Ethical decision making in small commercial firms: An investigation of ethical maturity

by Green, Joseph G., Iii, Ph.D., CAPELLA UNIVERSITY, 2012, 207 pages; 3547129


Little ethics research has focused on the small businesses (Carr, 2003; Lahdesmaki, 2005) which most people interact with daily. However, this study focused on the small business contractors who are directly exposed to their customers, specifically, plumbers, carpenters, home builders, electricians, HVAC contractors, landscapers, painters, and handymen. The purpose of this study was to investigate how the individual factors influencing the ethical decision making of these small business personnel may explain the relationship between moral reasoning with age, educational level, gender, ethics training, whether the company has an ethics code of conduct, level of participation in religious activities, union membership, and company position. The survey instrument used was the Defining Issues Test 2 based on Kohlberg's theory of cognitive moral development. The analysis found no difference in moral reasoning levels based on age, education level, ethics training, and union membership while the results were inconclusive based on gender, whether the company has an ethics code of conduct, level of participation in religious activities, and company position. The results show that every demographic group in the study reflect respondents who are in Kohlberg's Stages 2 and 3 of moral reasoning. In other words, not one segment of this group reflected a higher level of moral reasoning than would adults in other career fields. Stages 2 and 3 are the lowest levels of moral reasoning. It would be natural to have a mixture of stages of development for adults in any group but the entire population reflected in this study demonstrates moral reasoning lower than the average seen in thousands of previous studies. The fact that none of these contractor personnel reflected higher moral reasoning levels implies that the contractor group studied here can be expected to operate at a lower level of moral reasoning. The interest in studying the nature of ethical behavior and decision making of this group stems from common bias that these personnel tend to be unethical. The research in part supports this view, though this does not mean that these contractors are unethical, it only means that their level of moral reasoning is lower than other groups.

AdviserJohn Whitlock
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsEthics; Management
Publication Number3547129

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