Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 117, Issue 1, pp 93–109 | Cite as

Generation Y’s Ethical Ideology and Its Potential Workplace Implications

  • Rebecca A. VanMeter
  • Douglas B. Grisaffe
  • Lawrence B. Chonko
  • James A. Roberts


Generation Y is a cohort of the population larger than the baby boom generation. Consisting of approximately 80 million people born between 1981 and 2000, Generation Y is the most recent cohort to enter the workforce. Workplaces are being redefined and organizations are being pressed to adapt as this new wave of workers is infused into business environments. One critical aspect of this phenomenon not receiving sufficient research attention is the impact of Gen Y ethical beliefs and ethical conduct in workplace contexts. It is widely accepted that distinct generational experiences shape ethical ideologies and ethical ideologies in turn affect the way people function in the workplace. Thus, Gen Y’s unique cohort experiences are likely to shape their ethical ideologies and consequent workplace judgments and actions. In this article, we examine Gen Y’s ethical ideology and study its impact on workplace functioning regarding leadership style, teamwork, and judgments about ethical violations. Our analyses indicate that Gen Y’ers tend toward situationalism (high idealism and high relativism), and their socially connected orientation produces more lenient judgments of collaborative vs. unilateral ethical violations. However, Gen Y’ers do exhibit individual variation. Relativist Gen Y’ers are more tolerant of ethical violations, whereas, Gen Y Idealists are less tolerant of ethical violations. High Idealists also show stronger teamwork and leadership characteristics. In addition, Gen Y’ers possessing servant leader traits exhibit incrementally better teamwork, and greater perceived unacceptability of ethical violations. We conclude by discussing implications of these findings for managing ethical climates and conduct.


Generation Y Ethical ideology Workplace implications Teamwork Servant leadership Ethical violations 



The authors thank Dr. Cam Caldwell (St. Thomas University) for his insightful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. The first author is appreciative for the support and teachings of Dr. Marcus Butts (University of Texas Arlington). A version of the article was presented at the 18th Annual International Vincentian Business Ethics Conference in October 2011 at St. John's University. The audience comments are gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rebecca A. VanMeter
    • 1
  • Douglas B. Grisaffe
    • 2
  • Lawrence B. Chonko
    • 3
  • James A. Roberts
    • 4
  1. 1.College of Business 223University of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.College of Business 218University of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  3. 3.College of Business 232University of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  4. 4.Hankamer School of BusinessBaylor UniversityWacoUSA

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