[What does organizational ethics mean to you,or how would you describe it to your students?]
STEVE MAY: When I talk to my studentsabout organizational ethics, I talk to them about the factthat ethics matters.That ethics really counts.In many of our textbooks, organizational ethicshas really been relegated to the last chapter of the textbooks.And so my goal in some respects in talkingto students about ethics is consideringthe ways in which we could createboth humane and productive workplaces simultaneously.
STEVE MAY [continued]: I talk to them for example about the importanceof ethical agility.Being fast, responsive, strong in termsof facing ethical dilemma that theymay confront in the workplace.That involves several different dimensions.That's ethical awareness, ethical judgment,ethical action.In my own research, I've identified the factthat upwards of 85% of employees recognize an ethical dilemmawhen they see one, but fewer than 30% of those employeesactually act on them.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so part of my goal with the studentsis to talk to them about how that process worksand how they can confront those kinds of ethical dilemmas.[Why is Organizational Ethics an important issue for companiesto address?]I believe that organizational ethics has an impactboth inside the organization and outside the organization.So we know, for example, that organizational ethics impactsthe recruitment, development, retention,and overall job satisfaction of employees on the job.
STEVE MAY [continued]: A little known fact is that approximately 25% of employeeswill actually leave their company basedupon organizational ethics.Such an important consideration, particularlyfor undergraduate students in termsof thinking about the kind of employerthey may want to work for in the degree of integritythat it may have.There are also certainly many examplesin our society about organizational misconductand the impact it has on communities,citizens in general.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So I think that becomes an important considerationfor students learning about organizational ethics as well.Our recent economic downturn in 2007- 2008, for example,was really originally consider to be a set of bad businessdecisions, but ultimately we learnthat it was an example of unethical behavior,as well as illegal behavior, on the partof the financial institutions in some respects.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So students need to be thinking about the kindsof ethical dilemmas that they may face in the workplace,as well as they move up the so-called organizational ladderthose ethical dilemmas will become more pronounced.I talk to my students about some of the challenging right-rightdilemmas where they're competing goods are values.For example, between telling truthand being loyal to the company or individuals showingjustice versus mercy.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so I think the importance of recognizing those gray areas,those tensions that you may experience in an organizationbecomes very important.Not just in terms of navigating your career,but also in terms of overall job satisfaction.We know that ethical issues in the workplacecreate stress, anxiety, and even health response in some cases.[Why is Organizational Ethics an important or relevant areaof study for today's students?]One of the things that we see as well,is that in addition to ethical dilemmas in the workplaceconsumers are increasingly thinkingabout their ethical choices.
STEVE MAY [continued]: What kinds of employers do they want to work for?But also what kinds of products and servicesdo they want to choose?And how do they make decisions basedupon the integrity of the ethics of that organization?This something that we're seeing increasinglyin the consumer marketplace in terms of decision makingand choices.[What are some of the biggest contributions that researchin Organizational Ethics has made for society?]I think right now one of the most interesting impactsin terms of ethics research is in that areaof corporate social responsibility.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Really looking at the ways in which corporationshave both positive and negative impactsupon not just their employees, but also communitiesas a whole.So one of the interesting lines of research rightnow is around corporate social responsibility.What are the challenges and opportunitiesof corporations to try and addresssignificant social, political, economic, health,technical issues in our society?
STEVE MAY [continued]: But again, as I mentioned before,I think the focus on ethical dilemmas,trying to understand the nature of those ethical dilemmas,and also learning through our researchhow employees can actually navigate that.What are the opportunities that theyhave to address and ultimately affect change in organizationswhen these dilemmas arise.[What is Corporate Social Responsibility,and how does it directly relate to Organizational Ethics?]When we think about corporate social responsibilityit's a subset within organizational ethics.
STEVE MAY [continued]: It's a specific set of practices thathas been around for the last 50 years,but has become an even more pronounced in the last decadeor so.So corporate social responsibilitygoes beyond legal compliance.So minimum expectations in terms of followingthe law, but increasingly we havecorporations who are engaged in a whole varietyof other endeavors.That may be philanthropy.
STEVE MAY [continued]: That may be volunteers and programs for employees,cause related marketing as well as community based initiativesto help communities with economic, social, political ,health problems, whatever the case may be.[What first inspired you to research the areaof Organizational Ethics?]So when I was an undergraduate student one as my facultymembers Cynthia Stahl, an organizational communicationcourse, give me a book by Studs Terkel, Working.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And it represented a whole range of different issueswithin the workplace, and it was really engagingand intriguing to me.And a couple at that particular time-- thisis in the late '70s when I was about to graduate from college,we are in an economic downturn.I saw a lot of people who were losing their jobs.Just in an everyday conversationswith family members, and friends,and colleagues who were graduating,it seem that work was a challengingdimension of their lives in some respects.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Not just in terms of the hourly commitment,but also some the ethical challenges that theywere facing in the workplace.A lot of conversations about difficultiesat work and challenges at work and so over timeit became a consideration of mind.Why is it that we focus on the productivity of workplaces,but really don't focus on the humanity of it.Why can't we have organizations that are responsible and aregood places to work?
