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Ethics in business: is it just a matter of individual psychology?

Gazi Islam, chercheur à Grenoble Ecole de Management
Publié le
13 Septembre 2021

Gazi Islam is a Lecturer and Researcher at Grenoble Ecole de Management. He initiated a new research segment on psychology and business ethics in the leading international journal - the Journal of Business Ethics. It looks at the importance of the social, economic, political, and cultural context and structure in ethical decision-making at an individual level. See the interview below:

How did your work come about?

The Journal of Business Ethics had a research segment which focused on organizational behavior and behavioral ethics. The editors-in-chief of this scientific journal decided to start a new segment focusing on psychology and business ethics, by compiling various research works in the field of social psychology. As part of this initiative, I was given the task of writing a theoretical essay which argues that in the field of business ethics, individual psychological components are inseparable from the economic context and social structure.

You argue that in matters of professional ethics, socio-economic and organizational factors are just as important as the psychology of an individual?

There are many individual psychological traits that promote or inhibit ethical decision-making. However, it is imperative to go beyond personality studies and analyze which contexts, situations, processes etc. favor the emergence of psychological traits such as narcissism, psychopathy and empathy etc. in organizations.

My goal as editor has been to address a trend in the psychology literature that focuses on individual factors alone when it comes to business ethics. My work has made it possible to situate the psychological processes of individuals by placing it within a group and within a cultural, economic and political context. The idea is therefore to no longer focus on the intrapsychic processes of individuals, but instead to measure the importance of the social structure that conditions individual behavior.

This report thus creates an "intersection" which combines the analysis of contextual components with individual character traits. This new segment dedicated to psychology and business ethics shifts attention onto arguments that are just as important as individual psychological components. These analytical methods could help avoid ethical dilemmas and difficult decision-making, simply by changing the organizational context.

In view of your report, can you make any recommendations for companies to encourage ethical decision-making?

The first step is to focus on social management, beyond individual analysis. For example, it is essential to make recruitment more ethical in theory, and, at the same time, to review organizational processes so as not to corner individuals into impossible situations and dilemmas. The premise is therefore to change the organization.

In terms of management, the question is how to divide and distribute tasks so that the work remains meaningful. The objective is therefore to question "how", "why", and "when" managers and employees are put in uncomfortable situations that do not allow them to act in accordance with their values. For example, in hospitals, management must allow doctors sufficient independence to be able to properly carry out their work. In light of the health crisis in particular, doctors, and all health care workers have demonstrated their ability to organize their work efficiently in extremely stressful situations.  Another example is that CSR should no longer be perceived as being against profit and financial return. The goal is to allow these pressures to coexist and to manage them in such a way that they generate new ideas for social organization.

In summary, the goal of my work is to minimize the burden on the individual in ethical decision making as much as possible. A good organization must be able to reduce pressure on the individual in favor of ethical decisions.

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