While employee commitment to ethics is an important component of an ethical organisational culture, it is not a foolproof predictor of ethical conduct. In fact, it is the weakest predictor of unethical conduct frequency (ethics awareness was second poorest) in comparison to most other ethical culture/climate dimensions (such as the fair and equitable treatment of employees and management commitment to ethics). There are several possible reasons for this:
- Non-managerial employees typically make up the largest group of employees in most organisations, but they often have little positional power and influence over ethical conduct and decision-making. Without the support of direct managers and senior leadership, they may have very little impact on the ethical conduct of their colleagues.
- Although most employees may believe that ethics is important for business, if the organisation does not align its ethics message across job levels and facilitate informal ethics dialogue, each employee may have a different and polarised perspective on what is and is not ethical within the organisation.
- Line managers may use intimidation, retaliation, and fearmongering to discourage employees from standing up for the ethics they believe in.
- If employees observe and report unethical conduct but nothing is done about it, they may become discouraged and feel that their commitment to ethics is meaningless.
- Non-managerial employees may be more susceptible to social psychological influences such as obedience to authority, group conformity, group apathy, and role conformity. These social forces often compel someone to act in a certain manner, even when the individual knows that the behaviour is unethical.
While employee commitment to ethics is an important aspect of ethical culture, it is not sufficient on its own to ensure ethical conduct within an organisation. To create an ethical culture, organisations must empower non-managerial employees and align the ethics message across all job levels. Additionally, organisations should address factors that may discourage employees from standing up for their ethical beliefs and publicly promote and address ethical concerns with their colleagues. It must also be understood that although social psychological factors and their impact on conduct and decision-making are often ignored by most organisations, their impact can be substantially negative. Organisations need to address behavioural ethical concerns where possible.
In conclusion, an employee’s commitment to ethics is complex and multifaceted, shaped by various internal and external factors. While an organisation’s culture and management practices can have a significant impact on a non-managerial employee’s commitment to ethics, situational pressures and personal perceptions of acceptable conduct can influence how effective this commitment is at influencing unethical conduct.
It is crucial for organisations to ensure fair and equal treatment across all employees and to establish a strong leadership commitment to ethics that is cascaded down throughout the organisation. To create a culture of ethical behaviour, organisations need to identify the areas where changes are necessary and take proactive steps to promote ethical conduct and culture.