Journal of Business Ethics 137 (2):315-320 (2016)

Transparency is important in today’s business environment. The use of euphemisms decreases transparency yet is increasing in business and business education. This study examines the effects of euphemism on people’s attitudes toward actions and their intentions to perform those actions. It also measures the effect of oversight on attitudes and behavioral intentions. Using a 2 × 2 experimental design, we measured participants’ attitudes by employing a semantic differential scale and behavioral intentions by using a simple yes/no question regarding the action described. A questionnaire with 20 brief scenarios provided the euphemistic versus non-euphemistic condition. Oversight versus non-oversight conditions were manipulated through instructions to participants. Hypotheses regarding the effects of euphemism were supported; participants were both more likely to rate an action as appropriate and to indicate they would take that action when stated euphemistically. Oversight did not have a significant effect on attitude toward the action, but did significantly affect participants’ intentions to take that action. Findings suggest both managerial and ethical implications for businesses. Greater transparency includes more straight talk and less euphemism and is recommended to ensure employees’ understanding and implementation of ethical business actions.
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DOI 10.1007/s10551-014-2501-4
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