Implicit Assumptions and Organizational Context- A Recipe for Immoral Behavior?
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Automatic ethics: The effects of implicit assumptions and contextual cues on moral behavior.
Authors: Reynolds, S. J., Leavitt, K., & DeCelles, K. A.
Reviewed By: Bobby Bullock
In recent years, the news has been filled with stories about organizations committing
gross violations against the environment, their stakeholders, and even the American public. So it’s not a stretch to imagine that many people view business itself as inherently immoral. What are the effects of such implicit assumptions about the moral nature of business?
Reynolds, Leavitt, and Decelles (2010) sought to answer questions like this in a recent study where they examined how employees’ implicit assumptions about the morality of business in general can impact day-to-day business decisions and moral behavior on the job. Their research supported the idea that organizational cues which support individual beliefs about the moral nature of business can combine to create more extreme conclusions (i.e., more immoral behavior or more moral behavior) than would be the case without such organizational cues.
Reynolds’ team found that individuals who inherently believed that business is moral (e.g., intense competition and emphasizing shareholder obligations and financial performance is okay) were much more likely to behave in an immoral fashion when their environment emphasized
success and competition On the other hand, individuals who believed that business is inherently immoral (e.g., business practices are overly aggressive and harmful) were much less likely to act immorally when similar cues were presented. However, it is also important to note that when opposite cues such as an emphasis on collaboration were presented in this study, both groups behaved morally!
- The implications for moral behavior from this study are profound:
- The organization holds much more influence than previously thought concerning whether or not employees behave morally or immorally
- Although one can measure an employee’s implicit assumptions regarding their beliefs about the “morality” of business, it is the organizational culture itself that will most likely cue immoral behavior
- Organizations should be aware of the messages that they send to their employees- if there is an extreme focus on competition and success at all costs, many people will dowhateverit takes to achieve it (hmm… sound familiar?)
- And, according to Reynolds et al. (2010), organizations might want to take a more proactive approach to influence employee perceptions about the moral obstacles present in the complex world of business so that they may be more aware of this interaction effect
It’s Easier to Deceive via e-Mail
Topic: Workplace Deviance, Ethics
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2010)
Article: The finer points of lying online: E-mail versus pen and paper
Authors: C.E. Naquin, T.R. Kurtzberg, and L.Y. Belkin
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
While lying and deception may come easily to some (certain politicians come to mind…), research suggests that generally, people find face-to-face deception to be more difficult than deception through a communication medium (telephone, letter, etc.).
In a recent article on the topic, Naquin, Kurtzberg, and Belkin (2010) hypothesized that deception (lying) may be even more likely via email than pen and paper communication. In their series of 3 studies, Naquin et al. showed that although deception occurred quite frequently for participants using both (e-mail vs. pen and paper) communication mediums, deception was indeed more common through email and the extent of deception (how big the lie was) tended to be greater via email.
The authors further demonstrated that this was due to people finding it easier to justify deception when communicating via email. Importantly, however, the first two studies utilized an artificial game with no “real” consequences for deception, as would certainly not be the case in a work setting (e.g., IRS audit). Thus, Naquin and colleagues conducted a third study with full-time managers working on a more realistic (albeit not real) simulation.
In this study, deception was revealed to others, thus, providing real consequences to the deceiver. Nevertheless, the results were largely the same for all three studies, suggesting that even in the face of consequences; people tend to engage in more deception via email to promote self-interests.
Unfortunately, Naquin and colleagues’ paper highlights a dark side of human nature and suggests that the media through which employees communicate can impact their propensity to lie and engage in deception. The authors suggest that their findings may also point to a general tendency for people to more easily justify unethical behavior via online media. These findings are perhaps even more disturbing when we consider the frequency with which business is conducted online.
Now…what expenses can I think of to write-off this year?
Corporate Social Responsibility – An Inevitable Paradox?
Topic: Culture, Ethics
Publication: Academy of Management Perspectives
Article: Is the socially responsible corporation a myth? The good, the bad and the ugly of corporate responsibility.
