Formal and Informal Benevolence in a Profit-Oriented Context

Journal of Business Ethics 165 (1):125-143 (2020)
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Abstract

Faced with the disenchantment and disengagement expressed by their employees, business leaders are considering ways of incorporating more benevolence into managerial practices. Nevertheless, ‘benevolence’—care and concern for the well-being of others—has not yet been studied in an organizational profit-focused context. In this paper, we seek to investigate the emergence and practice of benevolence with an eye on profit and performance. We begin by investigating the main ethical approaches to benevolence—virtue ethical, utilitarian, and deontological. Then, based on an empirical study, we identify two distinct types of benevolence. On the one hand, formal benevolence is defined and monitored by the organizational processes and actions of leaders; it is understood by all concerned to be bounded by organizational performance. On the other hand, informal benevolence exists at the margin of these processes, in interpersonal and discretionary relationships. We set out to analyze these two types of benevolence and the complementarity between them. We also discuss to what extent they can be managed, teasing out some implications for managers and some potential avenues for further research.

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