This week, our research articles cover the importance of communication and getting the tone right. For example when issuing apologies or CSR ideals, these articles provide interesting examples.

A dynamic review of the emergence of CSR communication
Recent reviews show a rapid increase in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) communication literature. However, while mapping the literature and the field of CSR communication, they do not fully capture the evolutionary character of this emerging interdisciplinary endeavour.

This paper seeks to fill this gap by presenting a follow-up study of the CSR communication literature from a dynamic perspective, which focuses on micro-discursive changes in the field. A bibliometric approach and frame theory are used to examine (dis)continuities in the development of field ‘frames’ in three consecutive periods between 2002 and 2016.

The article highlights the growing fragmentation of the CSR communication field over time and the existence of 11 distinct frames during the field’s emergence, whereby the two most prominent in the three time periods are the reporting and business case frames. Regardless, they are subjected to discursive changes as well. For example, they become split into stakeholder-focused, business case and institutionalisation frame and contested by the constitutive logic, respectively.

The paper argues that interdisciplinary fields like CSR communication can rarely exist without contestation. It also shows that micro-framing processes such as fragmentation, merging and extension visibly shape the identified field frames and the overall discursive dynamic of the CSR communication field while investigating their value for sustaining the field’s polyphonic state and further development. The study findings suggest that additional cross-fertilisation processes between the CSR communication literature and sustainability and digital communication research hold the potential to influence the next stage of the field’s discursive evolution.

Verk, Nataša, Golob, Urša and Podnar, Klement. 2021. A Dynamic Review of the Emergence of Corporate Social Responsibility Communication.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168 (3), 491-515.

Is nonprofit organisation communication risky?
This paper highlights the role of nonprofit organisations in communicating risk. Nonprofit organisations have emerged as vital actors in not just working toward the benefit of human welfare and bettering society, but also making society aware of hazards or risks that exist.

The approach used to communicate risk is a critical element that ultimately will lead to the success or failure of a nonprofit organisation’s mission and objectives. Finding ways to communicate risk is a challenging task that requires being able to first make people aware of the significance or value of an act/idea or existing state, communicating the danger at hand, and then drawing on the causal relationship between the two. Although a major function, the literature on risk communication of nonprofit organisations is scarce.

This article draws on the relational theory of risk, which includes three elements: object at risk (value), risk object (danger), and association (Boholm and Corvellec 2011). The authors recommend that the best way for nonprofits-and in some instances other organisations-that need to communicate risk is to communicate this risk through the use of narratives.

Read this full-text article online for free.

Cadet, Fabienne and Carroll, Ryall. 2019. Nonprofit Organization Communication: Risky Business.

Review of Business, 39(1), 1-14. 

Incongruence in CSR messaging
Although corporate social responsibility (CSR) appears to be mutually beneficial for companies and consumers, the modern marketplace has left both parties in vulnerable positions. Consumers are increasingly subjected to incongruent CSR messages such as greenwashing, while companies are trapped in a strategic positioning dilemma with regard to how to most effectively and ethically approach CSR communication.

This has led some companies to instead adopt a strategically silent approach, such as greenhushing. To capture this CSR positioning dilemma and test the positioning effects on consumers’ attributions, this study applies attribution theory to conceptualise four distinct CSR positions (uniform, discreet, washing, and apathetic) which reflect varying combinations of congruence or incongruence between a company’s external CSR communication and its actual internal CSR actions.

Using an online experiment, the effects of the CSR positions on consumer attributions for intrinsic and extrinsic CSR motivations and purchase intentions were tested across three CSR domains: environmental; labour; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) inclusion.

Overall, the findings attest to the significant effect of internal–external congruence-based CSR positioning on how consumers respond to CSR communication. Importantly, the results indicate that discreet positioning is perceived similarly to uniform positioning, while misleading and unethical tactics such as CSR-washing are sure to backfire. Theoretical and managerial implications are discussed.

