Exit Surveys as Assessments of Organizational Ethicality

By Giacalone, Robert A.; Jurkiewicz, Carole L. et al. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Exit Surveys as Assessments of Organizational Ethicality


Giacalone, Robert A., Jurkiewicz, Carole L., Knouse, Stephen B., Public Personnel Management


The importance of clearly articulated and understood ethical standards in the business of public administration is undisputable. (1) Moreover, an understanding of how ethics operates in the day-to-day functioning of the public sector is crucial in improving ethical decision-making generally. (2) Many of the models created to further our understanding of ethics in the workplace focus upon process issues: cognitive processes, like cognitive moral development; (3) procedural processes, like procedural justice; (4) and legitimizing processes, like codifying organizational values into codes of ethics. (5) In contrast, an emphasis on measurement in organizational ethics is less readily apparent, most likely because of the difficulty in doing so. (6) Indeed, many organizations employ a very simple four-step metric to measure the morality of an action: Is it legal? Is it balanced? How will it make me feel? How will I feel when others are aware of the action? (7)

The need for effective measurement in organizational ethics is pervasive. For example, from a decision-making perspective, utilitarianism requires one metric indicating the greatest good and another indicating the greatest number in order to evaluate the consequences of an action. Distributive justice requires a measure of intangible outcomes in order to determine whether resources are fairly allocated. (8) Similarly, research has shown that employees may engage in unethical behaviors that are both costly and dangerous and could have been prevented if appropriate data had been available. (9)

In order to measure ethically relevant variables, it is essential to determine the focus of measurement. For example, some have sought to focus on specific instances of unethical behaviors in organizations. A number of typologies of unethical behavior exist that list common problems, such as lying, falsifying records and theft. (10) Many organizations have institutionalized these lists in ethical codes, though relatively few organizations have devices for monitoring the incidence of these problematic behaviors. (11) One suggested measure is an organizational ethics audit, which documents incidents of unethical behaviors and assesses perceptions of ethical climate toward the end of creating action plans for addressing these problems. (12)

Conversely, others have focused on measurement of organizational ethical climate. Ethical climate consists of the shared perceptions of organizational members regarding ethical procedures and policies. Its dimensions include caring, rules, codifying ethics, the degree of independence of members and the instrumentality of organizational practices for creating an organizational morality. (13) The need for measuring the perceptions of members has heretofore been met by ethical climate questionnaires, such as that of Cullen, Victor and Stephens. (14) While such attempts may be fruitful, a more succinct and reliable alternative measure is clearly needed.

The Exit Interview and Survey

One technique that shows promise in many areas of organizational evaluation including ethics assessment is the exit interview and survey. (15) An ethics exit survey provides a means of gathering ethics-relevant information within an already established means of gathering data, and as such would appear to be a convenient means of assessing organizational ethics. A recent study demonstrated that organizational members were willing to discuss five areas in an ethics exit survey: illegal organizational activities, unfair administrative actions, illegal human resource activities, dishonesty and mistreatment of organizational constituencies. (16)

Exit interviewing and surveying (EIS) is already a widely used tool for gathering information from separating employees. Traditionally, the EIS process covers issues such as benefits, working conditions, opportunities for career advancement, the quality and quantity of the workload and relationships with co-workers and supervisors. …

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