Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Acquiring Emotional Sea Legs: Navigating Joy and Sadness in Ethical Decisions

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Acquiring Emotional Sea Legs: Navigating Joy and Sadness in Ethical Decisions

Article excerpt

In spite of trainings, warnings, and punitive measures, ethical scandals seem to prevail, if not increase in the corporate world (De Cremer and Lemmich, 2015). This points to the complexity underlying the process of ethical decision-making (EDM), which is defined as the process of perceiving, judging, and choosing a morally appropriate decision (Trevino et al, 2006). Studies show that ethical issues are prevalent in workplaces and employees can harbor unethical behavioral tendencies. In a recent report which asked more than 1200 business professionals from a wide variety of occupations, one out of three people said that they have been aware of unethical behavior at the workplace, and one out of every four people suggested that they would exploit private information to make money if they knew they would not be caught or arrested (Alton, 2015). In response to such ethical concerns, companies have attempted to enact compliance-related policies and procedures, which may not have had the intended prevention effect on managerial EDM (De Cremer and Lemmich, 2015).

On a different note, evidence shows that employees engage in positive, ethical behaviors in light of temptations to act unethically. There are examples of such pro-social and ethical behaviors as returning large amounts of cash that were lost by customers (e.g., Lacitis, 2013; Pike, 2015) and whistleblowing (Philpott, 2015). These examples show that ethical dilemmas, defined as moral decision-situations in which the choices are not clear for the decision-maker, are complex. These examples also show that the decisions made in response to such dilemmas can be more or less ethical depending on a plethora of individual and situational factors. The increased complexity, in some ways, distinguishes generic business decision-making processes (e.g., choosing the right investments) from ethical decision-making processes (e.g., reporting unethical behavior to authorities) by its reliance on morality, which is inherently an emotional construct for decision-makers (Manfrinati et al., 2013; Shenhav and Greene, 2014). The presence and influence of emotions, thus, makes it imperative that their influences on EDM are studied.

Emotions are inevitable actors in the ethical decision-making process. Primarily, ethical dilemmas have been shown to induce tension or negative affect prior to or during the decision-making process (Guzak, 2015). Emotions elicited directly from a decision-maker's target or a situation that directly concerns the decision are called integral emotions (Schmeichel and Inzlicht, 2013). Therefore, in most ethical decision scenarios, integral emotions are negatively valenced due to the inherent conflicts involved in an ethical dilemma. Even so, emotions are not just elicited from the dilemmas, but also from the context in which such ethical scenarios exist. From a practical perspective, organizations have been working towards implementing positively oriented policies and procedures generally as well as with respect to ethical decision-making (Meyer, 2015). Such a focus on positive contextual aspects are evident in recent work in positive psychology, where the elicitation of positive emotions are being studied. Organizations are especially interested in such positive emotions because it can lead to greater employee well-being (Hart et al, 2015), lesser turnover (Siu et al, 2015) and better ethical decisions (Dietz and Kleinlogel, 2014). Implementation of positive policies and procedures potentially elicits positive emotions--ones that are not necessarily connected to an ethical dilemma that may arise at work. Such emotions elicited from the general context and not connected to the target or the decision-situation at hand are called incidental emotions (Schmeichel and Inzlicht, 2013). Both incidental and integral emotions are operationalized as state emotions as opposed to dispositional or trait affect in this study.

In this paper, the role of such emotions on the EDM process is elucidated using experimental procedures, file main purpose of this paper is not to differentiate or to compare the sources of integral and incidental emotions, but to study how these emotions, which can be diverse in their valences, can overlap and perhaps affect each other in the context of EDM. …

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