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Tim Barnett Cheryl Vaicys
ABSTRACT. Dimensions of the ethical work climate, as conceptualized by Victor and Cullen (1988), are potentially important influences on individual ethical decision-making in the organizational context. The present study examined the direct and indirect effects of individuals’ perceptions of work climate on their ethical judgments and behavioral intentions regarding an ethical dilemma. A national sample of marketers was surveyed in a scenario-based research study. The results indicated that, although perceived climate dimensions did not have a direct effect on behavioral intentions, there were significant moderating effects. Climates perceived as emphasizing social responsibility and rules/codes moderated the individual ethical judgment-behavioral intentions relationship such that individuals were less likely to say that they would engage in a questionable selling practice even when they themselves did not believe the practice to be unethical. Respondents were somewhat more likely to form intentions consistent with their judgment that the questionable practice was
morally acceptable when the ethical climate was characterized by an emphasis on team/friendship. KEY WORDS: business ethics, ethical work climate, ethical decision making, ethical judgments
Tim Barnett is an Associate Professor of Management at Louisiana Tech University. His primary research interests are ethical decision making in business, religiosity and spirituality in the workplace, and HR issues in academia. He has published more than 30 articles in journals including the Academy of Management Journal, Personnel Psychology, Human Relations, Business Ethics Quarterly, and the Journal of Business Ethics. Cheryl Vaicys is an Assistant Professor of Management at Grambling State University. Her dissertation research concerned ethical work climate and various aspects of individual ethical decision making and her current research agenda extends this line of research. She has presented various professional papers and has published in Psychological Reports.
Although models of ethical decision-making do not agree in every particular, they recognize that individual ethical decision-making in organizations cannot be understood without considering the context within which decision processes occur. Thus, the models generally include not only individual influences on ethical decisionmaking but also organizational factors such as reward systems, norms, codes of conduct, and organizational climate (Brass et al., 1998; Dubinsky and Loken, 1989; Ferrell and Gresham, 1985; Hunt and Vitell, 1986; Jones, 1991; Trevino, 1986). The ethical dimension of organizational climate has been conceptualized by Victor and Cullen (1988) as a multidimensional construct, which they term the “ethical work climate.” Ethical work climates consist of the “prevailing perceptions of typical organizational practices and procedures that have ethical content” (Victor and Cullen, 1988, p. 101). As such, ethical climates are affected by organizational normative systems such as policies, procedures, reward and control systems. Although ethical climate is, by definition, a marco-level construct, the perception of ethical climate is relevant to individual ethical decision-making at the micro-level (Wyld and Jones, 1997). The focus of this paper is on the individual’s perception of the ethical climate
Journal of Business Ethics 27: 351–362, 2000. © 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
352 Tim Barnett and Cheryl Vaicys Victor and Cullen (1988) theorize that ethical work climates in organizations vary along two dimensions. Applying this reasoning to ethical climates. If perceived characteristics of the ethical work climate do affect behavioral intentions regarding ethical issues. Previous research demonstrates that individuals’ ethical judgments are strongly predictive of their behavioral intentions regarding ethical issues (Bass et al. An egoistic or instrumental criterion is based on the moral philosophy of egoism. the ethical climate of the organization supports an individual-level source for normative standards regarding ethical reasoning. the perceived ethical climate aids the individual in determining issues that are ethically pertinent. Wyld and Jones. which is consistent with the study of organizational climate at the micro-level (Victor and Cullen. The locus of analysis is the reference group used when making ethical judgments. Victor and Cullen (1988) base this dimension of ethical climate on sociological theories of reference groups (Gouldner. which implies that a consideration of what is in the individual’s best interest will dominate the ethical reasoning process (Ferrell and Fraedrich. existing in his or her organization. local. 3. and resolve those ethical issues (Kelley et al. this has implications for organizational leaders as to the effects of different types of ethical climates on the ethical behavior of organizational members. 1999). 1997). 1957). The local level is supported by organizational norms favoring reference groups within the organization itself. we suggest that perceptions of ethical work climate will affect individuals’ stated intentions to engage in ethically questionable behavior as well as the nature of the relationship between individuals’ ethical judgments about an issue and their behavioral intentions. 1997). evaluate. 