Understanding Immoral Conduct in Business Settings: A Behavioural Ethics Approach



In the past decades, the world has observed a large variety of business scandals, such as those at ENRON, WorldCom, AHOLD, Lehman Brothers, and News of the World. These scandals caused economic damage and undermined the trust that governments, shareholders, and citizens have in the corporate and financial world. In response, the scientific study of moral and immoral conduct of organizational managers and employees - referred to as “behavioural ethics” - has rapidly grown into an accepted field of scientific enquiry. In this inaugural address, I distinguish behavioural ethics from traditional philosophical views of business ethics, and present a brief overview of the history and the current status of the field. I illustrate how progress can be made in the field of behavioural ethics using examples from my own research in the areas of organizational justice, ethical leadership, and power / hierarchy. I then present a research program that addresses some critical limitations of the field. I close by addressing how insights from behavioural ethics research can be made more practically relevant by integrating them in the curricula of business schools and by applying them to design interventions aimed at improving the moral conduct of organizational managers and employees.