Why Do Good People Do Bad Things in Business?: Lessons from Research for Responsible Business Managers

Why Do Good People Do Bad Things in Business?: Lessons from Research for Responsible Business Managers

Harvey S. James Jr. (University of Missouri, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7419-6.ch001
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Abstract

Promoting ethical behavior in business requires an understanding of why and when seemingly good people do unethical things. Research on this issue consists of theoretical models of moral decision-making and empirical studies of ethical sensitivity, attitudes, and behaviors of people in various contexts. These studies reveal that explanations of unethical conduct include considerations of a person's psychological disposition as well as the circumstances in which they live. They also identify general principles that explain why individuals might engage in unethical conduct. This chapter reviews studies conducted over the past 50 years and articulates lessons that can help business managers improve the ethical climate of business and ethical behavior of employees. While it does not break new ground, this discussion is important because it synthesizes scholarship in simple language accessible to both scholars and business professionals. This chapter also identifies directions for future research that can enhance and supplement these lessons.
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Background

Although there can be many ways to think about and define unethical behavior, Armstrong (1977) suggests that unethical behavior is knowingly making a decision that harms others or that one feels, believes or knows to be irresponsible or wrong (see also Jones, 1991). Using this definition, the question of why good people do bad things is really a question of why people would knowingly make decisions that harm others or that they believe to be irresponsible or wrong.

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