1991a. At the individual level. Simply put. Hunt and Vitell. The cosmopolitan ethical climate is supported by norms favoring external sources for ethical reasoning. and behavioral intentions. The benevolence or utilitarian criterion is based largely on utilitarian principles of moral philosophy. individual. and can be described as follows: 1.. benevolence. We present the results of an empirical study designed to test specific hypotheses regarding perceived ethical climate. local. . which suggest that individuals make ethical decisions by considering the positive or negative consequences of actions on referent others (Ferrell and Fraedrich. Victor and Cullen (1988) conceptualized three levels of reference groups. The three ethical criteria differ in terms of the decision rules used in moral reasoning. 1991b). 2. 1990). 1986). or principle) and the social perspective or loci of analysis (individual. and cosmopolitan). In this paper. an individual’s ethical judgment regarding an issue or behavior is the degree to which he or she considers the issue or behavior morally significant (Reidenbach and Robin. and what criteria should be used to understand. which posit that individuals make ethical decisions after considering actions in regard to universal and unchanging principles of right and wrong (Ferrell and Fraedrich. 1980. The principled or deontological criterion is based in large part on deontological principles of moral philosophy. 1989. and cosmopolitan. 1988. the ethical criterion emphasized (egoism. These theories posit that individuals refer to different groups for norms of behavior and role definition. Singhapakdi and Vitell. Theoretical background and hypotheses Ethical work climate Basing their work largely upon moral philosophy and the theory of cognitive moral development. The perceived ethical climate helps an organization member answer such questions as “What issues have ethical content?” “What are the appropriate decision criteria?” “What is the correct alternative in the organization’s view?” and “What should I do?” Thus. Behavioral intentions are the subjective probabilities individuals assign to the likelihood that a given behavioral alternative will be chosen (Ajzen and Fishbein.. 1997). individual ethical judgments. 1997).
Wimbush et al. An egoistic climate might reinforce such behavior due to the absence Ethical work climate and individual ethical decision processes As stated earlier. and managerial responsibility. power. organizational norms. Egoistic climates. Wyld and Jones. However. Vaicys et al. Self-interest may be defined in terms of physical well-being. Victor and Cullen. previous research utilizing the Ethical Climate Questionnaire has found between 5 and 7 factors and not all 9 of the theoretical dimensions (Cullen et al. The perceived ethical climate of the organization for which one works is likely to influence the types of ethical dilemmas that are recognized as well as the process by which the Ethical criteria Locus of analysis Individual Local Company profit Team interest Rules. 353 dilemmas are resolved (Victor and Cullen. professional codes Egoism Benevolence (Utilitarian) Principle (Deontology) Self-interest Friendship Personal morality Figure 1. A climate characterized by egoism might lead organization members to make decisions that are instrumental to their personal interest without regard to the health of the organization. Therefore. Trevino (1986) concludes that because individuals often search outside themselves for guidance in ethical dilemmas.The Moderating Effect of Individuals’ Perceptions of Ethical Work Climate A cross-classification of the ethical criteria with the loci of analysis yields 9 theoretical ethical climate “types” as shown in Figure 1. 1988).. benevolence (utilitarianism). 1993. policies. the interest of the company (company profit). Therefore. The moral philosophy of egoism defines moral behavior in terms of the selfinterest of the individual (Ferrell and Fraedrich.. models of business ethical decision-making recognize the influence of “organizational factors” on individuals’ ethical judgments and behavioral intentions. a climate characterized by egoistic criteria would encourage ethical decision-making based on the individual’s personal self-interest. or the interests of society (efficiency). the context created by the organization member’s perception of ethical climate is likely to influence the member’s recognition of and response to ethical dilemmas (Wyld and Jones. 1988. pleasure. standard operating procedures Cosmopolitan Efficiency Social responsibility Laws. and principle (deontology). wealth. 1997). professional codes. 1997). organizations can moderate the relationship between individual cognition and behavior through reinforcement of ethical behavior. and procedures.. In the following sections. the organization signals employees as to its priorities in terms of the resolution of ethical dilemmas. 1994. 1997). Theoretical ethical climate types. . we suggest specific relationships between the perceptions of ethical work climate and the individual’s behavioral intentions regarding ethical issues. Through institutionalized. a logical extension of research on ethical climate is to test relationships between individual perceptions of ethical climate and individual ethical decision-making (Wimbush and Shepard. happiness or other criteria that promote the wishes and interests of the individual. or even laws. 1997. Depending upon the locus of analysis. 1997). Empirically derived dimensions represent work climates based on each of the major ethical criteria. normative structures. egoism. Egoism suggests that ethical dilemmas should be evaluated in terms of the individual’s subjective assessment of what will best promote his or her self-interest.
