of CWBs in the workplace (Smith & Lilienfeld, 2013). The dark triad has been not been sufﬁciently studied in the literature on man-
agement,organizational behavior, and industrial psychology. In fact, it was evenless sufﬁciently researched than CWBs. As mentioned
by Harms and Spain (2015), the study of the dark personality and its impact in the workplace is only now entering the mainstream of
organizational research. Smith and Lilienfeld (2013) noted that, in comparison to the high coverage of the concept by the media, only
a few scholarly articles on the issue exist, citing fewer than 50 papers published from 1990 to October 2012. Smith and Lilienfeld
(2013) argued that the divergence between popularcoverage and the scientiﬁc research on business psychopathyis both substantial
and troubling. Thus, although the problems posed by psychopathy in the workplace have been discussed widely in popular publica-
tions, this theoretically and pragmatically important issue has been the subject of relatively little systematic research. The outcome is
that too little is known about CWBs and their determinants.
What is the conceptual deﬁnition of the dark triad? According to Smith and Lilienfeld (2013), the dark triad is a constellation of
three theoretically separable, albeit empirically overlapping, personality constructs that are typically construed as interpersonally
maladaptive: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Although many researchers refer to the constructs comprising the
dark triad as singular traits (e.g., psychopathy), it is more appropriate to conceptualize these constructs as multidimensional, com-
posed of multiple attributes. This is because, while the traits that constitute the darktriad overlap, they are nonetheless relatively in-
dependent (Wu & Lebreton, 2011). Most research on the dark triad personality in the workplace is based on this model (Schyns,
2015). It should be noted, however, that in many instances the term psychopathy in the workplace is parallel to that of dark triad per-
sonality. This is because some researchers assumed that the three dimensions overlap (Paulhus & Williams, 2002) and the term psy-
chopathy can be used as an umbrella term to cover the dark triad. Therefore, in some of the following sections psychopathy is used as
such an umbrella termwhen citing studies that applied this approach. This is particularly true for the terms corporate psychopathy or
successful psychopathy that in fact refer to the dark triad but have become established terms themselves.
Of all the people with personality disorders, psychopaths (e.g., the dark triad personality) are the most studied in psychology and
psychiatry (Boddy, 2010a). Psychologists have quite recently come to understand that a type of psychopath existswho is not prone to
outbursts of impulsive, violent, criminal behavior and who thereforelives relatively undetected and successfully in society. They have
been called successful psychopaths, because they successfully evade contact with legal authorities. Some of these successful psycho-
paths work in corporations and have been called Corporate Psychopaths, Organizational Psychopaths, or Executive Psychopaths. Cor-
porate psychopathscomprise themere 1% or so of people who are psychopathic and work in corporations. Very few research studies
70 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
have been conductedon populations of these non-criminal or successful psychopaths, and therefore, their lifestories and trajectories
are not very well delineated or understood (Boddy, 2010a).
As noted by Smith and Lilienfeld (2013), some of the traits of psychopaths can be adaptive in work settings, such as the business
world. What seems to make psychopaths “successful”at work is that they are good at creating an illusion of success at the expense of
honest work (Chiaburu, Muñoz, & Gardner, 2013). Moreover, psychopathsin the business community are not easily detected, because
they may appear to outsiders as ideal leaders, concealing their dark side with poise and charm. Psychopaths are attracted to the busi-
ness world because of the power, prestige, and ﬁnancial gain they can achieve there (Hare, 1999). They are likely to be attracted to
positions of inﬂuence and thus might be slightly overrepresented in leadership and top management positions (Schyns, 2015). The
business world serves as a virtual magnet for psychopaths, suggesting that the base rate for psychopathy in the upper ranks of corpo-
rations may in fact be as high as 3%, as compared with 1% in the general population (Schyns, 2015; Smith & Lilienfeld, 2013). As an
approximation, Cohen and Morse (2014) estimated that employees low in moral character comprise 20% to 30% of theworking adults
in the US.
The person–organization ﬁt theory provides a compelling rationale for the attraction of people with dark triad traits to work or-
ganizations, and in somecases to speciﬁc work organizations (e.g., public serviceversus private organizations). A common perspective
of this theory is the needs-supplies perspective. According to this point of view, person–organization ﬁt occurs when an organization
satisﬁes the needs, desires, or preferences of individuals (Kristof, 1996). From the job seeker's pointof view, employers are evaluated
according to their abilities to supply the rewards that meet the psychological needs of potential hires (Yu, 2014). According to Yu
(2014), being attracted to certain employers is useful for job seekers wishing to execute plans and realize goals relatedto their pursuit
of jobs in these organizations. Yu further contended that these ideas are consistent with those of interactional psychologists, who
argue that individuals are attracted to organizations that are perceived to offer work environments where they can fulﬁll their
needs. Dark triad personalities feel more comfortable in a work setting that has much tooffer them in terms of their need for prestige
and resources. They may feel even more comfortable in a more ambiguous environment, where the probability of their being caught
would be much lower because of the absence of clear policies and standards as well as control mechanisms.
However, as Boddy (2010b) mentioned, not enough studies have been conducted regarding psychopaths in the work setting. Re-
cent evidence has demonstrated that they are destructive to the organizations for which they work and to their colleagues. Moreover,
corporate psychopaths have empirically been shown to create a toxic workplace environment, typiﬁed by conﬂict, bullying, increased
workload, low levels of job satisfaction, higher levels of withdrawal, and higher than necessary organizational constraints (Boddy,
2010a, 2010b). Boddy (2010a, 2010b) further indicated that employees working under psychopaths experience less instruction,
less training, and less help from others. These employees also receive less recognition for doing a good job, less appreciation, and
fewer rewards. They also experience a less friendly work environment, with poorer communications, and suffer more unfairness
from their supervisor when psychopaths are present. Such ﬁndings could serve as a sufﬁcient reason for encouraging research that
will look into this issue in greater depth.
The above ﬁndings support the need to explore the relationship between the dark triad personalities and CWBs. However, the
studies that have examined this relationship found moderate correlations, including some meta-analyses. For example, Kish-
Gephart, Harrison, and Treviño (2010) found, based on 11 samples, a moderate relationship (Mean r = .219) between Machiavellian-
ism and unethical behavior. A moderator analysis that compared unethical behavior and unethical intention did not reveal meaningful
differences. In their meta-analysis, O'Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, and McDaniel (2012) advanced speciﬁc hypotheses about the relationship
between the dark triad personality and CWBs, based on the social exchange theory. Their ﬁndings revealed that CWBs have a weak
relationship with psychopathy (corrected r = .06 based on 27 samples), a moderate relationship with Machiavellianism (corrected
r = .25 based on 13 samples), and a relatively strong relationshipwith narcissism (corrected r = .43based on 9 samples). Their ﬁnd-
ings also showed that of the two moderators, authority and culture, culture had a stronger moderating effect. The relationship be-
tween narcissism and CWBs was somewhat weaker in collectivist cultures. However, overall the moderating effect was quite weak.
Grijalva and Newman (2015) presented their meta-analysis of the relationship between narcissism and CWBs and found a weak re-
lationship between the two (corrected r = .23 on 15 samples). Their ﬁndings supported O'Boyle et al.'s (2012) ﬁnding that the rela-
tionship between narcissism and CWBs is somewhat weaker in collectivist cultures.
The above ﬁndings lead to several conclusions. First, the direct relationship between thedark triad and CWBs is moderate at most.
Second, the moderators examined by these meta-analyses did not reveal a strong effect and did not signiﬁcantly increase the strength
of the relationship. Third, there are probably other mediators/moderators in the relationship between the dark triad personalities and
CWBs. Indeed, Spain et al. (2014) argued that individuals who scored high on anyelement of the dark triad may be willing to engage in
unethical behavior; however, the question remains under what circumstances they will actually do so. Given that employees high in
Machiavellianism are disposed to manipulate people, but maynot be able to do so, do they truly demonstrate skill in negotiations? Is
the narcissistic leaders' need for self-aggrandizement manifested in their attempts to secure advantages and recognition for their
team if they identify closely with the unit? According to Spain et al. (2014), these are open questions that need further investigation.
