The Effectiveness of Ethics Programs: The Role of Scope, Composition, and Sequence

Abstract

Organizations are faced with the question, not only whether to adopt an ethics program, but also which components to adopt when. This study shows that unethical behavior occurs less frequently in organizations that have an ethics program than in organizations that do not have an ethics program. Nine components of ethics programs were identified and examined. The results show that there is a direct relationship between the number of components adopted and the frequency of observed unethical behavior. No relationship was found between pre-employment screening and unethical behavior, while the strongest relationship was discerned between accountability policies and unethical behavior. The study further reveals that the best sequence for adopting components of an ethics program is (1) a code of ethics, (2) ethics training and communication, (3) accountability policies, (4) monitoring and auditing, and (5) investigation and correction policies—all of which are directly related to less unethical behavior—followed by (6) an ethics office(r), (7) ethics report line, and (8) incentive policies—all of which are indirectly related to less unethical behavior. With the exception of pre-employment screening, this sequence corresponds closely to the pattern of adoption of organizations in the U.S.

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Correspondence to Muel Kaptein.

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Kaptein, M. The Effectiveness of Ethics Programs: The Role of Scope, Composition, and Sequence. J Bus Ethics 132, 415–431 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2296-3

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Keywords

  • Ethics program
  • Code
  • Officer
  • Hotline
  • Monitoring
  • Training