individuals are less likely to weigh the interests of others (utilitarian considerations) or rules. of expressed concern for principles of utilitarianism or principle or the failure to enforce stated policies and procedures (Wimbush and Shepard. Utilitarian normative systems emphasize the importance of the welfare of others. Empirical studies have shown that individual judgments about the morality of an action are strongly correlated with intentions to engage in the action (e. We also expect the utilitarian climate to moderate the relationship between individual ethical judgment and stated behavioral intentions. we expect the relationship between individual ethical judgments and behavioral intentions to be strengthened. 1997). Thus. as the organization implicitly or explicitly encourages them to rely more strongly upon their personal interests when making ethical decisions. Although an individual may not feel that a behavior is morally wrong or serious in nature. The perception of a benevolent climate should foster ethical decisions made based on their consequences to others. H1b: In normative climates characterized by higher perceived levels of egoism. the relationship between judgments that an action is morally acceptable and individual behavioral intentions will be weaker than in climates associated with lower perceived levels of ethical utilitarianism. we expect climates characterized by utilitarianism to be less likely to be associated with stated intentions to engage in behavior that is ethically questionable or ambiguous.. we expect normative climates that are based on egoistic values to be positively associated with intentions to engage in behavior that is ethically questionable or ambiguous. Organizational factors are likely to moderate this relationship (Trevino. 1999). We also expect that normative climates based on egoistic values will moderate the relationship between individual ethical judgment and behavioral intentions by making it more likely that judgments will foster behavioral intentions that are consistent with egoistic goals. the relationship between judgments that an action is morally acceptable and individual behavioral intentions will be stronger than in climates associated with lower perceived levels of egoism. Relevant others might include an individual’s immediate workgroup.. Thus. Therefore. laws. H1a: Normative climates characterized by high perceived levels of egoism will be more likely to be associated with stated behavioral intentions to engage in ethically questionable or ambiguous actions. utilitarianism defines moral behavior in terms of the consequences of the behavior to a relevant group (Ferrell and Fraedrich.354 Tim Barnett and Cheryl Vaicys characterized by benevolence or utilitarian ideals would foster the consideration of the effects of ethical decisions on others. H2a: Normative climates characterized by high perceived levels of utilitarianism will be less likely to be associated with stated behavioral intentions to engage in ethically questionable or ambiguous actions. In general. Therefore. and codes (deontological considerations) when making decisions regarding ethical dilemmas.g. organizational members as a whole. Bass et al. 1994). a utilitarian climate is likely to encourage the individual to evaluate the behavior in light of any possible negative consequences to others. 1986). the organization’s customers and other stakeholders. Benevolent or utilitarian climates. In a climate perceived as egoistic. or society at-large. we expect normative climates that emphasize utilitarianism to moderate the ethical judgment-behavioral intentions relationship such that the relationship between an individual’s ethical judgment and stated behavioral intentions will be weaker in climates characterized by a high degree of utilitarianism. This might lead the person to refrain from a behavior that he or she as an individual does not consider unethical. H2b: In normative climates characterized by higher perceived levels of utilitarianism. An ethical climate .
