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Why is it that voters are still prepared to vote for politicians after they have been embroiled by a sexual scandal, or buy branded products from celebrities or sports personalities who have admitted to personal wrongdoing?

The answer is all to do with relevance, say researchers from the Wharton school at the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College’s Tuck business school.

In an article published in the Journal of Consumer Research, Amit Bhattacharjee, visiting assistant professor at Tuck, and Jonathan Berman and Americus Reed, both of Wharton, argue that consumers may find a way to justify their continued support by separating the moral judgment they make from an assessment of the professional performance of the celebrity or politician.

Their research cites the example of golfer Tiger Woods. Whatever the views about his private life, they say, consumers are still prepared to buy his golf clubs because they believe him to be the best golfer in the world.

However, within the workplace, the moral behaviour of managers is a more pressing and potentially damaging issue. Research conducted by Tae-Yeol Kim, associate professor of management at Ceibs in Shanghai, along with researcher Minsoo Kim of Hanyang University School of Business, shows that employees feel more empowered by a leader who exhibits a greater degree of moral competency, and when the employee feels their values are aligned to that of their managers.

The report, published in the Journal of Business Ethics, has real implications for corporate hiring, says Prof Kim. Hiring managers that are deemed to be morally competent by those that report to them, means organisations can better motivate employees and so produce a better performance. In addition, when there is a strong match between the value system of a manager and their subordinates, the manager can more effectively motivate staff performance, according to the research.

The professors surveyed a total of 163 employee-supervisor pairs employed by South Korean companies across a variety of sectors to compile the research for the paper, “Leaders’ Moral Competence and Employee Outcomes: The Effects of Psychological Empowerment and Person-Supervisor Fit”.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.

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