Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Ethical dilemmas in a professional service context

  • 42 Accesses


This paper reports on the results of action research exploring the kinds of ethical problems that confront employees in the professional services industry. Data were collected from a single firm via participant observation methods at eight locations across the country. Issues raised included service delivery, responses to life threatening situations, marketing, client relationships, client entertaining, bribery, billings, as well as intra-firm issues such as support for professional judgments in the field, employee health and safety, and compensation. The paper concludes with an assessment of the utility of the approach taken by the firm, the generalizability of the issues beyond the single case setting, as well as an assessment of the managerial issues related to fostering and sustaining an ethical environment within a business organization.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. BeauchampT. L. and N.Bowie (eds.) (1988). Ethical Theory and Business. 3rd Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

  2. CarlzonJ. (1989). Moments of Truth. New York: Perennial Library/Harper-Row, Inc.

  3. DePreeM. (1989). Leadership is an Art. New York: Dell Publishing.

  4. Dilenschneider, R. (1989). ‘Values are the means and the end’. New York Times, December 3, 1989.

  5. DonaldsonT. and P.Werhane (eds.) (1983). Ethical Issues in Business: A Philosophical Approach. (3rd Edition), Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

  6. FreemanR. E. (1984). Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach. Marshfield, MA: Pittman Publishing, Inc.

  7. FreemanR. E. and D. R.Gilbert (1988). Corporate Strategy and the Search for Ethics. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

  8. GranovetterM. (1985). Economic action and social structure: the problem of embeddedness’. American Journal of Sociology 78, 481–510.

  9. JackallR. (1987). Moral Mazes: The World of Corporate Managers. New York: Oxford University Press.

  10. McCoyB. (1983). ‘The parable of the Sadhu’. Harvard Business Review 61(5), 103–108.

  11. RingP. S. and A. H.Van deVen (1992). ‘Structuring cooperative relationships between organizations’. Strategic Management Journal 13, 483–498.

  12. RingP. S. and R.Rands (1989). ‘Sense making, understanding and committing: emergent interpersonal transaction processes in the evolution of 3M's microgravity research program’. In AndrewVan deVen, HaroldAngle, and M. ScottPoole (eds.), Research on the Management of Innovation: The Minnesota Studies, pp. 337–366. New York, Ballinger/Harper Row.

  13. SitkinS. and K. M.Sutcliffe (1991). ‘Dispensing legitimacy: the influence of professional, organizational, and legal controls on pharmacist behavior’. Research in the Sociology of Organizations 8, 269–295.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Ring, P.S. Ethical dilemmas in a professional service context. Int J Value-Based Manage 9, 1–17 (1996). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00420504

Download citation


  • Service Industry
  • Ethical Dilemma
  • Participant Observation
  • Ethical Problem
  • Business Organization