An analysis of factors proposed to affect the decision to blow the whistle on unethical acts

Timothy Dendy Wise, Louisiana Tech University


The purpose of this study was to gain further insight into the personal and situational variables that influence an individual's decision to report unethical behavior witnessed in the organizational setting. The personal variables of intrinsic religiosity, internal locus of control, high general self-efficacy, and male gender and the situational variable, degree of harm, were hypothesized to be positively related to the decision to report unethical behavior witnessed in the organizational setting. The degree of the harm caused by the focal actions was hypothesized to be related to the whistleblowing decision in two ways. This variable, in and of itself, was believed to be directly related to the choice to blow the whistle. It was also hypothesized to be a moderator of the strength of the relationships between the other variables and whistleblowing.

The study was quasi-experimental in design. Subjects were given scenarios describing situations with ethical content in the organizational setting and asked to rate, on a nine-point Likert scale, the likelihood that they would blow the whistle on such behavior. The degree of harm caused by the actions described was manipulated. The individual variables were measured using established instruments. Subjects in the study were university students. The primary statistical technique used to test the hypotheses was multivariate regression, though MANOVA and a test of correlation coefficients were also used.

The study supported the hypothesis that harm perceptions influence whistleblowing intentions. Mixed support was found for the hypotheses about internal religiosity and internal locus of control. No significant relationship was found between self-efficacy and whistleblowing intentions. No direct support was found for the hypothesis that all of the variables would be more strongly related to whistleblowing when higher levels of harm were perceived, though two of the variables showed significant relationships to whistleblowing only in the high seriousness version of the first scenario. Gender was found to be significantly related to whistleblowing intentions in two scenarios with females registering higher whistleblowing intentions than males.