The dark side of experiencing job autonomy: Unethical behavior

Jackson G. Lu*, Joel Brockner, Yoav Vardi, Ely Weitz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


To date, job autonomy has been conceptualized as a job characteristic that elicits positive outcomes. In contrast, the present studies unveiled a potential dark side of experiencing job autonomy: unethical behavior. Using field surveys on Israeli employees, Studies 1 and 2 found that experienced job autonomy not only positively predicted job satisfaction (thus replicating past research), but also positively predicted unethical behavior. Using experimental designs, Studies 3a and 3b drew on actual job autonomy policies from real-world corporations to prime American employees to experience different levels of job autonomy. Compared to participants in the low-autonomy or autonomy-unrelated control conditions, participants in the high-autonomy condition were more likely to behave unethically because they felt less constrained by rules. Moreover, the relationship between experienced job autonomy and unethical behavior was moderated by the importance that participants assigned to having job autonomy, such that the experience of high job autonomy was less likely to elicit unethical behavior from participants for whom having job autonomy was more important. In addition to replicating all of these findings, Study 4 revealed that the experience of high job autonomy simultaneously increased unethical behavior and creativity, further demonstrating job autonomy to be a double-edged sword. Theoretical and practical implications are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-234
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2017


  • Creativity
  • Double-edged
  • Job autonomy
  • Job satisfaction
  • Morality
  • Unethical behavior


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