Similar reasoning was presented by Schyns (2015), who concluded that more research is required to understand the link between the
dark personality and behavior as well as the conditions under which the dark character can be adaptive. More speciﬁcally, Schyns
contended that more research is needed to understand under which conditions the dark personality does and does not translate
into toxic behaviors.
The goal of this paper is to propose a conceptual framework explicating the relationship between the dark triad personalities and
CWBs. Thispaper is in response to the claimmade by Harms and Spain (2015) regarding the lack of well-developed theoretical models
to guide research and practice related to the conditions under which the characteristics of the dark personality should matter most
and the potential moderators of their effects. In this paper, a model is proposed that includes mediators and moderators to explain
71A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
the relationship between the two concepts. The proposed model suggests that perceptions of organizational politics and accountabil-
ity mediate the relationship between the dark triad construct and CWBs. The model also advances four moderators. First, political skill
is expected to moderate the relationship between the above mentioned mediators and the dark triad. Second, three organizational
factors, organizational transparency, organizational policies, and organizational culture/climate, are expected to moderate the rela-
tionship between the two mediators and CWBs. After presenting the model and its resulting propositions, the paper is concluded
with suggestions for future research regarding the proposed model.
2. The conceptual model
The model is presented in Fig. 1. In the following sections, the main concepts of the model, as well as its propositions, are
2.1. The dark triad
First, a brief description of the speciﬁc dimensions of the dark triad is warranted. As stated earlier, narcissism forms one of thethree
personality constructs of thedark triadmodel. The narcissistic personality is marked by grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, and a lack
of empathy (Smith & Lilienfeld, 2013). O'Boyle et al. (2012) agreed with this description, adding that extreme self-aggrandizement is
the hallmark of narcissism, which includes an inﬂated view of self, fantasies of control, success, and admiration, and a desire to have
this self-love reinforced by others. Machiavellianism, another construct constituting the dark triad concept, is associated with a disre-
gard for theimportanceof morality and the use of craft and dishonesty to pursue and maintain power (Smith & Lilienfeld, 2013). The
Machiavellian personality is deﬁned by three sets of interrelated values: an avowed belief in the effectiveness of manipulative tactics
in dealingwith other people;a cynical view of humannature; and a moral outlook that puts expediency above principle (O'Boyle et al.,
2012). Psychopathy, the third element, has been described as impulsivity and thrill-seeking, combined with low empathy and anxiety
(Spain et al., 2014). According to Jones and Paulhus (2014), psychopathy has two keyelements: a deﬁcit in affect (i.e., callousness) and
in self-control (i.e., impulsivity). Psychopathy is marked by the person's lack of concern for both other people and social regulatory
mechanisms, impulsivity, and a lack of guilt or remorse when his/her actions harm others (O'Boyle et al., 2012).
2.2. Why and how should psychopathy be related to CWBs?
The main argument for a relationship between the dark triad model and CWBs is that deviant workplace behaviors may be best
predicted by deviant personality traits (Wu & Lebreton, 2011). The interpersonal manipulation of Machiavellianism, the sense of en-
titlement of narcissism, and the antisocial tendencies of psychopathy all serve as facilitators of CWBs (O'Boyle et al., 2011).
As for narcissism, those high in this trait would be more likely than those low to interpret criticism and insults as threats, and
therefore, they would see the social world as potentially more threatening. This heightened sensitivity to criticism and ego-threat
would make them more likely to experience anger, and subsequently engage in CWBs (Spector, 2011). Wu and Lebreton (2011) ar-
gued that narcissists tend to perceive themselves as victims, read negative intent during interpersonal interactions, and thus, have a
Fig. 1. Research model.
72 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
heightened sensitivity to negative interactions. These tendencies may lead them to be more likely to engage in CWBs such as hostility,
obstructionism, orovert aggression directed toward other individuals. In addition, the narcissist's increased likelihood of interpreting
interactions as transgressions may also lead to absenteeism and retaliatory behavior. Finally, narcissism has been identiﬁed as a fraud
offender risk factor (Perri, 2011, 2013).
According to Wu and Lebreton, when the opportunity presents itself, narcissists do whatever is necessary to self-enhance, self-
aggrandize, or inﬂate their own image. Their sense of self-importance, rebelliousness, and belief that they are special maylead narcis-
sists to be inconsiderate to others, as theyare willingto manipulate others in order to showcase their superiority.Narcissists also tend
to possess a negative view of others and focus on dominating and exploiting them. Wu and Lebreton (2011) further contended that
narcissists are less likely to believe they have engaged in CWBs. They may therefore also be more likely to engage in deviant behavior
during their quest for self-enhancement. Thus, when faced with the opportunity to outshine others, those high in narcissism may be
willing to engage in all types of interpersonal directed CWBs.
Moore et al. (2012) explained why Machiavellianism should be related to unethical behavior. They reasoned that those high in
Machiavellianism are more inclined to be morally disengaged because such cognitive mechanisms present one means by which
they can more readily pursue their own interests without self-censure. Moore et al. contended that Machiavellianism has been
shown to be positively related to many transgressive behavioral tendencies, including anti-social behavior, lying, and willingness to
exploit others. Their ﬁndings showed that, as expected, the propensity to be morally disengaged is correlated positively with
Wu and Lebreton (2011) contended that people high in Machiavellianism are willing to do whatever is needed to achieve their
goals. They are remorseless and willingly engage in hostile and unethical behaviors. It is not surprising that ﬁndings showed a positive
relationship between a high level of Machiavellianism and unethical behavior (Hegarty & Sims, 1979). Machiavellians do whatever it
takesaslongastheendjustiﬁes the means. They are more likely to engage in highly manipulative CWBs when experiencinggoal im-
pediments. Machiavellians do not express concern for others or show any emotions during interpersonal interactions. Their verbal
interactions with others may therefore be less controlled; they are impulsive and irresponsible and do not consider the negative im-
pact of their behaviors on others because of their lack of emotional involvement (Skinner, 1988). Consequently, this may result in a
greater likelihood of their being engaged in verbalCWBs. In addition, because those high in Machiavellianism are adept at manipulat-
ing others,the targets of the manipulative communications or behaviors may be less likely to recognize the true nature of these com-
munications. Therefore, when struggling to achieve their goals, people high in Machiavellianism may be especially inclined to engage
in manipulative and subtle/covert forms of verbal CWBs (Wu & Lebreton, 2011).
As for psychopaths, Wu and Lebreton (2011) opined that they not only gain satisfaction from harming others; they also use this
behavioras a tactic toachieve their own goals. Psychopaths may hurt others as a means of drawingothers' attention away from a par-
ticular task. Thus, by focusing another party's attention onto something other than the task at hand (i.e., hostility among coworkers),
psychopaths may be able to pursue their ownagendas better. Theirtendency todistract others from their agendas may be associated
with interpersonal CWBs. Further, according to Wu and Lebreton, psychopathsbelieve that norms and rules do not apply to them and
they fail to take responsibility for their own actions. They are also commonly described as risk taking, remorseless, and conscienceless.
This may lead them to engage in CWBs to a greater extent thannon-psychopaths. Finally, because psychopaths have a propensity for
risky and impulsive behavior, they may also be more likely to engage in spontaneous or impulsive acts of CWBs associated with
greater risk, such as unsafe behaviors (e.g., destruction of company property), inappropriate physical and verbal actions, or other be-
haviors that occur through immediate responses to stimuli. Based on the above arguments the ﬁrst study proposition is:
Proposition 1. A positive relationship exists between a dark triad personality and CWBs.
However, as mentioned in the previous sections, this direct relationship was found to be moderate at themost. The main argument
of this paper is that the relationship will be stronger, depending on the aforementioned mediators and moderators. First, theresearch
model suggests that perceptions of organizational politics and accountability mediate the relationship between the dark triad person-
ality and CWBs.
2.3. Perceptions of organizational politics (POPS) as mediator
Rosen and Levy (2013) advanced Schneider's (1987) framework to explain the effect of politicson organizations.Schneider argued
that employees are attracted to organizations where their perceived ﬁt is good, while employers select employees who are a good ﬁt
for the organization (e.g., based on their perceptions as well as the selection tools) and employeeswho are not a good ﬁt with the or-
ganization leave for organizations where they are a better ﬁt. Schneider concluded that employees tend to gravitate toward organi-
zations that are a good match for their individual traits (e.g., people who are high in the dark triad construct with high levels of
political skills may be more likely to work in highly political organizations).
