There is a long-standing debate over the causes and explanations for misbehavior in organizations, and a significant body of research has examined two competing theories—that is, bad apples vs. bad barrels. Both explanations are partially true in that misbehavior in organizations is a function of individual tendencies to misbehave and organizational norms, expectations, and pressures. Furthermore, organizations function within broader social contexts, and contextual factors such as national culture may be just as much to blame for some forms of misbehavior as individual or organizational factors.
The corruption of organizations or individuals within organizations is a process that unfolds over time, and that involves many of the social and psychological processes described in Chapters 3 and 4. One of the significant challenges in dealing with corruption in organizations is that the individuals who harass or bully members of their organizations, who steal from or steal for the organization, or who organize and participate in large-scale frauds and even more serious crimes (e.g., war crimes) very often believe that they have not done anything wrong. People who misbehave have strong motivations to rationalize or explain their behavior in socially acceptable ways, and organizations often facilitate this process, especially when the misbehaviors are consistent with the organization’s norms and culture or when the misbehaviors are seen as necessary for the success or survival of the organization.
Loyalty to and identification with organizations can have positive outcomes for both individuals and organizations, but it can also create pressures to engage in or to cover up corruption. In law enforcement agencies, the “blue wall of silence” often frustrates attempts to expose or prosecute corruption. Members of police forces and other similar agencies often have a strong level of identification with and loyalty to their organization, and their unwillingness to expose their organization to external criticism often makes it difficult for them to oppose or expose corruption. Similarly, the scandal over sexual abuse of minors on the part of clergy has been magnified by the frequent response of church hierarchies to cover up rather than confront abuse. The loyalty of Bishops and senior clergy to their organization has often had tragic consequences for the targets of abuse, the community, and the church itself.