A selection of interesting research and articles we found recently on workplace ethics and codes of conduct.

Does the quality of a firm’s code of ethics make a difference?
Many studies have investigated the content of codes of ethics, as well as their capacity to condition the behaviour of people within organisations. However, few studies have considered the intrinsic quality of codes of ethics. This study aims to investigate the impact that specific factors—firm size, degree of internationalisation and industry—can have on the quality of codes of ethics.

Results from 248 listed Italian companies show that the quality is particularly high in larger companies and in those firms operating in industries in which relationships established with critical stakeholders—and disclosure to those stakeholders—play a crucial role. These results have interesting implications for both researchers and practitioners.

Read more details in Giovanni Maria Garegnani, Emilia Piera Merlotti and Angeloantonio Russo. 2015. Scoring Firms’ Codes of Ethics: An Explorative Study of Quality Drivers.
Journal of Business Ethics, 126(4), 541-557.


Are surveys of unethical workplace behaviour accurate?
Research by academics, professional organisations and businesses on ethics in the workplace often relies on surveys that ask employees to report how frequently they have observed others engaging in unethical behaviour. But what do these frequencies in observer-reports say about the frequencies of committed unethical behavior? Franziska Zuber and Muel Kaptein address this question by empirically exploring the relationship between observer- and self-reports.

Their survey of the Swiss working population shows that for all 37 different forms of unethical behaviour investigated, observer-reports show higher frequencies than self-reports. Ratios of observer- to self-reports vary substantially, ranging from 1.46 for improperly gathering competitor’s confidential information to 6.4 for engaging in (sexual) harassment or creating a hostile work environment. The results indicate that researchers should not assume that the frequency in self-reports are generally similar to the frequencies found in observer-reports. Four possible explanations are presented for the differences in ratios, with recommendations for future research.

Read more in Franziska Zuber and Muel Kaptein. 2014. Painting with the Same Brush? Surveying Unethical Behavior in the Workplace Using Self-Reports and Observer-Reports.
Journal of Business Ethics, 125(3), 401-432.


How “infomediaries” can diffuse codes of conduct throughout an industry
Florian Schreiber studied the diffusion of codes of conduct in the German textile and apparel industry between 1997 and 2010. He showed how the diffusion of this practice was affected by the way important “infomediaries”—a trade journal and a professional association—shaped understanding within the industry. Results show that time-consuming processes of meaning reconstruction by these infomediaries temporarily hampered, but finally facilitated, the broader material diffusion of codes of conduct within the industry.

These findings detail existing conceptualisations of code diffusion as they demonstrate how infomediaries—through creation, use and reconstruction of explanatory accounts as well as frames of reference—participate in defining the relevance and meaning of CSR practices. Implications of the findings for existing research on the diffusion of codes of conduct specifically, and CSR practices in general, as well as for conceptualisations of diffusion from institutional theory are discussed.

For more information, read Florian Scheiber. 2015. Dressing up for Diffusion: Codes of Conduct in the German Textile and Apparel Industry, 1997–2010.
Journal of Business Ethics, 126(4), 559-580.


Training makes a difference to adult ethical behaviour
Companies devote many resources and training programs to make sure their employees live according to high ethical standards. Researchers Nguyen, Lee, Mujtaba and Silanont used Clark & Clark’s (1966) Personal Business Ethics Scores to  examine the relationship between gender, age, management experience, ethics course taken, and ethics training to the ethical maturity of 236 Thai working adults.

Statistically significant differences were found in the variables of ethics course taken and ethics training. Gender, age and management experience, however, did not lead to any significant differences. The authors argue that the results partially support Kohlberg’s Cognitive Moral Development theory regarding ethical maturity, since respondents with more ethics education and training had higher business ethics scores than those without ethics education and training.

For more information and the full article, see: Nguyen, L. D., Lee, K., Mujtaba, B. G., & Silanont, S. P. 2014. Business Ethics Perceptions of Working Adults: A Study in Thailand.
International Journal of Asian Business and Information Management (IJABIM), 5(2), 23-40. doi:10.4018/ijabim.2014040103


Ethical decision making when harm is at stake
Amy Verbos and Janice Miller investigated decision preferences and reactions to decisions in a situation of possible harm. Two ethical value orientations, just value orientation (JVO) and relational value orientation (RVO), are introduced. Participants chose between relational cooperation, instrumental cooperation, or independence in dealing with an uncertain situation of possible harm. JVO contributes to a decision of relational cooperation. Only RVO was related to expected mutual benefit and relational connection.

Overall, this study supports the thesis that a relational dimension of ethical decisions provides interesting insights into behavioural ethics in organisations.

Further details are available in: Amy Klemm Verbos and Janice S. Miller. 2015. When Harm is at Stake: Ethical Value Orientation, Managerial Decisions, and Relational Outcomes.
Journal of Business Ethics, 127(1), 149-163.