Rosen and Levy (2013) contended that political environments are, by deﬁnition, characterized as having members who seek to
maximize self-interests, often at the expense of others. This in fact is quite typical of the psychopaths' behavior in the organizational
setting, as mentioned by Boddy (2011), who argued that a political environment is ideal for the cunning and manipulative talents of
psychopaths in organizations. In such an environment, it is easier for them to hide their lack of effort, as performance appraisals are
not as objective in that they are not directly linked to external and objective performanceindicators such as proﬁts. Politics also plays a
bigger part in performance appraisals and promotions and this gives the advantage to those who are cunning and manipulative, such
73A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
Dark triad personalities are inclined, more than others, to perceive the political opportunities in their organization. They are also
more qualiﬁed to do so because they are always attracted to environments that provide them with a more convenient setting for their
operations. Witt and Spector (2012) explained the process through which psychopaths adjust to the political setting. They started
their explanation by arguing that perceptions of organizational politics constitute an assessment of the social nuances of the organi-
zational context, providing cues that communicate the expected norms of behavior (Cialdini & Trost, 1998; Ehrhart & Naumann,
2004). Social cognitive and social information processing theories explain how individuals make sense of themselves and their envi-
ronment. The underlying idea is that individuals observe and model the actions of others and simultaneously link these actions with
information about environmental incentives (Bandura, 1971). These contextual cues enable individuals to interpret events, under-
stand norms, and make decisions accordingly (Crick & Dodge, 1994). Hence, contextual cues lead to the development of socially con-
structed realities, which indicate what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate, expected, and therefore required for survival and
In agreement with the social cognitive theory, Witt and Spector (2012) further contended that perceptions of high levels of politics
in an organization are likely to indicate that self-interested behavior leads to rewards and there are only a few norms of being loyal to
the organization and treatingothers with respect. Accordingly, workers in highly political organizations may follow suit by exploiting
others in the organization. Hence, they are likely to have a high level of tolerance for self-interest as a method of achieving advance-
ment and a corresponding belief that political behavior is normatively appropriate. Consequently, those experiencing high levels of
perceived organizational politics are likely to conclude that refraining from expending effort on activities that may not enhance
their career progression, i.e., low task and adaptive performance, is not inappropriate and is likely to go unpunished. Insuch environ-
ments, workers may be motivated to relax their personal standards through the psychological processes of displacementor diffusion
of responsibility, and may disregard or even distort the consequences of their actions.
Therefore, workers who reduce the effort they expend on their tasks withhold organization-relevant adaptive behaviors. For ex-
ample, they may exert effort to build competencies that enhance their own career mobility, even at the expense of ignoring compe-
tencies that are of beneﬁt to the organization. This focus on their own career building can lead to expending a reduced effort on
required tasks, being absent from work, engaging in self-serving activities (e.g., learning new skills), and eventually leaving when
career-enhancing opportunities present themselves (Witt & Spector, 2012).
Thus, a highly political environment seems to be the setting where dark triad personalities feel very comfortable to operate in
order to achieve their goals. Because dark triad personalities are always looking for an environment perceived as friendly in terms
of enabling them to achieve their goals, they will be more inclined and more qualiﬁed to detect the political opportunities in every
setting in which they operate. Being more sensitive than others to the contextual cues of their setting and the political opportunities
this setting provides, they are more capable of reading and understanding them.
This kind of rationale leads one to expect a positive relationship between POPS and CWBs. An environment perceived as highly
political presents many opportunities for those high in the dark triad construct to achieve their goals. Contextual cues, such as high
levels of politics in a given setting, signal that perpetrating CWBs paves the way to success. Highly political environments indicate
that person-targeted CWBs may lead to resource acquisition and career success. Dark triad personalities by their nature will be
more aware of these clues and opportunities and perform more CWBs in order to achieve their goals.
Proposition 2. Perceived organizational politics mediate the relationship between the dark triad construct and CWBs. The relationship
between the dark triad personality and perceived politics is positive, and the relationship between perceived politics and CWBs is positive
2.4. Accountability as a mediator
Accountability is necessary for the effective operation of any enterprise (Hochwarter, Perrewé, Hall, & Ferris, 2005). It is based on
the need of organizations to exert some degree of control on the behavior of the employees (Ammeter, Douglas, Ferris, & Goka, 2004).
Without accountability, there can be no basis for a social order that sustains the social systems in organizations as we know them
(Tetlock, 1992). Leftto their own discretion, manypeople focus on advancing their own interests rather than theinterests of the larger
social group (Kaiser & Hogan, 2006). Accountability mechanisms can range from formal, e.g., performance evaluation systems, ﬁnan-
cial reporting procedures and laws and regulations, to informal (e.g., feeling of loyalty to an organization) (Ammeter et al., 2004;
Kaiser & Hogan, 2006).
Ammeter et al. (2004) advanced the deﬁnition of accountability proposed by Frink and Klimoski (1998), viewing accountability as
the perceived need to justify or deﬁne a decision or action to some audiences who have no potential reward or sanction power and
where such rewards and sanctions are perceived as contingent on accountability conditions. In recent years, scholars have focused
on the concept of “felt accountability,”which describes one's perceived need to justify actions and judgments to others
(Hochwarter, Parker Ellen, & Ferris, 2014). As such, accountability is a perception based on shared expectations about a potential re-
quirement to explain one's actions or beliefs regarding an organizational issue to a constituency for reasons such as social desirability
Based largely on phenomenological principles, it has been argued that accountability perceptions are subjective, with responses
linked to person-centric cue interpretations rather than agreed-upon absolutes (Hochwarter et al., 2014). Although assessments of
accountability are based, in part, on perceptions of subjective external conditions, individuals may perceive and experience those
74 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
subjective conditions differently. Felt accountability can thus be deﬁned as an implicit or explicit expectation that one's decisions or
actions will be deemed important or noteworthy, and will be subject to evaluation by salient others with the belief that there exists a
potential for one to receive either rewards or sanctions (Hochwarter et al., 2005).
Boddy (2010a) argued that control and public scrutiny, more common in the public sector, may serve as barriers to psychopaths in
organizations. Boddy contended that psychopaths in work organizations have little or no conscience. Therefore, it follows logically
that they are not driven by any idea of social fairness or social responsibility and this in turn should, in theory, limit the development
of corporate social responsibility within the corporationsfor which they work. Indeed, Boddy (2010a) found in a sample of white col-
lar employees in Australia that the presence of psychopaths is negatively and signiﬁcantly associated with perceived levels of corpo-
rate social responsibility within organizations.
Witt and Spector's (2012) views on perceived organizational politics are relevant here too. Perceived accountability constitutes an
assessment of the social nuances of the organizational context, providing cues that communicate the expected norms of behavior. As
in the case of politics, the underlying idea is that individuals observe and model the actions of others and simultaneously link these
actions with information about environmental incentives. These contextual cues enable individuals to interpret events and under-
stand norms, and make decisions accordingly. Hence, contextual cues lead to the development of socially constructed realities,
which indicate what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate, and expected, and therefore required for survival and advancement.
Perceptions of high levels of accountability are likely to indicate that self-interested behavior is controlled and might lead to
preventive action being taken by the organization. Martin, Brock, Buckley, and Ketchen (2010) contended, for example, that the
presence of job standards, such as productivity goals and accountability to meet those goals, are also likely to reduce time ban-
ditry. If effective controls are in place, individuals have a harder time engaging in counterproductive acts. Those high in psy-
chopathy are also sensitive to these kinds of clues and might be much more careful before considering and performing
actions such as exploiting others in the organization. Hence, they are likely to have a high level of tolerance for self-interest
as a method of self-advancement and a corresponding belief that political behavior is normatively appropriate. Consequently,
psychopaths, who in general have low felt accountability but perceive a high level of accountability in their setting, are likely
to conclude that it would be better for them to refrain from CWBs that might put them at risk of exposure. Thus,
Proposition 3. Perceived accountability mediates the relationship between the dark triad personality and CWBs. The relationship between
the dark triad personality and felt accountability is negative, and the relationship between felt accountability and CWBs is also negative.
