Mindfulness-Based Business Ethics Education

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Articles which recommend new approaches to teaching business ethics typically begin with a litany of famous corrupt business activities. From Lockheed to Lincoln Savings and Loan, Kenneth Lay to Bernard Madoff, recent decades have witnessed repeated examples of how the lack of business ethics results in corporate scandals. These unethical actions are often caused by self-deception due to automatic psychological and cognitive processes like biases, schemas and rationalizations. The idea of attacking self-deception in the teaching of business ethics has already been suggested. Banaji, Brazerman and Chugh (2003), called for the training in business ethics to be broadened to include what is known about the inner workings of the mind, exposing managers directly to the unconscious, psychological mechanisms that underlie biased decision making. Scientific research into mindfulness meditation has proven it has the potential to provide a method students can learn to increase awareness, obtain self-knowledge and develop insight that will result in more ethical decision making.

CURRENT BUSINESS ETHICS CLASSES

There are a number of approaches used today in the teaching of business ethics classes, including exposing students to philosophy, religion, case studies, and moral dilemmas. Studies measuring ethical attitudes of students who have taken a business ethics course have had troubling results (Jewe, 2008). Business ethics classes as taught are not fulfilling their purpose of cultivating ethical business professionals. The need for improving ethics in business keeps growing.

The mindfulness based approach to teaching business ethics calls on business teachers to teach mindfulness meditation and open inquiry skills to their students. Rather than offering a set of rules to promote ethical behavior, this approach seeks to engage emotions, facilitate introspection, increase awareness and attention, leading students in learning processes which result in personal insights. Without business students gaining an understanding of the inner workings of the mind and being offered self empowerment by adopting mind training processes, they will continue to look outside themselves for a way to fix the unethical practices while the real solution to these problems lies within.

TODAY'S BUSINESS STUDENTS

Among fields of study, business students top the cheater's list at both undergraduate and graduate levels (McCabe & Trevino, 1995; McCabe, Butterfield & Trevino 2006). On personality tests, finance students in particular, scored significantly higher on narcissism and lower on empathy, compared to other students, both traits which contribute to unethical decision-making (Sautter, Brown, Littvay & Sautter, 2008). Most business students place high value on money and image, and pursue these extrinsic values rather than the intrinsic ideals that would lead to greater ethical conduct (Kasser & Ahuvia, 2002). Business students who embrace materialism show a strong concern for being seen as successful by others (Kasser, 2002). A 2010 study of business school students shows a correlation between increased narcissism and unethical decision making as well as lowered empathy levels in these students. (Brown, Sautter, Littvay, Sautter & Bearnes, 2010). This profile for business students among college students in general, shows them to be especially vulnerable to taking unethical actions.

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS

A common definition for mindfulness in Western society comes from the field of health. It is called Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn brought the Buddhist conceived practices of mindfulness and meditation to the University at Massachusetts Medical Center. At the University of Massachusetts, Kabat-Zinn (1994) defined mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally" (p. …