If managers are found to behave unethically, followers might question whether organizational rules and guidelines can be relied upon (i.e., organizational injustice, Premeaux, 2009; Xu et al., 2016), which is likely to have a negative impact on employee ethical behavior (Colquitt et al., 2001). However, to our knowledge, existing research has practically avoided the issue of whether organizational justice and its different dimensions could mediate in the relationship between the ethical leadership of senior managers and employee ethical behavior. Previous research has reported social exchange processes as an important underlying mechanism explaining how ethical leaders can encourage positive outcomes (e.g., prosocial behavior, Brown and Treviño, 2006). Social exchange processes have also been observed to be involved in the positive attitudes and behaviors of employees that result from contexts where organizational justice is perceived (El Akremi et al., 2010; Wang et al., 2017). However, little research focuses on whether organizational justice could mediate between the ethical leadership of senior managers and employee ethical behavior; far less research is available addressing which traditional justice dimension (i.e., distributive, procedural, interpersonal, informational) is the most relevant for capturing this mediating effect. Thus, the literature in this area could be advanced by investigating the role of organizational justice and of each of its distinct dimensions in the relationship between the ethical leadership of senior managers and employee ethical behavior.
Rooted in the equity theory developed by Adams (1963) and associated with the equal distribution of outcomes based on the performance of each employee (Burney et al., 2009), distributive justice and its perception in the organization should lead employees to more ethical behaviors. When distributive justice is perceived, the conditions at work should be perceived as more positive (Oshio and Kobayashi, 2009) and reciprocity and social exchange processes should be developed (Gouldner, 1960; Blau, 1964), thus leading employees to respond with positive behaviors toward the leader and organization, such as ethical behavior. In a similar vein, procedural justice, which emphasizes the perceived fairness of the processes followed to make decisions (i.e., Greenberg, 2001; procedures and policies used to determine outcomes or resource distributions, Colquitt, 2001), should lead to more ethical behavior among employees. In effect, a higher level of perceived procedural justice will be accompanied by employees perceiving that they have some voice over the outcome (Lind and Tyler, 1988). According to social exchange processes (Gouldner, 1960; Blau, 1964), this is likely to lead employees to engage in positive behaviors toward the leader and the organization, such as ethical behavior (McCain et al., 2010). As in the procedural and distributive cases, interpersonal justice, defined as the extent to which one perceives that they are being treated with dignity, respect, and fairness (Colquitt, 2001), is also likely to lead to ethical behavior. If employees are well-treated, the norm of reciprocity (Blau, 1964) suggests that these employees will respond to the organization with positive behaviors. Finally, informational justice, which refers to the extent to which communication is developed honestly, fairly (Bies, 2001, and clearly (Colquitt, 2001), is also likely to lead to higher levels of ethical behavior. Employees will see themselves as valued and appreciated and so are likely to respond with positive behavior, in line with reciprocity processes (Gouldner, 1960). For example, in downsizing contexts, informational justice perceptions have been shown to make employees develop trusting attitudes (Brockner et al., 1995), which is one important driver of social exchange processes (Colquitt et al., 2007).
Overall, the extent to which each of these justice dimensions (distributive, procedural, interpersonal, informational) can be shaped by managers' ethical leadership, organizational justice, and each of its different dimensions, is likely to mediate the managerial ethical leadership to employee ethical behavior relationship. Accordingly, we predict the following,
H2. Perceived organizational justice and its dimensions of distributive (a), procedural (b), interpersonal (c), and informational (d) justice each mediate the positive relationship between the ethical leadership of (senior) managers and employee ethical behavior.
Third, ethical leadership and organizational justice perceptions appear to be related to employee ethical behavior, this association is likely to be dependent on certain boundaries. The workplace environment has an enormous influence on ethical decision-making processes; however, individual differences also play an important role (O'Fallon and Butterfield, 2005; Craft, 2013). In this regard, recent research exploring cognitive processing of moral cues suggests that employees differ in the extent to which they pay attention to moral issues and therefore differ in the moral attentiveness they show in their day-to-day activities (Reynolds, 2008). Thus, the moral cues offered by either ethical leadership or the fair outcomes, processes, interactions, and communication perceived (i.e., organizational justice) may be interpreted or captured in a different way by individuals who have higher rather than lower moral attentiveness. With greater moral attentiveness, the moral clues perceived thanks to the presence of ethical leaders and organizational justice may be more salient. This offers an interesting future line of research to advance on how ethical leadership can become more effective at work.
