Desirable or deceitful? How social exchange dynamics shape responses to pro-coworker unethical behavior

David T. Welsh, Michael D. Baer, Ji Koung Kim, Chase Thiel, Isaac H. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


There is substantial evidence that employees build relationships with coworkers who provide them with assistance and distance themselves from coworkers who behave unethically. We consider how employees respond when coworkers provide them with benefits that violate ethical standards—a phenomenon we refer to as pro-coworker unethical behavior (PCUB). Building on social exchange theory, we explore how recipients of PCUB may simultaneously experience both a sense of increased indebtedness toward their coworker, given the beneficial nature of PCUB, and reduced perceptions of their coworker's integrity, given the unethical nature of PCUB. We theorize that these diverging reactions will have countervailing indirect effects on the social exchange relationship between the recipient and PCUB provider. In turn, these effects on the social exchange relationship will influence whether the recipient responds favorably toward the provider, in the form of interpersonal citizenship. Our theoretical model incorporates the PCUB provider's prosocial versus self-interested motives as a critical contingency that shapes recipients’ perceptions of indebtedness and integrity. The results of a multi-wave field study of employee–coworker dyads and an experimental study provide converging support for our hypothesized model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-644
Number of pages26
JournalPersonnel Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022


  • citizenship behavior
  • indebtedness
  • integrity
  • pro-coworker unethical behavior
  • social exchange

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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