Supervisor Moral Talk Contagion and Trust-in-Supervisor: Mitigating the Workplace Moral Mum Effect

Alaina Zanin, Ryan S. Bisel, Elissa Adame

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


This message-production experiment demonstrates that supervisors can mitigate the workplace moral mum effect and encourage upward ethical dissent by talking about ethics with subordinates (i.e., moral talk contagion). Working adults (N = 324) were randomly assigned to respond to an unethical request by their supervisor in one of five scenarios that varied by supervisor talk type and trust-in-supervisor or a baseline-control condition. Content and contingency table analyses revealed participants were twice as likely to invoke explicitly moralized upward dissent to an unethical business request from a supervisor when the supervisor was known for describing work situations in ethical terms. In addition, the V-shaped relationship between trust-in-supervisor and upward ethical dissent indicated that participants in the high- and low-trust conditions were twice as likely to engage in upward ethical dissent as those in the baseline-control condition. Implications for theory and practice conclude the essay.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)147-163
Number of pages17
JournalManagement Communication Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1 2016


  • behavioral ethics
  • moral mum effect
  • organizational dissent
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Strategy and Management


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