U05: Ethical Climate and Personal Decisions

“Ethical climates refer to those in which ethical standards and norms have been consistently, clearly, and persuasively communicated throughout the organization and embraced and enforced by organizational leaders in both word and example” (Hughes et al, 2015, p 173).  

As an individual who has consistently jumped from job to job, the longest one lasting a year, I can testify to how important it is to not only understand how to read the ethical climate of an organization, but have an understanding of your own code of ethics so that the two can match up.  Although I have left my position at different organizations for a multitude of reasons, I left my last job because of ethical differences between the organization (i.e the leader) and myself.  I started out at the organization, interviewing with the office manager of the law office.  The individual I interviewed with portrayed the business one way and because of her personality and the way she behaved I believed this to be true.  Once I started completing more of my work for the owner of the business, I learned the true ethical climate of the organization.  The couple of weeks it took me to learn that the office manager’s words did not match the leader’s actions where some of the most frustrating for me.   The leader of the company is the example in which everyone in the organization will base their own behavior (PSU, n.d).  

I grew up with a strong sense of what is right and what is wrong because of my parents and my education.  My parents taught me that each individual, no matter what walk of life, deserve to be treated with respect and you should always make that individual feel as if they matter and are important.  I respect my elders and I mind my manners. I would like to think that my behavior matches these lessons that I have learned.  

Since pursuing my degree in psychology and now my Master’s and hopefully one day my doctorate, I am also an individual that likes to find the motivation behind a certain behavior an individual might possess: why someone might accept a certain treatment and at the same time why one treats others a certain way.  When there is a disconnect between words and actions, it is important to find the why.  The boss I was talking about earlier was one of those people.  His words said one thing, but his actions said another and he was fostering an unethical climate in his business.  The face value of his company said “Come in, we will help you get back on your feet”, where the actual culture of the company was “I won’t do this for you if you don’t have the money to provide me because I don’t care if you don’t have a home to go back to”.  When interviewing with the company I was sold the pitch that we help individuals who cannot help themselves, and I appreciated that in a company.  My boss proved to approach his moral conduct through ethical egoism: “a person should act as to create the greatest good for her or himself” (Northouse, 2016, p 334).  As the leader of the organization he had influence on every individual that walked in his door, whether it be a client or an employee he had an impact on their life (Northouse, 2016). For many people, that impact was negative.

Looking at Victor and Cullen’s Ethical climates, I can now assess the situation I worked at simply. My boss approached ethical situations through egoism, so he looked at self-interest, company profit and efficiency (PSU, n.d).  The thing with approaching a business this way is that it leaves individuals who prefer benevolence or principle view to leave creating a high turnover rate of employees.  Once my boss finds individuals who are willing to work for him, and stand by his actions no matter what the business he is creating will not be one of a high ethical climate, and one day will hopefully fail because of that.   

(victor-and-cullenPSU, n.d).

Burns perspective says that a leader will help followers “asses their values and needs in order to raise them to a higher level of functioning” and in a some way my boss did exactly that (Northouse, 2016).  I weighed the pros and cons of leaving a job with no back up and decided to leave because I was unable to go into work and feel good about myself when I left because of what the company stood for.


  1. Jolie Kaye Kilcoyne December 4, 2016 at 9:00 PM #

    That was a nice post, and if you do not feel comfortable at a place of employment kudos to you for leaving. There were many times when I was younger I wanted to walk out of places because all I had ever asked for was respect and a healthy ethical climate. When I was very young, it seemed every place I went to was downright rotten. I ended up getting hired at a hotel as housekeeping staff when I was 20, and during orientation we branched out with some of the ladies in the department. One girl that I was with took a bottle of wine from a room, and I could not believe that she would do this in front of someone on their first day. I thought, “Well- I’m out of here”. I told the department head why I was leaving and she told me that was not possible as that girl was one of her best! Since I was a new person, she did not want to listen to what I had to say. If this girl took wine without it phasing her with someone new in the room, what else has she taken or planned to take? Of course, she wanted to bring the accused girl in front of me to cause a scene and ask her about it- of course she is going to say she did not take a bottle of wine- why would she say otherwise? This would be a violation of Ethical Standard 3.04 Avoiding Harm, and 5.01 Avoidance of False or Deceptive Statements (Lowman, 2012). This would also fall in with Ethical Standard 1.05 Reporting Ethical Violations (Lowman, 2012). While this at the time did not harm anyone, it had the potential to harm someone or the hotel itself. The owner of the wine would undoubtedly know it’s missing, and who is to say that was even wine in the bottle? What if she drank it and there was something in it? Who knows…It was not hers to take, she should have never taken it. I felt like a fool witnessing that and then saying something about it, but felt better once I left and never went back.


    Lowman, R. (2012). The Ethical Practice of Psychology in Organizations (2nd Ed.). APEX Publishing.

  2. Mary Kay Elsner December 4, 2016 at 5:36 PM #

    Rachel excellent post and thank you for sharing your own experience. I too had a leader who spoon fed me a business of helping others to move forward in the company and earn 50k a year their first year. The person I interviewed was a manger and had been in the business for two years and claimed to advance quickly however it was found out to move up in business you would have to relocate to the west coast of the country and the company was in Wisconsin where I interviewed. None of this was explained until after three or four months of employment when I felt I was doing good with my sales and appointments and wanted get my one year plan put into place. The boss was all ego he taught us to sell with the promise of advancement in hopes if we were doing well with commissions we would not want to move up. I was making about 2500 a week in the field which in 2002 was good money for me. The ethical climate of the office was a positive one because people who couldn’t sell would quit on their own and everyone who stayed was making great money and saw no need to move up, I however did. Then it was explained to me that managers and owners were needed to open businesses on the west coast and a 25k investment was needed to become an owner to open your own business. I was a bit shocked because that was not what was explained to me at all.

    Leadership really does play a part in the ethical climate and if the owner is not living up to their own set of standards no one in the company will want to either or the good people like yourself will leave and the business will continue to be rotten.

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