2.5. Political skills as a moderator
Ferris et al. (2005) contended that, despite the extensiveresearch on organizational politics, a serious omission hasbeen the failure
to evaluate the political skill of the inﬂuencer, leaving us with insufﬁcient information about why efforts to exert an inﬂuence are or
are not successful. Ferris et al. argued that politically skilled individuals convey a sense of personal security and calm self-conﬁdence
that attracts others and gives them a feeling of comfort. Highly politically skilled people know precisely not only what to do in differ-
ent social situations at work, but also how to do it in a manner that disguises any ulterior, self-serving motives and appear to be
Ammeter et al. (2004) discussed the deﬁnition advanced by Ferris, Kolodinsky, Hochwarter, and Frink(2001) of political skills as a
construct of interpersonal style that combines interpersonal perceptiveness or social astuteness with the capacity to adjust one's be-
havior to different situational demands, in a manner that inspires conﬁdence, trust, sincerity, and genuineness and effectively inﬂu-
ences and controls the responses of others. Ferris et al. contended that political skill is a multi-dimensional concept composed of
four dimensions: (a) social astuteness —individuals possessing political ability are astute observers of others and are keenly attuned
to diverse social situations; (b) interpersonal inﬂuence —politically skilled individuals have a subtle and convincing personal style
that exerts a powerful inﬂuence on those around them; (c) networking ability —an individual with strong political skills is adept
at developing and using diverse networks of people; and (d) apparent sincerity —politically skilled individuals appear to others to
have high levels of integrity, authenticity, sincerity, and genuineness.
Treadway, Ferris, Duke, Adams, and Thatcher (2007) found that politically skilled employees were able to disguise their self‐
serving behavior. Treadway, Shaughnessy, Breland, Yang, and Reeves (2013) related political skills to bullying. They contended
that politically skilled employees are more capable of understanding both the social context within which they operate and the
motivations of other participants within that context. As a result, politically skilled employees may be more capable of choosing
contexts and victims that help them gain the scarce resources or broad coalitions needed to achieve their own personal objectives.
Treadway et al. (2013) concluded that politically skilled bullies are more adept at understanding the social contextof the workplace,
gauging others' intentions and motivations, and calibrating their behavior to match these contextual demands. Thus, it is expected
that politically skilled bullies are able to use their bullying behavior to build broad coalitions of supporters and pools of resources
that will facilitate their own job performance. Furthermore, because of their ability to read the social context of the workplace,
they are less likely to be viewed as bullies by their superiors and powerful others.
A different conceptual framework relevant for the dark triad construct was advanced by Wallace (2015). This framework focused
mostly on narcissism but can be relevant to the other two dark triad dimensions. According to Wallace, the context relevant to
explaining this relationship is ego-threat. Organizations are riddled with ego-threatening situations with which employees must con-
tend on a regular basis. Wallace mentioned two theories which, together, suggest that employees respond to ego-threatening situa-
tions via self-enhancing or self-protecting behavior.Wallace contended that narcissists, who are hyper vigilant to ego-threat, aremore
75A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
likely to engage in these self-preserving behaviors than non-narcissists. Her study proposes a contingency model, suggesting that nar-
cissism can be functional or dysfunctional depending on the narcissistic individual's ability to minimize threat through the use of self-
maintenance mechanisms resulting in either favorable or unfavorable performance-related outcomes. When faced with threat, those
high in narcissism will engage in self-maintenance mechanisms effectively, if they arepolitically skilled, leading to positive outcomes.
Conversely, when threatened, those high in narcissism will engage in ineffective self-maintenance mechanisms, if they lack political
skill, resulting in negative outcomes.
2.6. Interaction of political skills and POPS (perceived organizational politics)
Politically skilled individuals possess a high degree of social astuteness, interpersonal inﬂuences, networking ability, and an ability
to project sincerity (Rosen & Levy, 2013). Rosen and Levy (2013) mention the contention of Ferris et al. (2007) that political skill re-
ﬂects a pattern of social competencies, providing individuals with the ability to assess social cues, match behavior to ﬁt situations, and
attain goals using interpersonal inﬂuence. Elaborating this contention, Rosen and Levy (2013) argued that, because political contexts
are marked by ambiguous reward structures, politically skilled employees, because of their ability to inﬂuence others, are likely to
view this situation asless threatening and may see it as an opportunity to capitalize on their unique skills. Thus, heightened social per-
ceptiveness and an ability to inﬂuenceothers are likely to lead politically skilled employees to feel they have greatercontrol over their
environment (Rosen & Levy, 2013).
Politically skilled workers are endowed with intuitive shrewdness and an understandingof people and interactions, in addition to
their ability to perceive other people and situations accurately and their access to information from their networks in the organization.
Thus, they can navigate political environments more efﬁciently, as their heightened understanding of people and environments pro-
vides them with knowledge about the performance required to achieve desired outcomes (Rosen & Levy, 2013). A political environ-
ment is a type of unfair setting in which decision making is inﬂuenced by political games. In such an environment, individuals who
have political savvy (i.e., politically skilled individuals) are able to read the rules of the game and thus perceive less uncertainty
(Kimura, 2013). Indeed, Rosen and Levy (2013) found that politically skilled employees were less likely to perceive that their psycho-
logical contracts have been breached when experiencing politics at work. Based on their ﬁndings, theyindicated that politically skilled
employees are better ﬁts for organizations high in politics.
Based on the above arguments, it would be reasonable to expect that personalities scoring high in the dark triad personalities and
who operate in highly political organizations are aware of the fact that their environment makes it easier for them to act as they please
to achieve their goals. However, the level of political skills does vary among people, including among those scoring higher in the dark
triad construct. Higher levels of political skill enable high-scoring employees in the dark triad construct to understand and manipulate
their political environment better, as well as toobserve better the opportunities offered by their organizational environment. Because
of their higher levels of political skills, as demonstrated in skills such as social astuteness and networking ability, these employees
recognizethe political advantages intheir environment much more easily that those whose level of political skills is lower. As a result,
the relationship between the dark triad personality and perceived organizational politics is expected to be stronger for those high in
political skills than those low in these skills. Thus,
Proposition 4. The relationship between the dark triad personality and perceived organizational politics is stronger among those higher in
political skills than those lower in these skills.
2.7. Interaction of political skills and accountability
Ammeter etal. (2004) contended that highly politically skilled people are able actively to inﬂuence and control their accountability
both in degree and type. That is, using skills such as interpersonal inﬂuence and apparent sincerity, they can exercise inﬂuence not
only over thelevel or degree of accountability, but also over the issues for whichthey are actually held accountable (behaviors or ac-
tual outcomes) and, perhaps even over those by whom they are to be held accountable. Ammeter et al. (2004) mentioned that indi-
cations of this are sometimes seen in corporate annual reports after a company has experienced a downturn. Here, the CEO (who is
primarily responsible for crafting reports) uses appropriate language and examples to demonstrate that the performance outcome
(downturn) was beyond the company's control and that the ﬁrm continued to show responsible behavior and worked hard attrying
to remedy the situation. It is more than reasonable to expect that those higher in the dark triad personality with high political skills
will be able to inﬂuence actively and control their own accountability more than those lower in political skills. Using skills such as in-
terpersonal inﬂuence and apparent sincerity they will be more able to convince others in the organization, as well as even themselves,
that they are accountable only for the organization's positive outcomes, not for the negative performances. Thus,
Proposition 5. The relationship between the dark triad personality and perceived accountability is stronger among those higher in political
skills than those lower in these skills.
2.8. Organizational factors as moderators
Three organizational factors are here advanced as moderators in the relationship between POPS and perceived accountability and the
dependent variable, CWBs. The moderators are organizational transparency, organizational policies, and organizational culture/climate.
76 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
2.9. Organizational transparency as a moderator
Transparency is the availability of information about an organization or actor that allows external agents to monitor the internal
workings or performance of that organization or actor (Grimmelikhuijsen & Welch, 2012). Ferry and Eckersley (2015) argued that
transparency initiatives are indeed helping to reduce corruption because they represent an important mechanism through whichcit-
izens can access information that has not been edited or shaped by powerful political actors. Transparency has become a buzzword
used to describe the notion of accuracy, truth, and the full disclosure of relevant information (Cicala, Bush, Sherrell, & Deitz, 2014).
