Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Investigating the Relationship between Work Values and Work Ethics: A South African Perspective

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

Investigating the Relationship between Work Values and Work Ethics: A South African Perspective

Article excerpt


Unethical behaviour is a worldwide phenomenon, within increasingly unethical societies. Within these societies, individuals are required to make decisions on many different matters on a daily basis, where it is not always easy to distinguish a good decision from a bad decision. Vyas-Doorgapersad (2007) argues that developing countries, such as South Africa, are more susceptible to unethical behaviour because of widespread poverty, relatively low public-sector compensation, a lack of risk mechanisms (e.g. insurance and a well-developed market), opportunities created by complex, poorly defined, continually changing, and inadequate rules and regulations, a lack of properly established laws and principles, a lack of institutions to enforce a code of conduct and an absence of watchdog agencies. Unethical behaviour in South Africa, mainly in the form of corruption through bribery, has reached crisis proportions (Patel, 2013) and, as such, on a daily basis, citizens are confronted with media reports of corruption, fraudulent activities and bribery, among other things.

A study by Boshoff and Van Zyl (2011) reports that South Africa has the highest rate of white-collar crime in the world, and that South African organisations had an average loss of income of R7.4 million due to fraud for the period 2006/2007. The Global Economic Crime Survey 2016 reports that 69% of South African organisations have experienced economic crime, and that 15% have been asked to pay a bribe (PwC, 2016). In response to recent ethics scandals, organisations are emphasising ethics awareness, or work ethics (Quesenberry, Woodburne & Yang, 2013). However, even if an organisation has a code of ethics, ethical leadership and internal support for ethical management, this would not necessarily produce ethical behaviour (Van Vuuren, 2002). The reason for this is that while work ethics as a construct refer to attitudes and beliefs regarding what is ethical and what is unethical behaviour, presence or absence of work ethics does not necessarily lead to ethical or unethical behaviour (Miller, Woehr & Hudspeth, 2002; Ravangard et al., 2014). However, previous research studies have confirmed that behavioural intent predicts actual behaviour (Kurland, 1995). Studies have also confirmed that an individual's personal values are a significant predictor of ethical behaviour (Quick & Nelson, 2011). In addition, personal values are associated with and influence decision-making behaviour, and, consequently, ethical behaviour (Ivanis & Sturlic, 2016).


Previous research studies have not established a consistent causal relationship between work ethics and work behaviours, such as work values (Mann, Taber & Haywood, 2013). As such, there is a paucity of research studies that have investigated the relationship between work ethics and work values, particularly in the South African context. Given that to date no study within the South African context has been identified that has studied the aforementioned relationship, the primary objective of this study was to investigate the relationship between work ethics and work values in a South African sample. In addition, it was hypothesised that a proportion of the variance in work values can be explained by work ethics. The secondary objective was to establish which work values and which dimensions of work ethics are important in the South African work environment.

Literature review

Work ethics

The origin and make-up of the construct of ethics has been the subject of debate for millennia, and myriad philosophers has offered opinions on the topic. Although not all scholars agree, it seems reasonable to conclude that the concept of ethics is derived from the Greek word ethos, which originally referred to customs, habitual conduct, usages and character (Melden, 1967). The concept of ethics refers to the pattern, norm, or code of conduct adopted by a group of people, although the group will not necessarily obey this code of conduct (Jones, Sontag, Beckner & Fogelin, 1977). …

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