Why do employees have counterproductive work behavior? The role of founder’s Machiavellianism and the corporate culture in China

Wenzhi Zheng, Yen Chun Jim Wu*, Xiao Chen Chen, Shu Jou Lin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to analyse the mechanism of how Machiavellian corporate culture (MCC) affects employees’ counterproductive work behaviours. Design/methodology/approach: Through a three-phase grounded study on the data of a single case amounting to over 170,000 words, this qualitative study explores why employees exhibit counterproductive work behaviours. Findings: The results indicated that the implications of the MCC of family businesses in China include the following three dimensions: low trust, control orientation, and status orientation. In this corporate cultural context, employees exhibit counterproductive work behaviours because they perceive low organisational justice, psychological contract violation, and low trust. Among them, psychological contract violation serves as a triggering mechanism due to the organisational context and trust is crucial to employee counterproductive work behaviour. Research limitations/implications: In this study, the results are derived merely from the observation of and generalisation about one case; more therefore, empirical studies are required. Practical implications: Numerous family business owners in China exhibit a high level of Machiavellian personality traits, and this personality tends to determine the implications of corporate culture. In order to establish a diverse culture, a heterogeneous top manager team must be developed and a new organisational culture must be established from top down. Originality/value: This study extends the research scopes of employee personality and behaviours as well as leaders’ personality traits and employee emotions, and proposes a theoretical framework of leaders’ personality-culture-employee behaviours as a contribution to studies on organisational behaviour, theories of corporate social responsibility, and development of corporate culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-578
Number of pages16
JournalManagement Decision
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Case study
  • China
  • Corporate culture
  • Counterproductive work behaviour
  • Family business
  • Machiavellianism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Business,Management and Accounting
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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