Therefore. customers of Bill Smith ask Bill which of his products he recommends for their company. deontological principles may be reflected by the individual’s beliefs or philosophy (e. Respondents were asked to (1) make an ethical judgment about the action represented in the vignette and (2) indicate the likelihood that they would engage in the behavior if they were in a similar situation. professional rules or codes). . Actions are considered ethical as long as they comply with these universal principles. Each survey packet included a cover letter which assured the respondents of anonymity. Therefore.The Moderating Effect of Individuals’ Perceptions of Ethical Work Climate Principled or deontological climates. the survey instrument. the relationship between judgments that an action is morally acceptable and individual behavioral intentions will be weaker than in climates associated with lower perceived levels of ethical deontology. the organizational context (organizational policies and procedures. religious beliefs that require adherence to the Ten Commandments). 355 H3a: Normative climates characterized by high perceived levels of deontology will be less likely to be associated with stated behavioral intentions to engage in ethically questionable or ambiguous actions. Our sample frame was taken from the membership list of the American Marketing Association. The survey instrument included measurement scales designed to assess the constructs of interest in this study. and a postagepaid return envelope. Method Sample and procedures The data necessary for completion of this study were collected as part of a larger study of marketers. H3b: In normative climates characterized by higher perceived levels of deontology.. demographic information. Applied to the organizational context. Deontological climates emphasize the importance of adhering to organizational policies/procedures regarding ethics and/or adhering to professional ethics code or societal regulations and laws. or moral principles such as comparative or non-comparative justice or principles of respect for people. The perception of a principled climate should foster ethical decisions made on the basis of relatively inflexible principles of right and wrong. Likewise. We also expect the deontological climate to moderate the relationship between individual ethical judgments and stated behavioral intentions. Regardless of real customer need. This might lead the person to refrain from a behavior that he or she does not consider highly unethical. a deontological climate is likely to encourage the individual to evaluate the behavior in light of invariant principles. Bill recommends one of the more expensive items in his product line. The vignette used in this study was adapted from earlier marketing ethics studies. we expect climates characterized by a high level of deontology to be less likely to be associated with stated intentions to engage in behavior that is ethically questionable or ambiguous. Although an individual may not feel that a behavior is morally wrong or serious in nature. The text of the vignette read as follows: Occasionally. according to deontological theories. Respondents were asked to read a short vignette containing an ethically questionable sales tactic.000 randomly selected AMA professional members. positive consequences to others would not justify a behavior that is morally wrong according to deontological principles. and other information unrelated to the present study. Principled or deontological theories of ethics define moral behavior as behavior that arises from a deliberate choice to subordinate the circumstances one faces to certain universal principles of right and wrong. The survey instrument was mailed to 1.g. we expect deontological climates to moderate the ethical judgment-behavioral intentions relationship such that the relationship between an individual’s ethical judgment and stated behavioral intentions will be weaker in climates characterized by a high degree of deontology. Selfinterest is not an appropriate consideration when making ethical decisions.
3 years. Ethical climate. Approximately 95 percent of the respondents were college graduates and 41 percent had earned graduate degrees. The mean annual household income was approximately $105. The instrument places respondents in the role of observers reporting on. We utilized the Multidimensional Ethics Scale developed by Reidenbach and Robin (1990) to evaluate individual ethical judgments.. The complete ECQ scale has 36 items. and deontological work climates. The items are descriptive statements originally designed to describe the various dimensions of ethical work climate as conceptualized by Victor and Cullen (1988). Essentially all of the respondents had some management responsibilities. 11 of which were discarded as unusable for various reasons. As discussed previously. . Sample adjective pairs include “fair-unfair.” Behavioral intentions. utilitarian.7 percent. but the median size was only 500. However.” Respondents are asked to evaluate the extent to which each item is true about their company. The full text of the Ethical Climate Questionnaire is available in previously published research (Cullen et al.” and “culturally acceptable-culturally unacceptable.” “morally right-not morally right. Respondents were almost equally split between males (52 percent) and females (48 percent). The average organization size was about 5. we had 207 usable responses. with an average age of 39. Cullen et al. and 47 percent had one to ten years of sales management experience.” Assessment scales were anchored by “highly likely” and “highly unlikely” on a 1 to 7 scale. the ECQ does yield multidimensional solutions consistent with the assessment of egoistic. 1993).3 subordinates reporting directly to them. Respondents in the present study were Analysis Hierarchical regression analysis was used to test the hypotheses. 54 percent had eleven to twenty years of management experience. Results Sample characteristics We received 218 responses. while the mean amount of time with the present company was 8. 42 percent of the respondents had one to ten years of sales experience. The mean amount of time participants had spent in their present position was 4. factor analyses of the ECQ items has failed to demonstrate that it taps all 9 of the theoretical ethical climate dimensions. Hunt and Vitell (1986) propose that individual behavioral intentions can be measured by asking an individual to express the likelihood in a probability sense that he or she would actually perform behaviors described to them.” “within the next year. Respondents reported a mean of 7. Ethical judgments. Hypothesis tests were based on changes in the level of explained variation after the variables of interest were entered to the regression equation.” and “within the next five years. The instrument consists of 8 items. Regarding experience..800 members. for an effective response rate of 20.6. which are anchored by bi-polar adjectives on a 1 to 7 scale. 1988) was used to assess the dimensions of ethical climate perceived by the respondents. 1988. The instrument is designed to allow respondents to evaluate the ethical or unethical nature of an ethical issue that is presented to them. Thus. with sales and/or marketing managers comprising 57 percent of the sample. The Ethical Climate Questionnaire (Victor and Cullen. the perceived ethical climate rather than focusing on whether respondents perceive the ethical climates as being good or bad (Victor and Cullen. not evaluating. 1993). Almost three-fourths (73 percent) of the participants were married.8 years.356 Measures Tim Barnett and Cheryl Vaicys first asked to read the vignette and then to indicate the likelihood that they would engage in the behavior within three specific time periods: “within the near future. The ECQ items are administered on a 6-point scale with responses ranging from “completely false” to “completely true.000.