Whitney Ginder, Wi-Suk Kwon & Sang-Eun Byun. 2021. Effects of Internal–External Congruence-Based CSR Positioning: An Attribution Theory Approach.

Journal of Business Ethics, 169(2), 355–369.

Do human resource disclosures reflect organisational priorities towards labour?
Our study analyses the nature, quality and extent of human resource disclosures (HRDs) of UK Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 firms by relying on a novel disclosure index measuring the depth and breadth of disclosures. Contextually, the authors focus on the 5-year period following the then Labour government’s attempts to encourage firms to formally report on their human resource management practices and to foster deeper employer–employee engagement.

First, the authors evaluate the degree to which companies report comprehensively (or substantively) on a number of HRD items that the authors classify as “procedural” or “sustainable.” Second, the authors hypothesise that a company’s employee relation ideology (using a proxy to measure a company’s level of “unitarism”) is positively associated with HRD.

The results indicate that: (i) whilst there has been an increase in the breadth of HRD in terms of procedural and sustainable items being disclosed, the evolution towards a more comprehensive and in-depth form of HRD remains rather limited; and (ii) there is a positive association between a company’s employee relation ideology (unitarism) and the level of HRD. Theoretically, the authors conceive of HRD both as a reflection of an organisation’s orientation towards a key stakeholder (unitarist relations with labour) and a legitimacy seeking exercise at a time of changing societal conditions.

The authors contribute to the scant literature on the extent and determinants of HRD since prior research tends to subsume employee-related disclosures within the broader concept of social, ethical or intellectual capital disclosures. The authors also propose a disclosure checklist to underpin future HRD research.

Read this Open Access article online for free.

K. Vithana, T. Soobaroyen & C. G. Ntim. 2021. Human Resource Disclosures in UK Corporate Annual Reports: To What Extent Do These Reflect Organisational Priorities Towards Labour?

Journal of Business Ethics, 169(3), 475–497.

Surviving a crisis
This research examines how one’s construal level of a crisis differs by crisis type, and how the interplay of crisis type (self-threatening vs. society-threatening) and apology appeal type (emotional vs. informational) impacts the effectiveness of apology messages in a corporate crisis context.

Findings indicate that one’s mental construal toward a crisis varies by crisis type, with a self-threatening crisis leading to a lower level of construal than a society-threatening one. Findings further suggest that in a society-threatening crisis condition, an informational apology was more effective than an emotional one. However, in a self-threatening crisis condition, there was no significant difference between two different message types.

These findings offer valuable guidelines for developing effective crisis response strategy.

So Young Lee, Yoon Hi Sung, Dongwon Choi & Dong Hoo Kim. 2021. Surviving a Crisis: How Crisis Type and Psychological Distance Can Inform Corporate Crisis Responses.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(4), 795–811.

Student perceptions of the hidden curriculum in responsible management education
This exploratory study analyses the extent of alignment between the formal and hidden curricula in responsible management education (RME).

Based on case study evidence of a school that has signed the United Nations Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME), the authors found poor alignment between the school’s explicit RME claims and students’ lived experiences. While the formal curriculum signalled to students that RME was important, the school’s hidden curriculum sent a number of tacit messages that led students to question the relevance and applicability of responsible management.

The tacit messages that students received occurred along three “message sites” related to (a) how the formal curriculum was delivered, (b) how students and lecturers interacted, and (c) how the school was governed. On the basis of these findings the authors develop a proposition that can guide further research in this area, i.e., the connotative level of language use is an important site of misalignments between what lecturers say in relation to RME (e.g., in a syllabus) and how students interpret the meaning of their lecturers’ words.

The authors also discuss further implications of the findings for strengthening the alignment between schools’ formal RME claims and their hidden curriculum.

Catharina Høgdal, Andreas Rasche, Dennis Schoeneborn & Levinia Scotti. 2021. Exploring Student Perceptions of the Hidden Curriculum in Responsible Management Education.

Journal of Business Ethics, 168(1), 173–193.