Does management experience change the ethical perceptions of retail salespeople? A comparison of the ethical perceptions of current students with those of recent graduates

Journal of Business Ethics 15 (8):815-826 (1996)

The purpose of this study was to extend the previous research on ethics in retailing. Prior research of Dornoff and Tankersley, Gifford and Norris, Norris and Gifford, and Burns and Rayman examined the ethics orientation of retail sales persons, sales managers, and business school students. These studies found the college students less ethically-oriented than retail sales people and retail managers. The present study attempts to extend the research on ethics formation to a geographically and academically diverse sample, and to determine if retail management experience in the form of a professional practicum or internship, or entry level management training programs, such as experienced by recent graduates, are critical factors in the formation of business ethics. The sample consisted of thirty-three students majoring in Human Ecology with a concentration in Retail Merchandising and 51 recent graduates of the retail Merchandising program. The series of fourteen vignettes developed by Dornoff and Tankersley was used. An acknowledged limitation of this study is the validity of the questionnaire developed by Dornoff and Tankersley due to the method of development and new laws concerning warranties and credit etc. which have occurred since 1976. The instrument was used, however, to maintain consistency with earlier studies for the purpose of comparison of groups. No significant differences were found in the students' perceptions of the fourteen actions presented in the vignettes, but the range of the responses in the post-internship tests increased in many cases. The alumni appeared to be slightly more ethical than the students but not as ethical as the managers surveyed in 1986 by Norris and Gifford. Indications are that the critical point of ethics formation may be at the mid-management level and that internships and management training programs have little effect on the ethical perceptions of participants. These findings are consistent with studies such as Gable and Topol, and Jordan and Davis which showed high Machiavellian scores among young retailing executives, often buyers, as opposed to upper level retailing management. Scales with measure Machiavellianism, or manipulativeness, have been used as an alternative method of examining business ethics.
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DOI 10.1007/BF00381850
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