Sample TABLE I Means.01 0.83) 0.” emerged.” and “It is expected that each individual is cared for when making decisions here. . Theoretically. as well as reliabilities for each multi-item measurement scale and inter-correlations among study variables. It included three of the four self interest items from the ECQ.78 1. four interpretable factors remained. reliabilities. Maximum likelihood factor analysis with oblique rotation was used. 4. From the first. standard deviations. It should be noted that.72** 0. One principled or deontological factor emerged from the analysis.d.55** –0.56 indicates that.The Moderating Effect of Individuals’ Perceptions of Ethical Work Climate Respondents to this study were similar to those of a recent study (Bass et al. the respondents perceived a moderate level of this climate type across the organizations in the study. ** p < 0. * p < 0.40 indicates that. 1. 5.05 –0. since each respondent represented a different organization. 357 Descriptive statistics Table I provides the means and standard deviations for ethical judgments.86 0.92) 0.14 (0.54** –0.22 1. 6.82) –0. there are nine underlying ethical climate dimensions. we formed a 4-item scale consisting of two items from the friendship dimension and two from the team dimension. One sample item from this scale is “In this company. and correlations among variables a Variables 1. there was considerable variation in individual responses on the self interest scale.16* (0. and not necessarily the dimensions of climate existing in any particular organization.” The mean self interest score of 2. Two benevolent factors emerged from the analysis.01 (0.56 3.17* (0. After deleting items that did not have large factor loadings (< 0.52** –0. 1999) using the same sampling frame.e. and four dimensions of ethical work climate. Professional Codes” dimensions of the original ECQ.32** 0. However. Sample items include “The most important concern is the good of all the people in the company. “self interest.09 (0. and the public’s interest. Therefore. From this factor.46 2. as a whole.09 –0. previous empirical research has yielded fewer than nine factors.04 1. One egoistic climate..01.50** –0.63** 0.40 2. we conducted a factor analysis to assess the dimensionality of the scale items. 2. Sample items from this factor include “People in this company are actively concerned about the customer’s. people protect their own interest above other considerations.40) and items that had crossloadings (i.” The mean of 3.74 for this climate was the highest of any of the four ethical climate dimensions and indicated that marketers perceived a high level of this climate type. Standard Operating Procedures” and “Laws.87) 0.74 3.98) Cronbach’s Alphas appear on the diagonal for multiple item measures. The second benevolent factor formed a 4-item Social Responsibility scale. in terms of demographic characteristics and work experience.43 1. less than a 0. and then subjecting the remaining items to a reliability analysis. behavioral intentions.” The mean of 2. However. a Mean 2.20 difference between the two largest loadings).63 S.13 1 2 3 4 5 6 Ethical Judgment Self interest climate Team/Friendship climate Social responsibility Rules/Codes climate Behavorial Intentions (0.05. the marketers perceived their organizations had a moderate level of this climate type. the four factors represent the ethical climate dimensions across the organizations in the study. 3. we formed a 7-item scale from the “Rules.07 –0.” and “People in this company have a strong sense of responsibility to the community. in general.89) 0.
