Why sabotage customers who mistreat you? Activated hostility and subsequent devaluation of targets as a moral disengagement mechanism.

We utilize the social intuitionist approach to moral judgment and moral disengagement theory to understand why and when employees sabotage customers. We contend that when customers mistreat employees (i.e., customer mistreatment), employees experience intuitive emotional reactions in the form of hostility, which automatically activates devaluation of targets, a specific facet of moral disengagement. In turn, employees become unencumbered by moral self-regulation and sabotage customers who mistreat them (i.e., customer-directed sabotage). We further argue that our serially mediated model is moderated by employees’ perceptions of the organization’s ethical climate. When ethical climates are perceived as being low, employees’ hostile reactions toward misbehaving customers produce a positive relationship with devaluation of targets, and devaluation of targets results in a positive relationship with customer-directed sabotage. These positive relationships do not hold when ethical climate is perceived as being high. We test our theoretical model using a field sample of customer service employees and an experimental study to establish causality. Our results provide general support for our hypotheses. We discuss theoretical and practical implications and opportunities for future research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)