Ethics from Below: Secrecy and the Maintenance of Ethics

Journal of Business Ethics 163 (3):451-466 (2020)
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Abstract

Secrecy and ethics are often seen as opposing forces within organizations. Secret work is viewed as unethical, as it excludes others from knowing and is associated with self-interested behavior. We contend that this view does not account for the dynamic inherent to secrecy and to the fact that ethics is embedded in social relations. This paper suggests an alternative view. We consider secrecy as a social process which allows employees to maintain their ethics when faced with managerial policies that affect the quality of their work. Building on an in-depth case study of a team of journalists who worked in secret after their managers decided to prioritize the interests of shareholders and advertising firms, we show how these journalists managed to maintain collective ethics through secrecy and to do their work according to their own moral principles. This paper offers two primary contributions. First, we show a mutually beneficial relationship between ethics and secrecy in organizations, wherein secrecy helps maintaining ethics in everyday work. Second, the paper shows how secrecy can lead to ethical resistance, via a transformation of the power relationship with managers.

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References found in this work

Moral mazes: the world of corporate managers.Robert Jackall - 1988 - New York: Oxford University Press.
Whistleblowing and employee loyalty.Robert A. Larmer - 1992 - Journal of Business Ethics 11 (2):125 - 128.
Logics of Political Secrecy.Eva Horn - 2011 - Theory, Culture and Society 28 (7-8):103-122.

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