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Formal and Informal Benevolence in a Profit-Oriented Context

Abstract

Faced with the disenchantment and disengagement expressed by their employees, business leaders are considering ways of incorporating more benevolence into managerial practices. Nevertheless, ‘benevolence’—care and concern for the well-being of others—has not yet been studied in an organizational profit-focused context. In this paper, we seek to investigate the emergence and practice of benevolence with an eye on profit and performance. We begin by investigating the main ethical approaches to benevolence—virtue ethical, utilitarian, and deontological. Then, based on an empirical study (in the context of an upward feedback system in a consulting firm), we identify two distinct types of benevolence. On the one hand, formal benevolence is defined and monitored by the organizational processes and actions of leaders; it is understood by all concerned to be bounded by organizational performance. On the other hand, informal benevolence exists at the margin of these processes, in interpersonal and discretionary relationships. We set out to analyze these two types of benevolence and the complementarity between them. We also discuss to what extent they can be managed, teasing out some implications for managers and some potential avenues for further research.

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Notes

  1. E.g., “Google’s leaders explicitly attribute the company’s financial performance to its benevolent people practices” (http://fortune.com/2015/03/05/best-companies-greatest-tool-is-culture) [Accessed November 28, 2018].

  2. http://journee-de-la-gentillesse.psychologies.com/La-bienveillance-au-travail/Appel-a-plus-de-bienveillance-au-travail [Accessed November 28, 2018].

  3. The word ‘altruism’ was coined by French philosopher Auguste Comte, based on the Latin word ‘alter’ (other), and copying the structure of the word ‘egoism.’ Emile Littré, a disciple of Comte, and the author of a reference dictionary in French (1877), defined altruism as the “whole set of benevolent inclinations.”

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Correspondence to Guillaume Mercier.

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Appendix

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See Table 3.

Table 3 Synthetic presentation of main questions having guided our semi-structured interviews and our autoethnography

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Mercier, G., Deslandes, G. Formal and Informal Benevolence in a Profit-Oriented Context. J Bus Ethics 165, 125–143 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-019-04108-9

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Keywords

  • Benevolence
  • Formal benevolence
  • Informal benevolence
  • Altruism
  • Virtue ethics
  • Utilitarianism
  • Consulting firm
  • Upward feedback