The Role of the Different Types of Ethical Issues Recognised by Frontline Employees on Their Ethical Strategies

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Embargoed until 2023-05-26
Copyright: Paramita, Widya
Ethical issues commonly occur within the frontline job context. Failure to handle ethical issues properly may incur damage to company reputation, making the management of frontline employees’ (FLEs) ethical strategies critical. Current literature suggests that ethical strategy is influenced by recognition of ethical issues, a subjective interpretive process that leads individuals to recognise distinct types of ethical issues. Unexpectedly, the existing theoretical frameworks do not account for variations in individuals' recognition of ethical issue types. The absence of such a theoretical framework has precluded previous studies investigating the implications of different ethical issue types on individual ethical decision-making. Building upon social cognition theory and the everyday problem-solving framework, this thesis proposes a theoretical framework that considers individual variations in ethical issue recognition and validates it across four sequential studies using Australian retail FLEs as the sample. Studies 1 and 2 employ a qualitative approach to explore the types of ethical issues being recognised by FLEs (Study 1) and FLEs’ ethical strategy types (Study 2). Studies 1 and 2 produce a taxonomy of ethical issues and a taxonomy of FLE ethical strategies, respectively. Study 3 uses a quantitative survey method to examine the implications of the different ethical issue types recognised by FLEs for ethical strategy, individual (i.e., customer-orientation, ethical ideology, organisational identification and moral identity) and contextual (i.e., ethical work climate, formal ethics system, and supervisor’s ethical leadership) factors, as well as FLE-perceived company reputation. The findings of Study 3 show that each type of ethical issue recognised by FLEs leads to different FLE ethical strategy types. In addition, each ethical issue type is related to different individual and contextual factors. Study 3 also reveals that FLEs’ ethical strategy types do not influence FLE-perceived company reputation. In contrast, using an experimental design, Study 4 demonstrates that FLEs’ ethical strategy types do affect consumer-perceived company reputation. Theoretically, this thesis contributes by establishing a framework accounting for the distinct types of ethical issues recognised by FLEs and the implications for their ethical decision-making process. From a practical perspective, this thesis provides guidelines for companies to manage FLEs’ ethical strategies so as to improve company reputation.
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Paramita, Widya
Ngo, Liem
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty
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