05) climates were significantly correlated with expressed behavioral intentions. p < 0. Numbers refer to ethical climate dimensions listed above. H1a. as opposed to the other ethical climates.46 indicates that the sample generally perceived that recommending an expensive product regardless of customer need was unethical. It did not appear that the ethical climate perceived by the marketers directly affected their behavioral intentions about the selling practice. the members of the sample also stated that they were not likely to engage in the behavior themselves. c Adjusted R2 in parentheses. social responsibility.17. the individual-level variable ethical judgment was entered.62*** (0. p < 0. Therefore. b Hypotheses testing As stated earlier. the four ethical climate dimensions were entered into the regression on the next step.33*** –0. Social responsibility 4. Next.05) and the rules/codes (r = –0. p < 0. only the utilitarian ethical climate of social responsibility was a marginally significant predictor of intentions to engage in the selling practice. This suggests that companies that have egoistic climates are not likely to have high levels of the other ethical climate characteristics. Not surprisingly.08. First.13† –0. Variables were entered into the regression in three steps. and rules/codes climates were all positive. the four climate types were entered. In contrast.33 –0. Team/Friendship 3. the interactions between the ethical climate dimensions and individual ethical judgments were entered. To test H1a. but that characteristics of the utilitarian and deontological climates can co-exist in organizations.02 × × × × (0. Finally. In regard to the individual ethical climate dimensions. Overall.08*** 1 2 3 4 –0.01.52*** (0. and H3a were not supported.04 –0. Table II summarizes the results of the regression analysis. Overall. Behavioral intentions was the dependent variable. H2a. since the self interest climate has both an individual focus and an egoistic ethical dimension.58† (0. *** p < 0.09 –0.” and “Successful people in this company strictly obey company policies.001). We conducted the analysis after mean-centering (Stone. Rules/Codes Interactionsb Ethical judgment Ethical judgment Ethical judgment Ethical judgment Full equationc a items include “In this company. indicating that the interaction between individual ethical judgments and perceived ethical climate dimensions . –0.358 Tim Barnett and Cheryl Vaicys TABLE II Regression resultsa Variables Behavioral intention (∆R2 Ethical judgment Ethical climate dimensions 1. † p < 0. and H3a. the four interaction terms accounted for a significant increase in R 2 (∆R2 = 0. The mean ethical judgment of 2. H2a. the correlations among the team/friendship. Self interest 2. Only the social responsibility (r = –0.06 (0. There were relatively strong negative correlations between the egoistic climate of self interest and the other three ethical climates. the four dimensions did not account for a significant increase in R2. hierarchical regression was used to test the hypotheses. To test the moderating effect of the ethical climate dimensions on behavioral intentions.60) N = 207.72 –0.” The mean value of 3. people are expected to strictly follow legal or professional standards.16.43 on this ethical climate was the second highest of the four climate types. ** p < 0. This is as expected. Individual ethical judgment was strongly predictive of stated behavioral intentions to engage in the action. interaction terms were entered into the regression. 1988) all variables because of the relatively high multicollinearity among the independent variables.81** –1.10.001.
