Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 89, Issue 2, pp 261–281 | Cite as

Ethics Programs and Ethical Culture: A Next Step in Unraveling Their Multi-Faceted Relationship

  • Muel KapteinEmail author


One of the main objectives of an ethics program is to improve the ethical culture of an organization. To date, empirical research treats at least one of these concepts as a one-dimensional construct. This paper demonstrates that by conceptualizing both constructs as multi-dimensional, a more in-depth understanding of the relationship between the two concepts can be achieved. Through the employment of the Corporate Ethical Virtues Model, eight dimensions of ethical culture are distinguished. Nine components of an ethics program are identified. To assess the relationship between ethics programs and ethical culture, a survey was conducted of 4,056 members of the U.S. working population. The results show that the relationships between the components of an ethics program and the dimensions of ethical culture differ in strength, nature, and significance. Implications for research and practice are discussed.

Key words

ethics program ethical culture virtue theory 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



Many thanks to KPMG, especially in the person of Scott Avelino, for funding and co-organizing the data collection among the U.S. working population as well as to Erasmus Research Institute for Management (ERIM) for providing research time.


  1. Barnes, C.S.J. (2007). ‹Why Compliance Programs Fail: Economics, Ethics and the Role of Leadership. HEC Forum, 19, 109–123. doi: 10.1007/s10730-007-9034-5 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baucus, M.S., & Near, J.P. (1991). Can Illegal Corporate Behavior Be Predicted? An Event History Analysis. Academy of Management Journal, 34, 9–36. doi: 10.2307/256300 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Berenbeim, R. 1992, Corporate Ethics Programs (Conference Board, New York)Google Scholar
  4. Bird, F. 1996, The Muted Conscience: Moral Silence and the Practice of Ethics in Business (Quorum Books, Stamford, CT.)Google Scholar
  5. Brenner, S.N. (1992). Ethics Programs and Their Dimensions. Journal of Business Ethics, 11, 391–399. doi: 10.1007/BF00870551 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Deal, T.E., & Kennedy, A.A.1982, Corporate Cultures (Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA)Google Scholar
  7. Delaney, J. T. and D. Sockell, D. (1992). Do Company Ethics Training Make a Difference? An Empirical Analysis. Journal of Business Ethics, 11, 719–727. doi: 10.1007/BF01686353 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Desio, P.: 2008, An Overview of the Organizational Guidelines (United States Sentencing Guidelines, Washington, DC). Accessed 09 January 2008
  9. Ethics Officer Association: 1997, EOA Member Survey 1997 Report (Ethics Officer Association, Waltham)Google Scholar
  10. Farrell, B., Cobbin, D., & Farrell, H. (2002). Can Codes of Ethics Really Produce Consistent Behavior? Journal of Managerial Psychology, 17, 468–490. doi: 10.1108/02683940210439397 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ferrell, O.C., & Fraedrich, J.1994, Business Ethics, second edition (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston)Google Scholar
  12. Goodell, R. 1994, Ethics in American Business: Policies, Programs, and Perceptions. Report of a landmark survey of U.S. employees (Ethics Resource Center, Washington, DC)Google Scholar
  13. Greenberg, J. (2002). Who Stole the Money, and When? Individual and Situational Determinants of Employee Theft. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 89, 985–1003. doi: 10.1016/S0749-5978(02)00039-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heugens, P.P.M.A.R., Kaptein, M., & Van Oosterhout, J. (2008). Contracts to Communities: A Processual Model of Organizational Virtue. Journal of Management Studies, 45, 100–121Google Scholar
  15. Hollwitz, J.C., & Pawlowski, D.R. (1997). The Development of a Structured Ethical Integrity Interview for Pre-employment Screening. Journal of Business Communication, 34, 203–219. doi: 10.1177/002194369703400206 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jackson, K.T. (1997). Globalizing Corporate Ethics Programs: Perils and Prospects. Journal of Business Ethics, 16, 1227–1235. doi: 10.1023/A:1005793916065 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Joseph, J. (2002). Integrating Business Ethics and Compliance Programs: A Study of Ethics Officers in Leading Organizations. Business and Society Review, 107, 309–347. doi: 10.1111/1467-8594.00139 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kaptein, M. 1998, Ethics Management: Auditing and Developing the Ethical Content of Organizations (Springer, Dordrecht)Google Scholar
