Our latest pick of interesting reading, this time looking at ethics amongst specific professions.

The sales profession as a subculture: Implications for ethical decision making 
Salespeople have long been considered unique employees. They tend to work apart from each other and experience little daily contact with supervisors and other organisational employees. Additionally, salespeople interact with customers in an increasingly complex and multifunctional environment.

This provides numerous opportunities for unethical behaviour which has been chronicled in the popular press as well as academic research. Much of the research in sales ethics has relied on conceptual foundations which focus on individual and organisational influencers on ethical decision making. While significant, contributors to this research suggest that alternative theoretical perspectives and methods of investigation should be utilised and call for more research on the status of professional selling as a whole.

The authors answer this call by exploring an alternative and complementary perspective based on the theory of occupational choice, social learning, and work groups to gain insight on how the sales profession evolves as its own subculture that extends beyond individual and organisational boundaries.

First, the authors discuss the characteristics of the sales profession and empirically examine the relationship between typical individual and organisational factors and sales professionals’ perceptions of ethical behaviour.

Second, the authors offer a theoretical explanation that these findings may be due to how salespeople choose and are socialised into the subculture of the sales profession.

Third, the authors examine this theoretical perspective via qualitative in-depth interviews with experienced sales professionals. Results and implications are discussed in terms of a sales profession code of ethics and future research directions.

Bush, V., Bush, A.J., Oakley, J. et al. 2017. The Sales Profession as a Subculture: Implications for Ethical Decision Making.
Journal of Business Ethics, 142(3), 549–565.

 

Future business and government leaders of Asia 
How do work motivations and sector perceptions differ between graduate students at prestigious Business Schools and Public Policy in Asia? Where do Asia’s future business and government leaders want to work, and why? To answer these questions, the authors compare Asian Master of Business Administration students (n = 71) with Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration students (n = 91) from three leading Schools based in Singapore through a survey study and a series of seven focus groups.

Findings indicate that work motivations, sector perceptions, and career preferences differ between both groups but slightly less so than between their Western counterparts. Moreover, future Asian leaders equally value being successful while many view government as bureaucratic and prone to cronyism regardless of degree program and employment preference. The authors discuss how their findings may advance a more robust management and leadership research agenda for Asia.

van der Wal, Z. 2017. Future Business and Government Leaders of Asia: How Do They Differ and What Makes Them Tick?
Journal of Business Ethics, 142(3), 603–616.

 

Food retailers and childhood obesity rates 
Few studies have examined the influence of the food environment on obesity rates among very young, low-income consumers. This research contributes to this growing literature by examining the relationship between modifications to the retail environment and obesity rates for low-income, preschool-aged children.

Based on data combined from various secondary sources, this study finds that changes in the retail environment are significantly related to obesity rates. More specifically, the authors find a positive relationship between the number of convenience stores in the retail environment and obesity rates among low-income, preschool-aged children.

Results also show that the percent change in grocery stores and supercenters and club stores in the retail environment is negatively related to the obesity rates of low-income, preschool-aged children [i.e., as grocery stores and supercenters/club stores increase (decrease), obesity decreases (increases)]. Further, the percent change in supercenters and club stores mediates the positive relationship between participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and obesity rates.

Full paper: Howlett, E., Davis, C. & Burton, S. From Food Desert to Food Oasis: The Potential Influence of Food Retailers on Childhood Obesity Rates.
Journal of Business Ethics, 139(2), 215–224.

 

Risking the sustainability of the public health system 
The purpose of this paper is to examine the outcomes arising from ideologically driven health reforms, which confronted an enduring socialised model of public health care in New Zealand. The primary focus is on the narratives arising from the unprecedented strike action of junior doctors, symbolic of industrial unrest in the public health sector.

Analysis revealed the way in which moral obligations ingrained in the professional identities of junior doctors can be both enacted and persistently challenged by ongoing and extensive ideologically embedded reform. A socialised public healthcare system privileges cooperation and relies on a public service ethos, espousing commitment and goodwill of health professionals. The inverse tenets of a pursuit of efficiency through New Public Management validate an ideology of market principles which legitimate competitive and self-interested behaviour. The value-based disconnect that occurred not only affected the goodwill and trust of junior doctors, but also destabilised their commitment to their work in a way that threatened the ongoing sustainability of the public health service.

This paper suggests four areas in which research might help solve the ethical conundrums currently undermining a public health service. The suggested direction moves the emphasis on systems and activities toward the cognitive and emotional needs of healthcare professionals.

Brunton, M. 2017. Risking the Sustainability of the Public Health System: Ethical Conundrums and Ideologically Embedded Reform. 
Journal of Business Ethics,142(4), 719–734.

 

The mysterious ethics of high-frequency trading  
The ethics of high frequency trading are obscure, due in part to the complexity of the practice. This article contributes to the existing literature of ethics in financial markets by examining a recent trend in regulation in high frequency trading, the prohibition of deception.