That is.39. when we considered the correlation between ethical judgment and behavioral intentions at values of team/friendship one standard deviation above and below its mean. For example.83 for high values of perceived team/friendship climate and 0. . As the perception of the rules/code climate became stronger. H3b stated that deontological ethical climates would moderate the relationship between individual ethical judgment and behavioral intentions such that the relationship would be weaker as the perception of the deontological climate became stronger. As the perception of this dimension increased. stated behavioral intentions were about 43 percent greater than at values of social responsibility one standard deviation above the mean.33).61 for high perceived rules/codes climate. this effect was not nearly as strong as that for social responsibility. For the lower values of perceived social responsibility.10). the relationship between ethical judgment and behavioral intentions actually became stronger. Therefore. when the correlation between ethical judgments and behavioral intentions were compared for values of perceived rules/codes climate one standard deviation above and below its mean. the relationship between individual ethical judgment and behavioral intentions weakened. the relationship between individual ethical judgment and behavioral intentions became weaker. H2b was strongly supported for the social responsibility dimension. the correlation was much stronger at 0. at the same level of individual ethical judgment about the sales practice. the ethical judgment-behavioral intentions correlation was 0. the correlation was 0.67 for low values of perceived team/friendship climate. H1b stated that normative climates based on egoistic values would moderate the individual ethical judgment-behavioral intentions relationship such that the relationship between individual judgments and intentions would be stronger when there was a perception of a high level of the egoistic climate. A second analysis substituted values for social responsibility into a re-arranged regression equation to determine the effect of ethical judgments on behavioral intentions at values one standard deviation above and below the social responsibility mean value of 3. However. In one analysis.74 (Aiken and West. Two post-hoc analyses shed additional light on the moderating effect of a perceived social responsibility climate. The moderating effect was the opposite expected for the team/friendship ethical climate.The Moderating Effect of Individuals’ Perceptions of Ethical Work Climate explained a significant amount of the variation in stated behavioral intentions beyond that explained by ethical judgment alone. team/friendship and social responsibility. The β coefficients for both were statistically significant. 1981). To illustrate this analysis. H1b was not supported.70. H3b was marginally supported by the results of the hierarchical regression. For example. individuals were more likely to state that they themselves would engage in the behavior when they did not perceive the climate of their organization as reflecting a high degree of social responsibility. H2b was supported for social responsibility but was not supported for team/friendship. Although the β coefficient for the interaction term was positive as predicted (0. suppose that the individual ethical judgment score was 7.74. As the perception of this climate increased. it was not statistically significant.79 for low perceived rules/codes climate and 0. There were two utilitarian dimensions in the analysis. As shown in Table II. For the higher values of perceived social responsibility. we compared the correlation between ethical judgment and behavioral intentions for perceptions of social responsibility that were one standard deviation above and one standard deviation below the mean of 3. H2b stated that utilitarian ethical climates would moderate the individual ethical judgments-behavioral intentions relationship such that the relationship would be weaker when individuals perceived a high level of the utilitarianism climate. as the interaction between ethical judgment and behavioral intention was negative and marginally significant (p < 0. indicating that the respondent believed the sales practice was highly ethical. we found that the ethical judgment-behavioral intentions correlation was 0. At a value of social responsibility one standard 359 deviation below its mean. The dimension of rules/codes was the deontological climate in the analysis. Thus.
perceptions of the ethical climate might have a more indirect effect on individuals’ behavioral intentions through their impact on the ethical judgment-behavioral intentions decision link. and when they perceived their organizational climate to be characterized by a concern for social responsibility.360 Discussion Tim Barnett and Cheryl Vaicys their ethical judgments and behavioral intentions. The principled or deontological ethical climate dimension. efforts to change organizational members’ perceptions of the ethical climate might not lead to dramatic shifts in ethical decision-making. Thus.10). even when the organization member does not believe the act is unethical. Again. In the context of the specific selling practice considered in the study. When individuals’ perceived that their organization had a strong emphasis on social responsibility. they were considerably less likely to form behavioral intentions to engage in the questionable selling practice. but in the opposite direction from that predicted. Thus. albeit a marginally significant one (p < 0. although still positive. When the marketers perceived a high level of this dimension. the implication for organizations and managers is that a climate with a deontological climate and a broad locus of analysis (local or cosmopolitan) may make it less likely that organization members will engage in an ethically questionable practice. also had the expected moderating effect. was much weaker. The results are particularly interesting as they pertain to the individual dimensions. societal considerations) for guidance on whether they should engage in morally questionable actions. although in the predicted direction. they should attempt to develop ethical climates that encourage the individual to look outside themselves (to organizational policies. the social responsibility climate not only encourages a consideration of the effect of an action’s consequences on others. but directs this concern outside the organization to the stakeholders of the organization. One possible implication of this for managers and organizations is that rather than attempting to change individual-level ethical judgments about ethically ambiguous actions. team/friendship. The expected moderating effect for the egoistic climate of self interest did not materialize. Consistent with expectations. The results did not support a direct effect of ethical climate on behavioral intentions. The likelihood that an individual will engage in morally questionable behavior when they themselves do not find the behavior unethical may be affected by the ethical climate they perceive. The finding suggests that organizations can positively influence ethical behavior by establishing climates characterized by a utilitarian ethical criterion directed toward external constituencies. The effect. was significant. the marketers were less likely to state that they would engage in the questionable selling practice when they perceived their climate as deontological. even when they found it personally acceptable. Apparently. The moderating effect of a second utilitarian dimension. was not statistically significant. The general pattern of the results suggests that an individual’s perception of the ethical climate of his or her organization may not directly affect their stated behavioral intentions regarding ethically questionable activities. the relationship between their individual ethical judgments and behavioral intentions was not as strong as otherwise. However. When individuals perceived that their climate was characterized by an emphasis on rules/codes. the community. when the marketers perceived that recommending a more expensive product regardless of customer need was not highly unethical. they were actually more likely to form The results of this study provided relatively strong support for the moderating effect of ethical work climate. rules/codes. The strength of the ethical judgmentbehavioral intentions relationship varied depending on the individual’s perception of ethical climate. the relationship between . especially the utilitarian climate of social responsibility. This finding appears to be of particular interest to managers and organizations interested in promoting ethical behavior on the part of their employees. and society at-large. a climate perceived as emphasizing social responsibility appeared to have a strong moderating effect on the ethical judgments-behavioral intentions relationship.