According to Cicala et al. (2014), based on the agency theory, transparency focuses on the enhanced ability of principals to monitor
and potentially control agents' actions. Cicala et al. mentioned Zuboff (1988), who argued that transparency reinforces and increases
managers' power and control over subordinates. They contended that, from this perspective, the focus is within the organization and
examines manager–employee relations. They found that salespersons' perceptions regarding managerial use of behavioral informa-
tion, obtained through technological means, have a mediating effecton the relationship between managerial access to such informa-
tion and the likelihood of unethical salesperson behavior.
Cicala et al. (2014) further mentioned Turilli and Floridi's (2009, p. 105) deﬁnition that transparency is “the possibility of accessing
information, intentions, or behaviors.”According to Turilli and Floridi (2009), transparency is a pre-ethical condition for enabling or
impairingother ethical practices or principles. Transparency is also deﬁned as the willingness to hold oneself (and one's action) open
to inspection in order to receive valid feedback (Ellis, Caridi, Lipshitz, & Popper, 1999). Transparency can be achieved by technical and
cultural means. The former can be reached by small-scale organizational designs that let everyone see how things are done and un-
derstand each person's role in getting it done, exempliﬁed by a lack of defensiveness (Ellis et al., 1999). The characteristics of trans-
parency most frequently used in the relevant literature are openness, disclosure, sharing, and free ﬂow (Horne, 2012). Harvey,
Martinko, and Gardner (2006) argued that a transparent organizational context can promote authenticity because transparency
reduces the likelihood of biased attributions by clarifying the causes of outcomes. Harvey et al. further contended that this may
help explain ethical failings due to ambiguity and reduce transparency created by the size and complexity of many organizations,
thereby increasing the potential for inauthentic behavior resulting from biased attributions.
In short,transparency throughout theorganizational structure is a necessary condition for reducing the potential for illicit dealings.
Ambiguity often derives from unclear articulation of required role expectations, work methods, or performance contingencies. In
ambiguous contexts, employees have only a limited understanding of the appropriate work behaviors necessary for fulﬁlling the
demands of their work roles (Rubin, Dierdorff, & Bachrach, 2013). Procedures such as record-keeping and reporting can be used by
an organization to document key aspects of its compliance effort and to monitor its programs for effectiveness. Even the reporting
of minor incidents within the organization can serve a useful purpose in that it underlines a zero-tolerance policy for questionable
behaviors. Failure to report such occurrences may lead to the perception that such irregularities will be tolerated (Luo, 2005).
How can transparency be related to CWB? Johns (1999) contended that self-serving behavior is most likely when cause-effect re-
lationships are unclear, when it is difﬁcult to predict future events orthe consequences of decisions, or when cues regarding effective
action are weak, vague, or contradictory. These are the main characteristics of organizational uncertainty. According to Johns, under
uncertainty conditions, wishful thinking is feasible and social censure for self-serving is less likely to be anticipated. In addition, am-
biguity allows motives an undue impact on perceptions. The above three conditions connote self-justiﬁcation, self-presentation, and
information bias. Johns contended that these self-serving reactions are more likely under ambiguous task conditions and less likely
when the reality of the situation is difﬁcult to dispute. In short, ambiguity and uncertainty as opposed to transparency provide a per-
fect environment for dark triad employees who are willing to act. Indeed Yang and Diefendorff (2009) found a relationship between
perceived ambiguity and CWBs.
2.10. Interaction of transparency with perceived organizational politics and accountability
Propositions 2 and 3 stated that perceived organizational politics and accountability mediate the relationship between the dark
triad construct and CWBs, such that perceived organizational politics are positively related to CWBs and accountability is negatively
related to it. However, the model advanced here argues that organizational transparency moderates the above relationships. The re-
lationship between perceived organizationalpolitics and CWBs will be weaker for those scoring high in the dark triad personality who
operate in organizations higher in transparency. Kaptein (2008) contended that low visibility or transparency in organizations dimin-
ishes the control environment, which widens the scope of unethical conduct. According to Johns (1999), organizational politics is
most likelyunder conditions of vague goals and complex tasks,and at higher organizational levels. Each of these conditionsintroduces
uncertainty into factors such as decision and performance criteria. In turn, the blame-laying and smoke-screening that characterize
politics often occur.
All the above constitute the ideal setting for those scoring high in the dark triad who operate in a political climate. It is more than
reasonable to speculate that those high in the dark triad dimensions prefer to operate in the dark, where they cannot be traced and
cannot be blamed. Low level transparency provides such an ideal setting for them. Because ambiguities allow ﬂexibility in interpre-
tation, they can be used strategically by those in the best position to take advantage of that interpretative power (Best, 2012).
Smith and Lilienfeld (2013) mentioned Babiak (1995), who speculated that an organizational climate of chaotic transition, which
affords stimulation and excitement, may be conducive to allowing psychopathic individuals to achieve success.
According to Kaptein (2008), studies noted the importance of transparency, not only for its potential to expose unethical conduct
but also for acting as a deterrent because of the perceived probability of getting caught. Peers, peer perceptions, and frequent contact
with peer groups strongly inﬂuence ethical decision-making and behavior by virtue of the feedback, overview, disclosure, and the
77A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
diminished room for misinterpretation and dishonesty that accompanies them. The organizational value of transparency is deﬁned as
the degree to which employee conduct and its consequences are perceptible to those who can act upon them, i.e., colleagues, super-
visors, subordinates, and the employee(s) concerned. Those scoring high in the dark triad construct, who perceive themselves as
operating in a political environment, will hesitate to perform CWBs in organizations with higher levels of transparency. An organiza-
tional environment where information about behaviors is available and can be tracked is not a preferable one for dark triad person-
alities because it increases the probability that they will be exposed.
A similar logic is relevant to organizational transparency as a moderator in the relationship between perceived accountability and
CWBs. As mentioned previously, perceptions of high levels of accountability are likely to indicate that self-interested behavior is con-
trolled and may lead to preventative action on the part of the organization. Those who both scorehigher in the dark triad personalities
and perceive low accountability, and who operate in a low-transparency organization would be more inclined to perform CWBs be-
cause they feel that the environment is safe for such actions and the probability of their being caught is sufﬁciently low. Those with
low perceived accountability operating in organizations high in transparency will hesitate much more because there is a much higher
probability that they will ﬁnd themselves in a situation where they will be traced and as a result will have to explain some of their
Proposition 6. The positive relationship between perceived organizational politics and CWBs is weaker among those operating in organi-
zations with a high level of transparency than among those working in organizations with low level transparency.
Proposition 7. The negative relationship between perceived accountability and CWBs is weaker among those working in organizations
with higher levels of transparency than those operating in organizations with lower levels of transparency.
2.11. Organizational policies as a moderator
An important perspective in the literature on formal organizations is that the behavior of individuals is a function of the external
constraints placed upon them by the organization (Parilla, Hollinger, & Clark, 1988). As mentioned in Parilla et al. (1988), the use of
formalized policies and rules has long been recognized as a fundamental means for obtaining control in bureaucratic organizations
(Weber, 1947). In the Weberian model, written rules and policies serve as a mechanism through which members learn what is ex-
pected of them. Policies can directly affect employee behavior and in our case they might have a direct bearing on the CWBs of
dark-triad personalities. Parilla et al. (1988) exempliﬁed the importance of policies for preventing theft. They argued that the treat-
ment of employee theft as a matter of policy serves two deterrence related functions. The most obvious of these is communication
of threat. An anti-theft rule or policy is a formal announcement that the theft of organizational property is considered to be a serious
matter and will be punished as such. Second, the presence of a theft policy increases the likelihood that supervisors will react when
theft is discovered, thereby increasing the actual certainty of punishment. In addition, formalized rules tend to legitimize the use of
management sanctions as they constitute a fair public warning as to the type of behavior that will result in punishment (Parilla
et al., 1988). Employees are sensitive to stated company policies. A formal organizational policy about ethical behavior is a viable
way for ﬁrms to inﬂuence ethical conduct (Bellizzi & Hasty, 2001).