The authors argue that in the financial markets almost any regulation, other than the most basic, tends to create a moral hazard and increase information asymmetry. Since the market’s job is, at least in part, price discovery, the authors argue that simplicity of regulation and restraint in regulation are virtues to a greater extent than in other areas of finance.

This article proposes criteria for determining which high-frequency trading strategies should be regulated.

Cooper, R., Davis, M., & Van Vliet, B. 2016. The Mysterious Ethics of High-Frequency Trading.
Business Ethics Quarterly, 26(1), 1-22.

 

U.S. public accounting profession 
Participation in the political process by the United States public accounting profession often blurs the role of the profession as advocates for the public interest with its role as advocates for its own private interests. In this study, the authors draw from prior theoretical and empirical work to investigate recent federal political activities of the public accounting profession to shed light on these sometimes contradictory roles.

In particular, the authors investigate ten contemporary regulatory issues of interest to the AICPA. The authors analyse 36 AICPA legislative advocacy letters related to these issues that were provided to federal policy makers. In addition, the authors analyse the public accounting profession’s federal lobbying reports that were submitted during this same time period.

The analysis allows us to assess the public interest discourse present in the AICPA legislative letters as well as the extent of political action taken by the profession related to these issues based on the profession’s lobbying efforts.

Analyses (1) demonstrate that the profession’s discourse and actions often reflect both public and private interest motivations,

(2) allow us to categorise the profession’s advocacy efforts as arising from specific motivations, and

(3) show that the profession’s public interest arguments used to advocate for their policy positions change depending upon the specific legislative issue being considered.

Baudot, L., Roberts, R.W. & Wallace, D.M. 2017. An Examination of the U.S. Public Accounting Profession’s Public Interest Discourse and Actions in Federal Policy Making.
Journal of Business Ethics, 142(2), 203–220.

 

Do practising industry accountants and accounting students recognise ethical issues? 
It has long been recognised that accountants practicing in business settings have a dual role: (1) as employees, they are bound to the organisation, and (2) as professionals, they are bound by the profession’s code of ethical conduct (Westra, Journal of Business Ethics 5(2): 119–128, 1986).

These two roles highlight the need to recognise and consider both the ethical and economic implications of their decisions. Practicing industry accountants are commonly involved in a broad range of their firm’s business practices and decision making, and are increasingly exposed to the commercial aspects of their companies. Also, during their education, they were trained on their professional responsibilities. However, in general, this education was not recent and may not have been reinforced. By contrast, accounting students have been recently and repeatedly exposed to and have knowledge about their professional responsibilities as an accountant, but limited, if any, exposure to the commercial aspects of business.

Consequently, the first hypothesis predicts that the ethical sensitivity of practicing industry accountants will be lower than that of accounting students. The authors find limited support for this hypothesis.
Second, the authors also examine company reward structure and predict that ethical sensitivity will be lower for those in a company with a reward structure narrowly focused only on financial goals as compared to those in a company with a broad reward structure (e.g., including rewards for both financial and non-financial goals).
Third, the authors predict that the difference in ethical sensitivity levels between those in a company with a narrow reward structure as compared to those in a company with a broad financial reward structure will be higher for practicing industry accountants compared to accounting students.

Results from this study generally support these last two predictions. Ethical sensitivity is lower for those in a company with a reward structure narrowly focused only on financial goals as compared to those in a company with a broad reward structure, suggesting that companies may be able to increase ethical awareness in their organisations by including non-financial goals in their reward structures.

Fiolleau, K. & Kaplan, S.E. 2017. Recognizing Ethical Issues: An Examination of Practicing Industry Accountants and Accounting Students.
Journal of Business Ethics, 142(2), 259–276.

 

Does the accounting profession discipline its members differently after public scrutiny? 
This study examines how the accounting profession disciplines its members for professional misconduct in periods of increased public scrutiny. The authors conjecture and find that increased public scrutiny of the Canadian accounting profession, marked by the establishment of the Canadian Public Accountability Board in 2003, is positively associated with the severity of punitive sanctions administered by the profession’s disciplinary committees.

The authors find that disciplinary committees are more likely to also demand rehabilitation outcomes and greater future monitoring for offenders. Finally, reporting of discipline outcomes has increased in outlets internal to the accounting profession, but not in publications targeted outside to the public. This latter finding is consistent with the private interest theoretical model of professional ethics developed by Parker (Acc Organ Soc 19:507–525, 1994) as evidence of a latent motivation of the profession to protect its professional private interests.

Exploratory analyses indicate that punishment, rehabilitation, and reporting in external publications significantly influence whether offenders return to good standing.

Mescall, D., Phillips, F. & Schmidt, R.N. 2017. Does the Accounting Profession Discipline Its Members Differently After Public Scrutiny?
Journal of Business Ethics, 142(2), 285–309.