, Volume 126, Issue 1, pp 125-141
Date: 17 Dec 2013

The Influence of Roles and Organizational Fit on Accounting Professionals’ Perceptions of their Firms’ Ethical Environment

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Abstract

A public accounting firm’s ethical environment has an important role in encouraging ethical behavior, but prior research has shown that firm leaders (e.g., partners) perceive the ethical environment of their firms to be stronger than do non-leaders (Bobek et al. J Bus Ethics 92(4): 637–654, 2010). This study draws on several research streams in management to investigate the reasons behind this discrepancy. Our online questionnaire was completed by 139 accounting professionals. We find that when non-leader accounting professionals believe that they have a meaningful role in shaping and maintaining the ethical environment and/or have strong organizational fit with the accounting firm, they are more likely to perceive the ethical environment as strong and to perceive it similarly to firm leaders. That is, differences in leaders’ and non-leaders’ perceptions of the ethical environment are mediated by non-leaders’ perceptions of their role in participating in shaping and maintaining the ethical environment of their firms. Further, we find that among firm leaders, a stronger public interest orientation (i.e., feeling a responsibility to serve the public interest) and a higher frequency of receiving mentoring are both associated with stronger perceptions of the ethical environment. Overall, our study is one of the first to directly test potential explanations for why firm leaders and non-leaders can have disparate views of a firm’s ethical environment. In addition, these findings provide practical feedback to practitioners on actions they can take to improve perceptions of their firms’ ethical environment.