A broader perspective on organizational policies was provided by Fine et al. (2010) who deﬁned security control norms as an over-
all measure of the perceived formal or informal means for deterring CWBs (i.e., security controls) and the pervasiveness of actual
CWBs in the organization (i.e., security norms). Typical security controls include the monitoring of behaviors via physical control
systems (e.g. guards, cameras, and police), whichare designed to makeemployees aware of the likelihood of getting caught, and sanc-
tioning or punishing such behaviors, which are designed to make employees aware of the consequences of getting caught. Fine et al.
contended that informal sanctions are difﬁcult to measure directly, and perceived controls and norms are arguably more appropriate
than actual controls in predicting CWBs. Their ﬁndings supported their contention.
Fine et al. (2010) provided two conceptual explanations for the relationship between security control norms and CWBs. Social
learning theory describes how people's behavior is learned through observing and imitating the behaviors of others and how these
behaviors can be reinforced positively by rewards and negatively by punishments. According to the second theory, that of the social
information processing theory, individuals develop attitudes about their surroundingsthat are in line with normative group behaviors
and their typical consequences. For example, employees who observe their managers or coworkers engaging in dishonest behaviors
without notice being taken or punishment being exacted by the company will likely conclude that these behaviors are acceptable and
may start to adopt these behaviors themselves (Fine et al., 2010).
Several studies supported the above contentions. According to Salin (2003), if there is no policy against bullying, no monitoring
policy, and no punishments for those who engage in bullying, it might be interpreted that the organization accepts it and a possible
perpetrator will perceive the costs and dangers of bullyingas very low. Peterson (2002) found that organizationswith a low perceived
emphasis on adherence to company rules and laws would be more likely to experience deviant behavior related to misuse of organi-
zational property. However, clear policies regarding, e.g., sexual harassment, signiﬁcantly reduced this behavior (Gruber, 1998).
2.12. Interaction of organizational policies with perceived organizational politics and accountability
As in the case of organizational transparency, the model advanced here argues that organizational policies will moderate the re-
lationship between POPS and accountability and CWBs. The relationship between POPS and CWBs will be weaker for those scoring
high in the dark triad construct who operate in organization(s) with clear policies regarding CWBs, as well as sanctions that would
78 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
be applied when a violation occurs. Naturally, the organizational experience should very clearly show that sanctions were applied in
the past against violators. Clear policies followed consistently by the organization increase the control environment, narrowing the
scope of unethical conduct. While organizational politics is most likely under conditions of vague goals and complex tasks (Johns,
1999), strict organizational policies regarding CWBs introduce certainty and clarity into the decision-making processes in the organi-
zation. This, in turn, narrows the scope of politics in affecting decisions in the organization.
Clear and applied organizational policies create a very unfriendly setting for those scoring high in the dark triad construct who op-
erate in a political climate. It is morethan reasonable to predict that they prefer to operate in an organizational setting without or with
very vague organizational policies regarding CWBs that are rarely applied by the organization. Formal and applicable organizational
policies provide a very unfriendly setting for them. Those scoring high in the dark triad construct, who perceive themselves as oper-
ating in a political environment, will hesitate to perform CWBs in organizations where the policies against it are clear and practical, as
well as having the reputation of being applied when needed. Hegarty and Sims (1979) reported that clear organizational policy had a
deterrentinﬂuence on unethical behavior. Theirresults suggested that a clearly statedand communicatedorganizational policy can be
useful and effective in guiding employee ethical behavior. An organizational environment where policies about unwanted behaviors
are available and applied is not a preferable one for dark triad personalities because it increases the probability that they will be ex-
posed and punished.
A similar logic is relevant to organizational policies as a moderator in the relationship betweenperceived accountabilityand CWBs.
As mentioned previously, perceptions of high levels of accountability are likely to indicate that self-interested behavior is controlled
and may lead to preventative action by the organization. Those who both score higher in the dark triad construct and perceive low
accountability and who operate in a setting with no or unclear policies regarding CWBs would be more inclined to perform CWBs
because they feel that the environment is safe for such actions and the probability of their being caught and punished is sufﬁciently
low. According to Fine et al. (2010), employees who perceive they are unlikely to be caught, or that they would be dealt with leniently
if caught, are more likely to engage in CWBs. That would be deﬁnitely relevant for dark-triad personalities. Conversely, organizations
with clearly deﬁned, consistent, and severe anti-theft policies, forexample, have lower theft rates. Those with low perceived account-
ability, operating in organizations with clear policies regarding CWBs, will hesitate much more to perform CWBs because there is a
much higher probability that they will ﬁnd themselves in a situation where they will be traced and punished.
Proposition 8. The positive relationship between perceived organizational politics and CWBs is weaker among those operating in organi-
zations with strict policies regarding CWBs than among those working in organizations with no or vague policies regarding CWBs.
Proposition 9. The negative relationship between perceived accountability and CWBs is weaker among those working in organizations
with strict organizational policies regarding CWBs than those operating in organizations with no or vague organizational policies regarding
2.13. Organizational culture/climate as a moderator
According to Schein (1992) organizational culture consistsof a set of shared meanings, assumptions, values, and norms that guide
employees' behavior within anorganization via explicit structures and conventions. A similar concept to organizational culture is or-
ganizational climate, whichrefers to a set of attributes that can be perceivedabout a particularorganization and/or its subsystems,and
that may be deduced from the way that the organizationand/or its subsystems deal with their members and environment (Hellriegel
&Slocum,1974). According to Denison (1996) and Schneider, Ehrhart, and Macey (2013) there is a strong theoretical foundation that
the two concepts should be integrated rather than assuming that culture and climate are fundamentally different and non-
overlapping phenomena. Therefore, in this paper both concepts will be treated interchangeably based on conceptual arguments
mentioned above and the empirical ﬁndings mentioned by Kaptein (2011) that showedthat the two concepts are not fundamentally
different and non-overlapping phenomena.
This paper focuses more on the literature that discusses the concepts of ethical and unethical culture and or climate. As discussed
by Vardi (2001), just as there exist a climate for leadership, climate for power, climate for motivation, climate for creativity, there is
also a climate for CWBs. According to Treviño, Butterﬁeld, and McCabe (1998), whereas ethical climate can be deﬁned as the percep-
tions of managers and employees about what constitutes unethical and ethical behavior in the organization, ethical culture can be
deﬁned as the perception about the conditions that are in place in the organization for complying or not complying with what con-
stitutes unethical and ethical behavior.
According to Pinto, Leana, and Pil (2008), ethical culture does not indicate whether an organization is corrupt or not. That is, it
could promote either ethical or unethical behavior. As putby Sims (1992), organizations can vary in the ethical climate they establish
for their members. The ethical tone or climate is set at the top. What top management do, and the culture they establish and reinforce,
makes a big difference in the way lower-level employees act and in the way the organization as a whole acts when ethical dilemmas
are faced. Ethical standards are undermined when managers and supervisors communicate contradictory or inconsistent signals to
subordinates. Behavior that is consistent with the ethical standards of the organization reinforces the message of compliance with
these standards (Kaptein, 2011). According to Campbell and Göritz (2014) the corrupt organizational culture has the purpose to en-
sure employees' support of corruption. Therefore, corrupt organizational culture needs to address work-related values and norms of
work groups, and it includes organizations' expectation of employees' corruption. Sometimes, corrupt organizations install and com-
municate ethical values to their employees by means of a code of conduct. In deﬁance of this code of conduct, corrupt organizations
provide contradictory information to their employees along the lines of “We follow ethical values, but in fact, we do not care”. When
79A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
employees work in this ambiguity, they need guidelines that change their perceptionto one that supports corrupt behavior. Therefore
a corrupt organizational culture reinforces the weight of the message “we do not care”and builds a frame that covers the“ambiguity.”