In addition, more and more attention has been paid to the role of the private sector's justice perception in PPP partnership and project success (Wu et al., 2018). However, more attention has been paid to the impact of justice perception on relationship quality and project performance (Almarri and Blackwell, 2014; Du et al., 2017; Warsen et al., 2018) and few studies have explored the impact of justice perception on the private sector's opportunistic behavior.
The public sector is the main force to promote the healthy and standardized development of PPP projects, and its different relationship orientation has different effects on the private sector's JP and opportunistic behavior. However, there are few systematic analyses of relationship orientation of the public sector, and the mechanism of relationship orientation on the opportunistic behavior of the private sector is not clear. In order to explore the abovementioned research gaps, this study will design a measurement scale of the public sector's relationship orientation based on literature review, combined with PPP project practice and expert interview results, and propose an empirical model to explore the impact process of different public sector relationship orientations on the private sector's justice perception and opportunistic behavior in PPP projects.
Several potential theoretical contributions are included in this study. One is to propose the definition of the public sector's relationship orientation in PPP projects and summarize three dimensions [emotional relationship orientation (ERO), instrumental relationship orientation (IRO), and rent-seeking relationship orientation (RRO)]. On this basis, the questionnaire is designed and the measurement items are set according to the characteristics of PPP projects under the background of Chinese culture. The developed scale can be used for reference by other scholars and provide theoretical support for the follow-up research. The other is to analyze the relationship between the public sector's relationship orientation and the private sector's opportunistic behavior and explore the mediating role of justice perception. The research results will help to change the concept and attitude of the public sector, avoid the opportunistic behavior of the public sector, provide new research perspectives and ideas for related research, and facilitate the standardized and healthy development of PPP projects.
Therefore, the public sector's ERO will affect the design of PPP project contract terms and thus affect the private sector's justice perception, including DJ and PJ. In addition, after the signing of the contract, ERO will increase the emotional connection and communication between the two sides, respect each other, jointly solve the problems in the project (Liu and Wang, 2016), and improve the level of IJ of the private sector. Therefore, the following hypotheses are put forward:
First, the public sector's relationship orientation has a significant effect on the formation and development of the private sector's justice perception and the emergence of opportunistic behavior. In PPP projects, one of the most important performance of the public sector's ERO is to pay attention to the cultivation and maintenance of long-term and stable partnership between the two sides. In the process of cooperation with the private sector, the private sector is given full trust and support, so that the private sector can feel enough trust and respect, and the sense of justice will also be enhanced. The natural differences between the two sides will also be more integrated due to sincere and frank communication and negotiation with each other, so as to minimize conflicts and disputes between the two sides. In this cooperative atmosphere, the advantages of private sector in management and technology can be better displayed, so as to reduce the opportunistic tendency and behavior.
Second, justice perception plays a mediating role in the process of the public sector's relationship orientation acting on the private sector's opportunistic behavior. In the empirical study, the direct effect of justice perception on opportunistic behavior has been verified, which is consistent with the previous scholars' conclusions on the effect of justice perception on cooperative relationship in PPP projects. A good sense of justice is helpful to restrain the opportunistic behavior of the private sector, reduce conflicts and disputes between the public and private sectors, and improve the quality of the partnership. In addition, Smart PLS statistical software is used to prove the mediating role of justice perception in the influence of relationship orientation on opportunistic behavior. The verification of mediating effect further explains the internal mechanism of relationship orientation on opportunistic behavior: on the one hand, the public sector's relationship orientation directly affects the private sector's opportunistic behavior; on the other hand, it has an indirect impact through the private sector's justice perception. In the practice of PPP projects, the relationship orientation of the public sector will gradually form a stable relationship connection or a clear contract spirit in the cooperation with the private sector, which will affect the formation and development of the private sector's justice perception and then affect the opportunistic behavior. 2b1af7f3a8