  19. Kaptein, M. (2002). Guidelines for the Development of an Ethics Safety Net. Journal of Business Ethics, 41, 217–234. doi: 10.1023/A:1021221211283 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaptein, M. (2008a). Developing and Testing a Measure for the Ethical Culture of Organizations: The Corporate Ethical Virtues Model. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 29, 923–947. doi: 10.1002/job.520 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaptein, M.: 2008b, ‹Development of a Measure of Unethical Behavior in the Workplace: A Stakeholder Perspective’, Journal of Management 34, 978–1008Google Scholar
  22. Kaptein, M., & Avelino, S. (2005). Measuring Corporate Integrity: A Survey-Based Approach. Corporate Governance, 5, 45–54. doi: 10.1108/14720700510583467 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kaptein, M. and J. Dalen, van. (2000). The Empirical Assessment of Corporate Ethics: A Case Study. Journal of Business Ethics, 24, 95–114. doi: 10.1023/A:1006360210646 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kaptein, M., & Schwartz, M. (2008). The Effectiveness of Business Codes: A Critical Examination of Existing Studies and the Development of an Integrated Research Model. Journal of Business Ethics, 77, 111–127. doi: 10.1007/s10551-006-9305-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kaptein, M., & Wempe, J.2002, The Balanced Company: A Corporate Integrity Approach (Oxford University Press, Oxford)Google Scholar
  26. Knouse, S.B., & Giacalone, R.A. (1996). The Six Components of Successful Ethics Training. Business and Society Review, 98, 10–13Google Scholar
  27. KPMG.2008, Business Code of the Global 200: Their prevalence, content and embedding. Amsterdam: KPMGGoogle Scholar
  28. Lease, D. R.: 2006, ‹From Great to Ghastly: How Toxic Organizational Cultures Poison Companies’, Working Paper (Norwich University)Google Scholar
  29. LeClair, D.T., & Ferrell, L. (2000). Innovation in experiential business ethics training. Journal of Business Ethics, 28, 223–232. doi: 10.1023/A:1006206829583 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Martens, L.T., & Day, K. (1999). Five Common Mistakes in Designing and Implementing a Business Ethics Program. Business and Society Review, 104, 163–170. doi: 10.1111/0045-3609.00046 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Metzger, M., Dalton, D.R., & Hill, J.W. (1993). The Organization of Ethics and the Ethics of Organizations: The Case for Expanded Organizational Ethics Audits. Business Ethics Quarterly, 3, 27–43. doi: 10.2307/3857380 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Miethe, T.D., & Rothschild, J. (1994). Whistleblowing and the Control of Organizational Misconduct. Sociological Inquiry, 64, 322–347. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.1994.tb00395.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Murphy, P. (1995). Corporate Ethics Statements: Current Status and Future Prospects. Journal of Business Ethics, 14, 727–740. doi: 10.1007/BF00872326 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Murphy, P.E. (1988). Implementing Business Ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 7, 907–915Google Scholar
  35. Navran, F. (1997). Twelve Steps to Building a Best-Practices Ethics Program. Workforce, 76, 117–120Google Scholar
  36. Nijhof, A., Fisscher, O., & Looise, J.K. (2000). Coercion, Guidance and Mercifulness: The Different Influences of Ethics Programs on Decision-Making. Journal of Business Ethics, 27, 33–42. doi: 10.1023/A:1006413308607 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Nunally, J.C. 1978, Psychometric Theory (McGraw-Hill, New York)Google Scholar
  38. Paine, L.S. (1994). Managing for Organizational Integrity. Harvard Business Review, 72(2), 106–117Google Scholar
  39. Podsakoff, P.M., MacKenzie, S.B., & Lee, J.Y. (2003). Common Method Variance in Behavioral Research: A Critical Review of the Literature and Recommended Remedies. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 879–903. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.88.5.879 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rafalko, R.J. (2003). A Caution about Recent Trends in Ethics Compliance Programs. Business and Society Review, 108, 125–126. doi: 10.1111/1467-8594.00004 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Reynolds, S.J., & Bowie, N.E. (2004). A Kantian Perspective on the Characteristics of Ethics Programs. Business Ethics Quarterly, 14, 275-292Google Scholar