How can organizational culture be related to CWBs? In a strongculture where the values and norms are directed toward deviation,
organizational misbehavior will become normative (Vardi & Wiener, 1992). Pilch and Turska (2015) exempliﬁed this relationship in
the context of bullying. According to them, in some cultures bullying and aggression may be considered to be an effective way of
achieving goals. If management concentrates on outcomes, disregarding the ways in which they are achieved, if the resultsof achieved
outcomes are not considered with regard to the organization members, and if competition and combat are valued, bullying will be
more accepted. Organizational culture may allow certain forms of bullying. Pilch and Turska (2015) mentioned Aquino and
Lamertz (2004) who described two types of cultural norms supporting bullying. Organizational culture may support aggressive be-
haviors if they are thought to befunctional for motivating employees and if disrespectful behaviors and those harmingothers are tol-
erated and organizational standards support incivility and rude behavior. Ford and Richardson(1994) concluded, based on a review of
empirical studies,that the more ethical the climate and culture of an organizationis, the more ethical anindividual's ethical beliefs and
decision behavior will be. In another study, Vardi (2001) found negative relationship between organizational climate and CWBs.
2.14. Interaction of organizational culture/climate with perceived organizational politics and accountability
The model in Fig. 1 contends that organizational culture/climate will moderate the relationship between POPS and accountability
and CWBs. The relationship between POPS and CWBs will be weaker for those scoring high in the dark triad construct who operate in
organization(s) with a culture that opposes ethical violations as well as CWBs. According to Riley (1983), a lack of rules regarding how
aﬁrm's tasks are to be achieved is generally reﬂected in its culture, allowing the culture to be more political. However, a culture that
strongly supports ethical values and behaviors narrows the scope of unethical conduct. A strong ethical organizational culture that
opposes CWBs introduces integrity and morality into the decision-making processes in the organization. This, in turn, narrows the
scope of politics in terms of affecting decisions in the organization. Clear ethical culture creates a very unfriendly setting for those scor-
ing high in thedark triad construct who operatein a political climate. It is more thanreasonable to predictthat they prefer to operate
in an organizational setting with a very vague organizational culture regarding CWBs. Strong ethical culture provides a very unfriendly
setting for them. Those scoringhigh in the dark triad construct, who perceive themselves as operating in a political environment, will
hesitate to perform CWBs in organizations with a culture and climate that strongly oppose it. An organizational culture with a strong
climate against unethical conduct is not a preferable one for the dark triad personalities, because it increases the probability that they
will be visible and revealed in their behavior that contradicts the dominant culture.
A similar logic is relevant to organizational culture/climate as a moderator in the relationship between perceived accountability
and CWBs. As mentioned previously, perceptions of high levels of accountability are likely to indicate that self-interested behavior
is controlled and may lead to preventative action by the organization. Individuals in different cultures are educated to understand
the unique expectations that exist at different levels in the social system, the strength of these expectations, and the consequences
for deviations from these expectations. Thus,as individuals are enculturatedthrough socialization in a particular sociocultural context,
they develop cognitive maps of how various individuals, groups, and organizations are answerable or accountable to one another
(Gelfand, Lim, & Raver, 2004). Those who score higher in the dark triad construct, perceive low accountability, and operate in a setting
with a vagueor unethical culture that doesnot clearly condemnCWBs would be more inclined to perform CWBs becausethey feel that
the environment is safe and even supportive of such actions and the probability of their being detected and criticized is sufﬁciently
low. Conversely, those with low perceived accountability, operating in organizations with a clear culture against CWBs, will hesitate
much more to perform CWBs, because there is a much higher probability that they will ﬁnd themselves in a situation where they will
be traced and condemned.
Proposition 10. The positive relationship between perceived organizational politics and CWBs is weaker among those operating in
organizations with ethical culture/climate that opposes CWBs than among those working in organizations with organizational culture
that supports CWBs.
Proposition 11. The negative relationship between perceived accountability and CWBs is weaker among those working in organizations
with strong pro ethical culture/climate that opposes CWBs than those operating in organizations with organizational culture that supports
2.15. The dimensionality of the dark triad construct and CWBs
Up to this point, the propositions advanced in this paper do not differentiate between the different dimensions of the dark triad or
the possible different dimensions of CWBs. It is questionable whether the three personality traits should be treated the same or
separately when predicting their relationship to work outcomes. O'Boyle et al. (2012) argued in that regard that although the three
personality traits differ in emphasis and style, their basic strategy is one of apparent and covert exploitation of conspeciﬁcs. Each
one describes a set of alternative and usually a set of condemned interpersonal tendencies, so their relations to work behaviors are
relatively similar. Therefore, according to O'Boyle et al., we cannot expect that each of these three variables will change its direction
with a given outcome, because it is difﬁcult to imagine a context or individual trait that would reverse the generally negative effects of
the dark triad personality. Indeed,the ﬁndings of O'Boyle et al.'s meta-analysis showed that allthree dark triad traits were signiﬁcantly
associated with increased CWBs and explained a signiﬁcant portion of the variancein CWBs. The meta-analysis ﬁndings also showed
80 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
positive relations between the dark triad traits. Machiavellianism and narcissism were correlated moderately, and psychopathy
showed strong relations to both Machiavellianism and narcissism.O'Boyle et al. (2012) mentioned that the strengths of the corrected
correlations did not achieve a magnitude that would suggest that the dark triadtraits are redundant. They concluded that despite dark
triad traits relating to work outcomes in a consistent manner through reciprocity violations, the motivations and strategies of these
violations are distinct.
Based on theabove arguments, thefollowing proposition doesnot expect that dark triad personalities will affectCWBs differently.
The direction of the relationship between the two, with minor varieties in their magnitude, should be the same. However, it can be
expected that the dark triad construct will affectdimensionsof CWBs differently. Some of the studies on CWBs differentiate between
interpersonal and organizational CWBs (Bennett & Robinson, 2000; Berry et al., 2007, 2012; Dalal, 2005). The dominantcharacteristics
of each of the dimensions of the dark triad lead us to expect that they will affect CWBs that are related to people more than CWBs of
the organizational type. The narcissistic personality is marked by grandiosity, a sense of entitlement, and a lack of empathy (Smith &
Lilienfeld, 2013). Thus, Wu and Lebreton (2011) contended that narcissists' tendencies may lead such people to engage in CWBs such
as hostility, obstructionism, or overt aggression directed toward other individuals. In addition, the narcissist's increased likelihood of
interpreting interactions as transgressions may also lead to retaliatory behaviors.
Machiavellianism is associated with a disregard for the importance of morality and the use of craft and dishonesty to pursue and
maintain power (Smith & Lilienfeld, 2013). According to Wu and Lebreton (2011), Machiavellians are more likely to engage in highly
manipulative CWBs and, because they are impulsive, irresponsible, and lack any emotional involvement (Skinner, 1988), they do not
consider the negative impact of their behaviors on others. Psychopathy has been described above as impulsivity and thrill-seeking,
combined with low empathy and anxiety (Spain et al., 2014). Wu and Lebreton (2011) added that psychopaths gain satisfaction
from harming others, and they also use this behavior as a tactic to achieve their goals. They may hurt others as a means of drawing
others' attention away from a particular task. Thus, by focusing another party's attention on something other than the task at hand
(i.e., hostility among coworkers), psychopaths may be able to pursue their agendas better. Their tendency to distract others from
their agendas may be associated with interpersonal CWBs. Based on the above arguments the twelfth proposition is:
Proposition 12. There is a positive relationship between each of the dark triad dimensions and interpersonal CWBs. This relationship is
stronger than the relationship between each of the three dimensions and organizational CWBs.
Clearly, the construct of the dark triad bears potentially important implications for the workplace. A better understanding of how
dark triadpersonalities manifest themselves in the workplace is critical for both practical and theoretical reasons (Smith & Lilienfeld,
2013). According to Perri (2013), one way to respondto the potential ﬁnancial havoc resulting from unethical decisions within an or-
ganization is through a deeper understanding of the individuals who are likely to engage in those decisions: successful psychopaths.
Although current evidence tying psychopathy to negative outcomes within a business environment context has not been sufﬁciently
studied and its connection to white collar crime requires further reﬁnement, its importance for further empirical research cannot be
overstated (Smith & Lilienfeld, 2013). Despite the growing attention to the implications of the dark triad personalities on the work-
place in general and on CWBs in particular, still little is known about the processes that determine this relationship. This is demon-
strated in the modest direct relationship between the dark triad and CWBs found in ﬁeld studies and in meta-analyses that
summarized their ﬁndings. This paper attempted to advance our understanding of this relationship by proposing a conceptual
model that suggests that the relationship between dark triad personalities and CWBs is mediated and moderated by variables that,
based on the person–organization ﬁt theory, represent a friendly or unfriendly environment for the dark triad traits (Vardi, 2001).
