In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ethics

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Reference Sources
  • Journals
  • History
  • Ethical Decision-Making Model Development and Testing
  • Research Reviews
  • New Developments

Management Ethics
Linda K. Treviño
  • LAST REVIEWED: 20 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 November 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0005


Behavioral ethics in organizations refers to the social scientific study of ethical and unethical decision making and behavior in organizational settings. The field is also sometimes referred to as organizational ethics to highlight the focus on behavior in organizational context. The emphasis on social scientific study differentiates behavioral ethics in organizations from the long-standing philosophical study of ethics more broadly or as it is applied to the business context. The latter focuses on normative questions about what is the “right” thing to do when facing a situation with moral overtones. While acknowledging overlap with these normative questions, behavioral ethics in organizations is concerned with understanding and predicting what people actually think and do in morally charged situations in organizations (rather than prescribing what they should do). Within behavioral ethics in organizations, the types of behavior studied include unethical behavior (defined as behavior that is contrary to accepted moral norms in society, e.g., cheating, lying, stealing), extraordinary ethical behavior that goes above and beyond moral minimums (e.g., charitable giving, whistle-blowing), and more routine ethical behavior that meets minimum moral standards and is not unethical (e.g., honesty). Given some of the challenges inherent in studying unethical behavior, much research has focused on intentions only. But as the field has developed attention has focused more on the study of behavior.


Two types of business ethics textbooks exist. The predominant type is written by a philosopher. It introduces a series of normative ethical decision-making frameworks that have arisen from long-standing philosophical traditions and then gives students practice applying those frameworks to cases. Relatively fewer textbooks exist in the organizational ethics realm, and given the newness of the field, no standard textbook approach has developed. Two prominent organizational ethics texts are Ferrell, et al. 2014 and Treviño and Nelson 2014.

  • Ferrell, O. C., John Fraederich, and Linda Ferrell. Business Ethics: Ethical Decision Making and Cases. 10th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2014.

    This text begins with an overview of the importance and development of business ethics in the context of stakeholder relationships and corporate social responsibility. It then identifies emerging business ethics issues, covers the institutionalization of business ethics in organizations, and explains the ethical decision-making process, including individual and organizational factors. Finally, it focuses on business ethics in a global environment. Multiple cases are offered to help with application of course concepts.

  • Treviño, Linda Klebe, and Katherine A. Nelson. Managing Business Ethics: Straight Talk about How to Do It Right. 6th ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2014.

    This text is based in the theory and research supporting organizational ethics. In addition to a chapter on ethical decision-making frameworks, it includes material on ethical leadership, ethical culture, and the psychology of ethical decision making. The focus is on managers becoming more ethically aware, making better ethical decisions, and guiding others in an ethical direction. It also demonstrates how “prescriptive” decision-making frameworks may not be used in practice because of cognitive biases and other psychological influences on human behavior. It also includes material on corporate social responsibility and global business ethics. Application cases are included.

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