and S. in general. References Aiken. the marketers did not perceive that their organizational climates were highly egoistic. Another limitation of the research design was that the ethical climate dimensions derived from factor analysis did not represent the actual dimensions within a particular organization. However. There are several limitations associated with this study. Future research should include a wider variety of ethical 361 dilemmas. West: 1991. S. The climates that were entirely or partly at the individual level of analysis (self interest and team friendship) appeared to strengthen the individual ethical judgments-behavioral intentions link. Multiple Regression: Testing and Interpreting Interactions (Sage. 1997). Scenario research is very common in business ethics and it allows researchers to approximate ethical issues encountered by organizational members. The marketers evaluated only one ethical scenario on a specific selling practice. Thus. L. scenario-based studies are obviously a step removed from real-world decision situations. the characteristics of our respondents were similar to those of recent studies using the AMA sample frame (Bass et al. it would indicate that the perceived ethical work climate of organizations is a key organizational factor that affects the decision-making of individuals about issues with ethical content. participants in our study were guaranteed that their responses were anonymous. This study suggests that dimensions of ethical climate may have significant effects on individual ethical decisionmaking. The study was cross-sectional in nature so causal implications cannot be drawn. The responses were based on a hypothetical ethical scenario and not actual events. However. it still constitutes a limitation to the interpretation of results. CA). as approximately 80 percent of those contacted did not respond. we could only ask the respondents about their behavioral intentions. . whose responses might or might not be generalizable to other types of organizational members. Instead. If future studies are able to replicate and extend these findings. or cosmopolitan component of ethical climates. not in attempting to describe the shared perceptions of multiple members of any given organization. Another possible explanation for the null result regarding perceptions of an egoistic climate is that. 1999. Although the existence of this problem cannot be ruled out. Why were the moderating hypotheses for social responsibility and rules/codes largely supported but that of egoistic and team/friendship climates not supported? One possible explanation lies in the loci of analysis. not actual behavior. Future research should address the importance of the individual. Ho. The measure of ethical climate used was at the micro-level of analysis. the factors represented the dimensions of ethical climate perceived by individuals across the 207 organizations in the study. Barnes.The Moderating Effect of Individuals’ Perceptions of Ethical Work Climate behavioral intentions to engage in the selling practice that were consistent with their personal ethical judgment. Newbury Park. in terms of ethical behavior) moderating effect on the ethical judgment-behavioral intentions link. Although this is typical of ethical decision-making studies. we were primarily interested in analyzing the effects of perceived ethical climate on ethical decision-making at the individual level. local. Finally. The sample included only marketers. and Desporde. G. Perhaps the level of the self interest climate perceived by the marketers was not sufficient to influence their intentions regarding the sales practice or to moderate the link between their ethical judgments and behavioral intentions.. Studies of ethical decision-making are also subject to social desirability biases. However. Vitell. it represented an individual’s perception of ethical climate from each of the organizations and not a shared perception of multiple members of each organization. Non-response bias is often a concern in survey research and our study was no exception. The ethical work climate conceptualization of Victor and Cullen (1988) continues to generate research interest. The pattern of the results suggest that a locus of analysis that is external to the individual is more likely to have a significant (and positive.
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