The model proposed here and its derived propositions are only a preliminary step in exploring this very provocative and important
issue that should receive more attention in future studies.
3.1. Conceptual implications
Future research that examines the suggested model should take several points into consideration. First, in addition to the media-
tors and moderators advanced here, there are deﬁnitely others that shouldbe examined together or independently of those suggested
here. For example, it would be interestingto see how exchange andjustice processes affect dark triad CWBs. For example, how would
psychological contract breach affect dark triad CWBs? O'Boyle et al. (2012) suggested such a perspective in their meta-analysis, but
there is a need for a direct empirical examination of exchange variables asmediators or moderators. Future research shouldalso con-
sider demographic variables as possible moderators. For example, it would be important to examine whether the model advanced
here would predict CWBs more strongly for males than for females. There is some evidence that gender affects the CWBs of males
more strongly than those of females (Baughman et al., 2012; Bowling & Burns, 2015). While the direct relationship of demographic
variables with CWBs was not strong, as reported by several meta-analyses (Berry et al., 2007, 2012), these variables may operate bet-
ter as possible moderators in the relationship between dark triad personalities and CWBs.
A very promising research direction is the effects of the dark triad personality from a more collectivist view, that is, studies that will
examine how dark-triad personalities in managers affect other people in the work place. For example, Boddy (2014) found that un-
ethical leadership in theform of corporate psychopaths is a question not only of behaving incorrectly but also of setting a bad example
and motivating others to behave badly. Mathieu, Neumann, Hare, and Babiak (2014) found a signiﬁcant positive relationship between
81A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
employees' ratings of psychopathy traits in their supervisors and employee's self-reported psychological distress and job satisfaction.
They also found that a psychopathy trait in supervisors increases the work–family conﬂict among their subordinates. The possibility
that dark-triad managers cause higher absenteeism among their employees should also be examined in future research. In addition,
dark triadpersonalities in the workplace may have differentimplications in various cultures, especially in those withmore collectivist
vs. individualistic attitudes. Research across cultures is therefore needed to provide a more thorough picture of the implications of
workplace dark triads.
Another interesting question for future research is whether dark triad personalities are more prevalent in the public than in the
private sector. From the point of view of the person–organization ﬁt theory advanced here (Kristof, 1996; Yu, 2014), it can be argued
that the public sector may attract more such personalities than the private one. In the public sector, the organizations' goals are more
ambiguous, organizational politics is known to be higher, and the individual performance of employees is mostly not related to the
organizations' proﬁts or even to the employees'income. Such circumstances create a friendlier surrounding for psychopaths, because
in such an environment they and their activities are more difﬁcult to detect. For example, Mathieu et al. (2014) found that perceived
psychopathic features in supervisors had a less direct inﬂuence on employee psychological distress in their private sector sample than
in the public sector sample. This interesting question is open to future research.
3.2. Managerial implications
The model advanced in this paper strongly suggests that organizations can limit the destructive behavior of psychopaths. Organi-
zations have difﬁculty preventing the admittance of psychopaths through selection tools.This is because dark-triad characteristics co-
exist withwell-developed social skills. Thus, dark side tendencies are extremely difﬁcult to detectin an interview; in fact, the charac-
teristicsof psychopathy typically come across as positive attributes in the short term (Kaiser & Hogan, 2006). It should be noted that,
while currently there are very limited attempts to detect psychopathy inthe workplace for selection purposes, there are few studies in
which scales were developed forthe evaluation of supervisors' level of psychopathyby their employees(Mathieu et al., 2014).There is
a need for continuing effort in this direction, and therefore, HRM has some tools that would enable potential psychopaths to be
However, at this point of time it seems that the best option for organizationsto forestall the destructive activities of psychopaths is
to create an environment that discourages such activities. For example, when evaluation criteria are unclear, greater reliance on fac-
tors unrelated to work behaviors are likely to inﬂuence job performance evaluations; workers can avoid being held accountable, and
blame others for negative outcomes (or take credit for positive ones). Thus, the importance of conducting quality performance eval-
uations cannot be overstated and in fact may be the only way to deal with the dark triad personality (Chiaburu et al., 2013).
If organizations develop and maintain a strong culture of social responsibility, it will be difﬁcult for psychopaths in the workplace
to apply CWBsto achieve their goals. Higher levels of transparency and accountability (Frink & Klimoski, 2004) are the best tools or-
ganizations can use to limit the activities of psychopaths. Delbecq (2001) elaborated in that regard, arguing that one of the best ways
to deal with evil in organizations is to establish very clear group norms regarding collegial behavior, decision processes, and cultural
values in the organization. It is important that an organization does not leave managers and employees to rely on their moral intuition
and good judgment alone, but rather creates a culture in which the distinction between ethical and unethical behavior is clear
(Kaptein, 2011). According to Delbecq (2001), culture does matter and behavior that is normatively deviant will be identiﬁed
much earlier where a strong organizational culture is in place. Taking time to establish the cultural norms, providing reminders of
the norms,providing clear verbal reprimands when norms are violated, and keepingwritten records of deviation all help to bring de-
structive behavior to the surface. Greater clarity should decrease the likelihood of its occurrence.
According to Hegarty and Sims (1979), one way to control unethical behavior in business organizations is through careful and
continual enforcement. Based on their ﬁndings, they concluded that if the policy is sufﬁciently strong and couched in explicit terms, eth-
ical behavior will increase, lessening the need to engage in heavy after-the-fact control activities. They contended that obviously some
negative reinforcement will be necessary, because historical precedents may not have discriminated against unethical behavior for
some people. Installing consequences is also warranted, since without them the effect may be short-lived. Speciﬁcally, if given adequate
boardroom sanction and support to scrutinize and perform appraisal management at the highest levels, and if permitted to harness its
traditional resources to steer or redesign organizational culture—including the cultural ‘tone at the top’—then HRM strategies so
empowered may ﬁnally be able to reduce CWBs at all organizational levels (Marshall, Ashleigh, Baden, Ojiako, & Guidi, 2015).
CWBs represent the dark side of organizational behavior (Vardi & Weitz, 2004). Over the years, researchers have acknowledged
the need to examine not only the positive aspects of organizational behavior, but also the disastrous effects of negative behaviors
in the workplace (Schyns, 2015). One issue that did not receive sufﬁcient attention in the context of the dark side in organizations
is that of dark triad personality employees, a concept that gained academic attention only recently (Harms & Spain, 2015). It is
only natural that researchers have tried to relate the two in meta-analyses that were based on a relatively small number of studies
(Kish-Gephart et al., 2010; O'Boyle et al., 2012). These meta-analyses showed a weak to modest relationship between the two. The
immediate conclusion, based on these ﬁndings, is that the relationship between the dark triad and CWBs is not direct. Therefore,
there is a need for conceptual work to suggest possible mediators and moderators (Schyns, 2015; Spain et al., 2014). This paper re-
sponds to this need by proposing a conceptual model for the relationship between the dark triad and CWBs and advancing possible
mediators and moderators for this relationship.
82 A. Cohen / Human Resource Management Review 26 (2016) 69–85
The model presented in Fig. 1 relies on the person–organization ﬁt theory and advances two mediators and three moderators for
this relationship. According to the theory and propositions developed here, perceived organizational politics (mediator) and political
skills (moderator) operate toincrease the relationship between the dark triad and CWBs. Higher levels of these two variables serve to
increase the ﬁt between psychopaths and their organization. Perceived accountability (mediator), organizational transparency,
organizational policies, and ethical organizational culture/climate (moderators) will increase thestrength of the relationship between
the dark triad personality and CWBs. Higher levels of these four variables will operate to decrease the ﬁt of psychopaths to their
organizations. Based on the person–organization ﬁt theory, it is thus expected that the explanatory power of the model presented
here will be greater than that of studies that examined the direct relationship. Naturally, there is a need for empirical studies in a
variety of settings to examine the proposed model in order to validate it.
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