Encyclopedia of Business and Professional Ethics

Living Edition
| Editors: Deborah C Poff, Alex C. Michalos

Ethical Climate and Ethical Culture

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-23514-1_70-1



An organization’s formal ethical context is distinct from its informal ethical context. The formal context, also known as hard controls, consists of the tangible and explicit parts of an organization, such as its plans, policies, and procedures. An ethics program is regarded as the most relevant component of the formal ethical context and consists of ethics instruments and measures, such as a written code of ethics, an ethics training module, a policy on whistle-blowing, and an ethics monitoring system.

The informal context, also called soft controls, consists of the intangible and implicit parts of an organization, such as the shared assumptions, values, and expectations. Two of the most important components of this ethical context are the organization’s ethical climate and ethical culture. An organization’s ethical climate refers...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Cabana GC, Kaptein M (2019) Team ethical cultures within an organization: a differentiation perspective on their existence and relevance. J Bus Ethics 1–20. Published onlineGoogle Scholar
  2. Cullen JB, Victor B, Bronson JW (1993) The ethical climate questionnaire: an assessment of its development and validity. Psychol Rep 73:667–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. DeBode JD, Armenakis AA, Feild HS, Walker AG (2013) Assessing ethical organizational culture: refinement of a scale. J Appl Behav Sci 49:460–484CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Kaptein M (1998) Ethics management: auditing and developing the ethical content of organizations. Springer, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Kaptein M (2008) Developing and testing a measure for the ethical culture of organizations: the corporate ethical virtues model. J Organ Behav 29:923–947CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Kaptein M (2009) Ethics programs and ethical culture: a next step in unraveling their multi-faceted relationship. J Bus Ethics 89:261–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Kaptein M (2010) The ethics of organizations: a longitudinal study of the U.S. working population. J Bus Ethics 92:601–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Kaptein M (2011) Understanding unethical behavior by unravelling ethical culture. Hum Relat 64:843–869CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kaptein M (2017) When organizations are too good: applying Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean to the corporate ethical virtues model. Bus Ethics 26:300–311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Martin KD, Cullen JB (2006) Continuities and extensions of ethical climate theory: a meta-analytic review. J Bus Ethics 69:175–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Mayer DM (2014) A review of the literature on ethical climate and culture. In: Schneider B, Barbera K (eds) The Oxford handbook of organizational climate and culture. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 415–442Google Scholar
  12. Simha A, Cullen JB (2012) Ethical climates and their effects on organizational outcomes: implications from the past and prophecies for the future. Acad Manag Perspect 26(4):20–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Treviño LK, Weaver GR (2003) Managing ethics in business organizations: social scientific perspective. Stanford University Press, StanfordGoogle Scholar
  14. Vaicys C, Barnett T, Brown G (1996) An analysis of the factor structure of the ethical climate questionnaire. Psychol Rep 79:115–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Victor B, Cullen JB (1987) A theory and measure of ethical climates in organizations. Res Corp Soc Perform Policy 9:51–71Google Scholar
  16. Victor B, Cullen JB (1988) The organizational bases of ethical work climates. Adm Sci Q 33:101–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands

Section editors and affiliations

  • Muel Kaptein
    • 1
  1. 1.Business Ethics and Integrity ManagementRotterdam School of Management, Erasmus UniversityRotterdamThe Netherlands