Organizational influences on individual ethical behavior in public accounting

Journal of Business Ethics 9 (11):839 - 853 (1990)
Abstract
A framework is presented for studying ethical conduct in public accounting practice. Four levels of analysis are distinguished: individual, local office, multi-office firm and professional institute. Several propositions are derived from the framework and discussed: (1) The effects of ethical vs. unethical behavior on an accountant's prospects for advancement are asymmetrical in nature; (2) the way individuals perceive or frame the decision problem at hand will make an ethical response more or less likely; (3) the economic incentives present in competitive markets influence the work goals of firms and offices, and lead to ethical dilemmas for individuals; and (4) initiatives at the firm or institute level aimed at compliance with professional ethical standards will by themselves have little effect on individual ethical behavior. Research into ethical behavior of practitioners will capture self-conscious and biased responses unless it is designed so as to permit indirect observation and recording of spontaneous comments. To assure valid research findings, practitioners should be interviewed and their motives assessed indirectly. A longitudinal approach is recommended, beginning with students who are choosing an accounting career. Two types of questions for use in these interviews are described.
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