Author: T.M. Devinney
Featured by: Lit Digger
Is it even possible to have a corporation that is truly socially responsible? Sure, some companies like Johnson & Johnson and Ben & Jerry’s are perceived to demonstrate more corporate social responsibility (CSR) than others, but let’s stop pointing fingers for a moment and instead think critically about what CSR actually means, shall we? Timothy Devinney has added his two cents to an ongoing debate about CSR, a topic that has been difficult to scientifically examine in part due to the looseness of its definition.
Devinney presents three perspectives in his examination of the issue, which I will broadly summarize below.
First of all, “Who is Sanctioning Whom?” The traditional idea is that that society morally sanctions corporations, such that corporations must then operate within the rules and ethical practices of that society. However, this is confusing because societies are often not comprised of one crystal clear set of norms (e.g., liberals and conservatives, people of various ethnicities, and those of differing sexual orientations could live on the same neighborhood block). So the question becomes: to whom should the corporation really be responsible, especially when societal groups or ideals are in conflict?
Secondly, Devinney considers “The Good of CSR” versus “The Bad of CSR.” On the bright side, corporations can help identify the needs of society. If people are shopping at a shoe store, and the shoe store is doing well, then the business must be addressing a need and everyone has happy feet, right? Through research, corporations know about the societal trends and the current technology available, so they are also able to experiment with new ideas, and let brutal competition decide what will stick.
This opens up the possibility of solving new, social problems! On the dark side, it is likely that they “manipulate that society for their own benefit,” says Devinney. Let’s not forget that a corporation’s ultimate goal is to achieve bottom-line profit. Corporations use political power to best serve their most important constituencies, and they largely do not represent society’s poor people and may contribute fewer resources to less-populated areas (e.g., the boonies).
Thirdly, Devinney takes a hard look at the so-called “Ugly of CSR” by asking, “Where’s the Performance?” Little evidence exists in support of CSR’s relationship to corporate performance, including support for the notion that CSR leads to corporate performance. Devinney cites Margolis, et al. (2007 & 2008), suggesting that CSRs don’t necessarily hurt performance, but the reality is that a corporation will not seriously engage in every possible aspect of CSR unless there is real value to be gained at the bottom line.
The article ends by pointing out that corporations are naturally complex, so we should be sensitive to and somewhat accepting of their good and bad qualities . . . much like people, the author concludes.
Margolis, J.D., & Elfenbein, H.A., & Walsh, J.P. (2007). Does it pay to be good? A meta-analysis and redirection of research on corporate social and financial performance (Working Paper). Boston: Harvard Business School.
Understanding the Ethical Leadership Waterfall
Topic: Ethics, Leadership
Publication: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Article: How low does ethical leadership flow? Test of a trickle-down model.
Author: D.M. Mayer, M. Kuenzi, R. Greenbaum, M. Bardes, R. Salvador
Featured by: Benjamin Granger
Past research has shown that organizational leaders play a substantial role in influencing the behaviors of their subordinates (monkey see, monkey do). In fact, there is some evidence that leaders’ behaviors play an important role in predicting how likely employees engage in counterproductive or unethical behaviors.
In an effort to better understand how and why ethical (or unethical) executive behaviors influence subordinate behaviors, Mayer, Kuenzi, Greenbaum, Bardes, and Salvador (2009) tested a trickle-down process, wherein leader behaviors influence the behaviors of those below them.
Specifically, Mayer et al. found that executives’ ethical behaviors did indeed influence employees’ deviant and counterproductive behaviors, albeit indirectly through the behaviors of middle managers and supervisors. In other words, it appears that top managers’ ethical behavior directly influences the behavior of middle level supervisors who then influence the behavior of the employees below them.
But why do top managers’ ethical behaviors affect employees’ behaviors? Mayer and colleagues suggest that managers and supervisors serve as models that employees follow and emulate.
Since the behavior of top executives has important implications for both positive and negative employee behaviors, initiatives intended to improve ethics in organizations should start at the very top. Thus, Mayer and colleagues suggest that it may be useful to select managers based on integrity, concern for others, and moral standards.
In addition, another option is implementing ethics training programs for middle and top managers. Therefore, like many other things, leadership behavior does appear to flow downhill!
Mayer, D.M., Kuenzi, M., Greenbaum, R., Bardes, M., Salvador, R. (2009). How low does ethical leadership flow? Test of a trickle-down model. Organizational Behavior and Human Decisions Processes, 108, 1-13.