The Extended Moral Backbone: An Embeddedness View of Moral Voice Intentions

Hess, Megan Flohr, Department of Business Administration, University of Virginia
Freeman, R. Edward, Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia
Harris, Jared, Darden Graduate School of Business, University of Virginia

In this dissertation, I examine how relationships and social structures influence the willingness to speak out about ethical issues in the workplace (moral voice intentions). I propose that moral voice intentions are shaped by not only individual and organizational factors, as is suggested by extant ethical decision making models, but also by the specific relational context within which these issues are addressed. By leveraging an embeddedness perspective to understand the different structural, affective, and cognitive influences on moral voice intentions, this dissertation makes two important contributions. First, it explores the social complexities of moral voice expression by highlighting the needs of multiple stakeholders (speaker, victim, wrongdoer, organization) across different points in time. Not only does this complexity help us to understand when and why employees hesitate to speak up about ethical matters, but it also suggests an approach for encouraging effective moral voice expression. By applying moral imagination to the situation and crafting voice strategies that address the needs of all of these various stakeholders, employees may be able to fulfill their organizational duties and preserve their social capital. This research also highlights the social challenges of peer reporting, a form of moral voice expression of particular interest for compliance practitioners, by showing how affect-based relationships empower a person's general sense of confidence about handling ethical matters, but also constrain specific actions, such as peer reporting, that might threaten these same emotional bonds. Taken together, this research suggests that moral voice intentions may be understood metaphorically as an extended moral backbone to acknowledge the ways that relationships and social structures influence a person's sense of moral efficacy and choice.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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