  42. Ryan, T.P. 1997, Modern Regression Methods. New York: John Wiley & SonsGoogle Scholar
  43. Schein, E.H. 2004, Organizational Culture and Leadership, third edition (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco)Google Scholar
  44. Schwartz, M.S. (2004). Effective Corporate Codes of Ethics: Perceptions of Code Users. Journal of Business Ethics, 55, 323–343. doi: 10.1007/s10551-004-2169-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sims, R.R., & Brinkmann, J. (2003). Enron Ethics (or: Culture Matters More than Codes. Journal of Business Ethics, 45, 243–256. doi: 10.1023/A:1024194519384 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Solomon, R.C. 1992, Ethics and Excellence (Oxford University Press, New York)Google Scholar
  47. Solomon, R.C. 1999, A Better Way to Think about Business: How Personal Integrity Leads to Corporate Success (Oxford University Press, New York)Google Scholar
  48. Stansbury, J., & Barry, B. (2007). Ethics Programs and the Paradox of Control. Business Ethics Quarterly, 17, 239–261Google Scholar
  49. Times: 2002, Persons of the Year: The Whistleblowers, December 22Google Scholar
  50. Treviño, L.K. (2005). ‹Out of Touch: The CEO’s Role in Corporate Misbehavior’. Brooklyn Law Review, 70, 1195–1211Google Scholar
  51. Treviño, L.K., & Brown, M.E. (2004). Managing to Be Ethical: Debunking Five Business Ethics Myths. Academy of Management Executive, 18(2), 69–81Google Scholar
  52. Treviño, L.K., Butterfield, K.D., & McCabe, D.L. (1998). The Ethical Context in Organizations: Influences on Employee Attitudes and Behaviors. Business Ethics Quarterly, 8, 447–476. doi: 10.2307/3857431 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Treviño, L.K., & Weaver, G.R.2003, Managing Ethics in Business Organizations: Social scientific perspectives (Stanford University Press, Stanford)Google Scholar
  54. Tyler, T. R., & Blader, S. L. (2005). Can Business Effectively Regulate Employee Conduct? The Antecedents of Rule Following in Work Settings Academy of Management Journal, 1, 1143–1158. doi: 10.1023/A:1024089509424 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Valentine, S., & Fleischman, G. (2004). ‹Ethics Training and Businesspersons’ Perceptions of Organizational Ethics’. Journal of Business Ethics, 52, 381–390. doi: 10.1007/s10551-004-5591-6 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Victor, B., & Cullen, J.B. (1987). A theory and measure of ethical climate in organizations. Research in Corporate Social Performance and Policy, 9, 51–71Google Scholar
  57. Victor, B., & Cullen, J.B. (1988). The organizational bases of ethical work climates. Administrative Science Quarterly, 33, 101–125. doi: 10.2307/2392857 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Weaver, G.R. (2001). ‹Ethics Programs in Global Business: Culture’s Role in Managing Ethics’. Journal of Business Ethics, 30, 3–15. doi: 10.1023/A:1006475223493 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Weaver, G.R., & Treviño, L.K. (1999). ‹Compliance and Values Oriented Ethics Programs: Influences on Employees’ Attitudes and Behavior’. Business Ethics Quarterly, 9, 315–335. doi: 10.2307/3857477 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Weaver, G.R., Treviño, L.K., & Cochran, P.L. (1999a). Corporate Ethics programs as Control Systems: Influences of Executive Commitment and Environmental Factors. Academy of Management Journal, 42, 41–57. doi: 10.2307/256873 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Weaver, G.R., Treviño, L.K., & Cochran, P.L. (1999b). Integrated and Decoupled Corporate Social Performance: Management Values, External Pressures, and Corporate Ethics Practices. Academy of Management Journal, 42, 539–552. doi: 10.2307/256975 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Weaver, G.R., Treviño, L.K., & Cochran, P.L. (1999c). Corporate Ethics Practices in the Mid-1990 s. Journal of Business Ethics, 18, 282–294. doi: 10.1023/A:1005726901050 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wood, G., & Rimmer, M. (2003). Codes of Ethics: What are They Really and What Should They Be? International Journal of Value-Based Management, 16, 181–195. doi: 10.1023/A:1024089509424 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations