Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Contextual Factors as Moderators of the Effect of Employee Ethical Ideology on Ethical Decision-Making

Academic journal article International Journal of Management

Contextual Factors as Moderators of the Effect of Employee Ethical Ideology on Ethical Decision-Making

Article excerpt

Organizations have increased their usage of pre-employment screening instruments that measure ethical ideology (i.e. which applicants hold an ethical ideology versus a non-ethical ideology) as a means to predict ethical decision making on the job. Consistent with previous research, this study investigates whether an individual's ethical ideology, as measured by degree of relativism and degree of idealism, is actually linked with ethical decision making when individuals are presented with specific ethical choices. Uniquely adding to the existing literature, this study, utilizing real-life ethical scenarios, also assesses whether a given set of contextual factors, including the perceived opportunity to commit an unethical act, the degree of benefit to the individual if the unethical decision is made, and the perceived chance of getting caught, serve to moderate the relationship between ethical ideology and ethical decision making. Subjects for this study were business students from a large state university located in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The total sample (N=235) contained a mix of undergraduates (81.3%) and graduate students (18.7%). Males comprised 51 % of the participants. The data were analyzed using correlations and repeated measures ANOVA. Results show a linkage between ethical ideology and decision making and that contextual factors serve to influence the relationship. In particular, participants, regardless of their ethical ideology, chose more ethical options for resolving the dilemmas when the perceived opportunity to commit the unethical act was low and when the perceived chance of getting caught was high. Further, for individuals whose relativism score was high, a higher perceived personal benefit resulted in a greater likelihood that the unethical option will be chosen. For individuals whose idealism score is low, a lower perceived chance of getting caught resulted in a greater likelihood that the unethical option will be chosen. The article discusses the implications of these results for employee selection and for work environment design. Recommendations for future research are also presented.

Background

In the aftermath of the corporate financial scandals that occurred throughout the first few years of the 21st century, organizations are challenged to create and maintain an ethical business culture and to hire, socialize, and train employees on the basis of ethical decision making (Anand, Ashforth, & Joshi, 2005; Andrews, 2005; Treviño, Weaver, & Reynolds, 2006; Tyler, 2005; Valentine & Fleischman, 2004). Organizations can use a number of mechanisms to assess the ethical orientation of current and prospective employees. These assessment tools can range from background checks, where one's financial and criminal history is reviewed, to other more basic approaches such as personality tests (Barrett, 2006). Regardless of the degree of sophistication of the assessment, the basic idea is to screen out those individuals who have actually committed or have the potential to commit unethical acts and to continue to retain or consider those whose ethical profile is in line with corporate expectations concerning ethics.

The use of personality and personality-related tests as a tool for assessing actual and potential integrity has become more prevalent in pre-employment screening (Barrett, 2006). In fact, Barrett (2006: 390) notes that "attributes such as conscientiousness, selfcontrol, and agreeableness are now considered the primary characteristics associated with well-adjusted, productive employees." In terms of specific ethical orientation tests, researchers have deployed a variety of assessment tools, primarily as mechanisms to make predictions on potential for ethical (or unethical) behavior. For management consultants and human resource management professionals, several key questions arise when considering the use of these tests. First, do the results of tests of ethical orientation actually portend decision making when individuals are confronted with an ethical challenge or dilemma? …

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