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Traits That Predict Ethical Behavior Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Traits That Predict Ethical Behavior

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


Trust and openness are crucial elements of an ethical organi­zat­ional culture. Only when employees are able to voice the problems they see can ethical lapses be discussed and resolved. A first step in building this kind of culture involves a hiring approach in which companies actively seek those indivi­duals inclined to speak up when ethical challenges surface. Based on findings from the behavioral sciences, some individual dispos­itions deserve every screening commit­tee’s attention.

1. Consci­ent­iou­sness

Indivi­duals showing this trait are careful, reflec­tive, and reliable, which means that they tend to be respon­sible organi­zat­ional citizens. Research shows that consci­ent­iou­sness is indeed positively associated with higher levels of moral reasoning, leading people high in this trait to display less antiso­cial, unethical, and even criminal behavior.

2. Moral attent­iveness

This describes the extent to which indivi­duals are aware of the various ethical dilemmas at hand. A morally attentive person will see ethical issues where others may see none. It may sound a bit obvious to say, but being aware of the ethical dilemmas at hand are a prereq­uisite to start talking about it.

Building an ethical culture not only requires that people be aware of ethical challe­nges, but also that they have the intention to take them seriously. Two types of orient­ations can influence this in partic­ular:
Duty orient­ation
Customer orient­ation

3. Duty orient­ation

Indivi­duals with a strong sense of duty tend to be loyal and missio­n-o­rie­nted, and motivated to take action on what they perceive as a problem. Research has shown that a high sense of duty orient­ation leads employees to voice their concerns more quickly.

4. Customer orient­ation

Employees who are strongly motivated to prioritize the needs of customers also tend to adopt more ethical attitudes in the experience and execution of their job. Customer oriented employees tend to be more ethical because they value the others’ needs as highly as their own and create fewer conflicts of interest in their relati­onships with others. As a result, they are more likely to notice and willing to address challenges that violate ethical rules and expect­ations. Research shows that exactly those serving qualities make that customer oriented sales agents engage in less unethical behavior than their sales-­ori­ented counte­rparts.

Finally, in addition to noticing ethical issues and being motivated to address them, employees need to act. In this respect, two person­ality types are especially important:

5. Assert­iveness

Although assertive indivi­duals can sometimes be regarded as grating, the trait of assert­iveness is essential in building ethical cultures. In any group, the pressure to conform is high. As a result, the default is often not to question decisions – much less ethically questi­onable ones. Assertive indivi­duals are the ones who can prevent such groupthink by standing up to the pressures of conformity even (or especi­ally) when doing so carries risk.

6. Proact­ivity

Indivi­duals with a proactive person­ality feel less constr­ained by situat­ional forces. When it comes to ethical issues, this tendency helps them be more active in keeping a moral course. Research has shown that employees with a proactive person­ality engage more often and more quickly in acts of whistl­e-b­lowing. Other research has found this to be even more likely in cases where the companies’ stated ethical values conflict with what’s happening. In other words, when companies are serious in stressing the importance of an ethical culture, those employees with a proactive person­ality will be extremely useful in voicing any initial ethical failures or threats to the companies’ integrity.