Retail employee pilferage: A study of moral disengagement

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Employee pilferage – the unauthorized taking of work property or the means of production on a relatively small scale – is extremely costly. However, very little is known about what psychologically drives frontline retail workers to pilfer. Drawing upon the social cognitive theory of self-regulation, we argue that moral disengagement is the key psychological mechanism that frees retail employees to pilfer in the workplace without experiencing feelings of guilt or self-censure. We further develop and test a conceptual framework that depicts the causes of pilferage moral disengagement by customer-contact retail employees. We find that both moral identity centrality and ethical leadership inhibit pilferage moral disengagement, while cynicism and pilferage norms enhance it. Moreover, moral identity centrality can also alleviate the positive effects of both cynicism and pilferage norms on pilferage moral disengagement. We discuss the theoretical implications of these findings and the implications for practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-68
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Business Research
Early online date21 Feb 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Ethical leadership
  • Moral disengagement
  • Moral identity
  • Retail employee pilferage
  • Retailing


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