Organizational Factors: The Role of Ethical Culture and Relationships

It is possible that a person with good ethics in an organization can make ethically questionable decisions. There are some factors that influence the standards of ethical behavior in an organization. These factors can range from individual, social and opportunity factors (Pride, Hughes & Kapoor, 2009).

The knowledge one has on an issue can lead him/her to act unethically. A person making a decision with high knowledge regarding a situation may take certain steps to avoid unethical situations. Low knowledgeable persons may unknowingly make decisions that are unethical. This is because some people enter into organizations with their individual values and cultural related values to achieve their personal goals (Pride, Hughes & Kapoor, 2009). Personal goals that a person aspires to and the way they pursue them has a significant impact on an organization. Individual actions in scandal plagued organizations raise questions about personal character and integrity of an individual (Pride, Hughes & Kapoor, 2009). An employee who aspires to promotion in an organization may sabotage a coworker’s project so as to reflect a bad image of the person (Ferrell, Fraedrich & Ferrell, 2009).

Cultural norms influence personal behavior in an organization. In some organizations it is ethical for an employee to receive gratuities for performing their duties while it is not ethical in other organizations. Coworker’s behaviors in an organization influence some employee’s ethics. For instance some coworkers always make personal long distance telephone calls at the expense of the organization. One may view this behavior as ethical because everyone does it. Relatives, friends and spouses can as well influence the employee’s perception of what is ethical and unethical at the workplace. Internet access at workplace can be offensive to coworkers if employees engage in unethical behavior on controversial web pages that are not related to their job

The opportunity factor refers to the freedom that an organization gives the employees to behave unethically if they choose to. Many organizations have rules that ensure that there is no room for unethical behavior (Pride, Hughes & Kapoor, 2009).

Many organizational characteristics can encourage unethical behavior. Although it is not easy for managers to curb the formation of such cultural elements, simple awareness of their unethical potentiality can prevent their power. These situations include highly cohesive work groups that are closed to outside influence, value statements that are contradictory, large separations between organizational departments, practices in an organization that favors one group of people over another, programs that encourage unfair competition and silence to organizational ethics (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000).

When an organization fears the outside influences hence keeping away from the organizational environment, the members may begin to act unethically. Leaders must differentiate between a strong culture and a culture that encourages groupthink. “Groupthink is phenomenon in which organizational members become so cohesive that productive conflict or dissent is disallowed (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000, P. 121)”. Managers can ward off groupthink through encouraging dialogue and dissent. Interpersonal conflicts help to improve a group’s decision making whenever the conflict is substantive (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000).

Organizational employees rely on ethical credos that naturally follow from their organization’s vision. Unfortunately, some organizations devise ethical statements that are so vague and include generalities. Sometimes these ethical statements can be self contradictory. Excessive segmentation in an organization makes it easier for unethical behavior. Departments and power levels must be well connected to prevent responsibility from failure. Large gaps between an organizations department can hinder effective communication. These can be illustrated when a Product is often recalled because there was inadequate communication between different departments in the same organization to discuss the safety of the product. This can result to unethical behavior by persons with high personal moral codes (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000).

Excessive organizational power differences can lead to unethical behavior. For example; an organization where superiors have more powers, communication between them and their subordinates is very limited. Subordinates can openly communicate with superiors with lessened powers hence boosting an organizations productivity and ethics (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000). Managers effect different power bases to bring about change in employees, although power is neither ethical nor unethical (Ferrell, Fraedrich & Ferrell, 2009). Cultural control can be unethical in that employees can control themselves instead of being controlled by their managers in a way that encourages unethical practices such as working overtime without pay. As employees don’t realize they are being controlled, it can obscure and stifle opportunities for resistance and change. Without proper involvement strong cultures can hamper groupthink and bad mentality that can lead to unethical behavior (Deetz, Tracy & Simpson, 2000).

Therefore if an organization rewards unethical behavior, then people within the organization are definitely going to behave unethically. Organizational structures as well can influence unethical behavior whereby the power to make decisions is spread down to the lowest rank. However, unethical behavior can occur in many ways (Ferrell, Fraedrich & Ferrell, 2009).


Deetz, S., Tracy, S. & Simpson, J. (2000). Leading Organizations through Transition: Communication and Cultural Change. New Barry Park, California: SAGE.

Ferrell, O., Fraedrich, J, and Ferrell, L. (2009). Business Ethics, Ethical Decision Making & Cases (7th ed.). Florence, KY: Cengage Learning, Inc.

Pride, W., Hughes, R. & Kapoor, J. (2009). Business (10th ed.). Florence, KY: Cengage Learning, Inc.

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