Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 15, Issue 2, pp 219–226 | Cite as

Professional conduct and professional misconduct: A framework and its application to the accounting profession

  • Ann Neale


Recently there has been increased attention paid to the behaviour of those who call themselves professionals. The idea of ‘acceptable professional conduct’ incorporates the expectations of a number of groups affected by the activities of professionals. The framework of professional behaviour considered acceptable at a point in time is an equilibrium among these groups' expectations. This paper argues that shifts in the expectations of any of these groups will disturb this equilibrium. This process of disequilibrium and change leads to altered views of professional behaviour. Professional misconduct or unprofessional behaviour, that is, the failure to meet expectations, is inherent in the underlying framework of a profession.

The framework is applied to the public (chartered) accounting profession, where the interacting groups are accounting professionals, their clients and the general public. Current issues of debate about professional behaviour are identifiable as consequences of altered expectations about acceptable behaviour. Acceptable conduct has become misconduct (and vice versa) and written rules of conduct conflict with unwritten rules.

The paper concludes with two interrelated issues for further research. A new equilibrium is considered; and permanent change in the framework of the professions, the groups in the professional structure and the mechanisms of their interaction, is addressed.


Economic Growth General Public Interact Group Current Issue Permanent Change 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ann Neale
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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