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so that became a consideration for me.In the 1980s, there was a penchant towards downsizing.So companies found a very profitable to cut employees.Even though it wasn't the employee's fault,but rather was perhaps sometimes managerial decision makingthat were at fault.And so that was also an influenceas well in terms of thinking about how is itthat we do this thing called work and how canwe do it in a way that's responsible and responsivesimultaneously.
STEVE MAY [continued]: [What key thinkers/researc hers/practiitioners have mostinspired you, and who continues to influence you?]So a French philosopher Michel Foucaulthas been a significant influence of mine.He's not in the area of organizational communication,but he looks at questions of power, identity, discourse.And so for me part of what he has--a part of the way that his influence mehas been around looking at both micro and macro formsof communication.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So on the one hand, I look at the internal dynamicsof organizational ethics and how it impacts employees,but on the other hand I'm very interested in the global sortof cultural and societal dimension of howwe frame and think about corporate socialresponsibility.Because ultimately the question there in some waysis, how is it that we function as businesses within society.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so he's been influential for mein terms of broader questions of ethicsand corporate social responsibility.[What are the key debates or research questionsin Organizational Ethics?]I think there are at least three debates that are occurringaround organizational ethics.One is the tension between ethics and performance.Historically, there's been an argumentthat ethics in the bottom line are incompatible,but we're beginning to see lots of data and useful informationon our research that companies with integrity long termactually are quite successful.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Another key debate is the level of analysis.People tend to think of organizational ethics in termsof individual decision making or morality.And I look at that in my courses and in my research,but there's also an organizational levelof analysis.The question there becomes how is itthat good people do bad things in organizations.So there are sometimes factors or predictorseven an organization such can give usa sense of what might dictate people's decision makingin an organization.
STEVE MAY [continued]: What kinds of incentives, for example,are there that would enable peopleto engage in ethical or unethical behavior.And then also looking at the societal level.How is it that we think about ethics?How do we talk about it?How do we develop rules and guidelinesaround that at a broader societal level?And then also there's an internal versus external focusin the research.Those debates are should we be lookingat the impact the organizations have broadly in our societyor should we be looking at the impact of organizationshave for employees.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Historically, organizational communicationhas focused on the internal so-called containerof the organization and many of usnow are looking at the broader cultural dimensions of businesspractices on society as a whole.[How does culture influence Organizational Ethics?]Yes, organizational ethics can certainlydiffer across cultures.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so I teach a global MBA class,for example, that addresses this is very specifically.And so one of the questions that businesspeoplehave to ask themselves is will theyengage in cultural relativism?That is we will focus upon the specific norms and practicesof that particular nation or that community,or will we focus on cultural universalismthat there will be an assumption that there are some standardsfoundationally that cut across.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And UN Global Compact has began to lookat that foundational approach identifyingsome specific norms that we would sayare common internationally.But certainly, for example, it isnormative practices for bribery, and gift giving,and some other countries.And so one of the challenges todaywith our multinational corporations is, how is itthat employees navigate some of those cultural differences.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And it's a significant issue right nowin terms of organizational ethics.[What are some practical benefits of studyingOrganizational Ethics for a student's future academicor professional career?]So I think one of the things that'sa practical benefit in terms of organizational ethicsfor students is just understandingsome of the ethical perspective that they draw upon.Not just in organizations in the workplace,specifically, but generally in their lives.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So we talk about different ethical perspectivesof duty, rights, utility, virtue, relationshipsthat really have an impact upon their everyday decision making.And so when students begin to understandthe ethical perspectives that they draw uponthey also began to recognize those of others.What the basic assumptions of logic'sthat other people are using in terms of making decisions?I think this helps particularly in termsof conflict resolution, negotiating differencesthat may occur in the workplace, but also generallywithin their personal lives as well.
STEVE MAY [continued]: I think it's also relevant in terms of understandingethical dilemmas.Not just responding to ethical dilemmas in the workplace,but also being able to anticipate those.So being proactive and recognizingas I was alluding to earlier that thereare certain organizational conditions that will eitherenable or constrain ethical behavior.So what are the conditions that are present?Can I anticipate and be proactive about the kindsof situations around me?
STEVE MAY [continued]: [How has technology influenced Organizational Ethics?What improvements has technology caused?What challenges has it caused?]I think new technologies have created both opportunitiesand challenges.First on the challenge side, I thinkin some respects our laws as well as our ethical.Thinking is not necessarily kept pace with new technologies,particularly when you think about opportunitiesfor surveillance, big data gathering, so on and so forth.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Health technological advancements,I think we're struggling right now to understand how is itthat we deal with technological advancement.At the same time in terms of organizational ethicswe see that organizations can develop, for example,anonymous hotlines in which employees control come forwardand raise questions.Social media has provided all kinds of opportunitiesfor employees to speak fairly candidly about their workplaceand communicate that more broadly to public's.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so I think that holds businessesaccountable in a different kind of way.So they're both challenges and opportunities,I think, in terms of new technologies right now.[If a student could read one book or journal article in thisfield to inspire/motivate them what would it be and why?]I think one of the books that I would recommend to my studentsis The Ecology of Commerce by Paul Hawkenand it's not necessarily in organizational communicationmy sub-area of the discipline.
STEVE MAY [continued]: I think it's particularly relevant in termsof questions of sustainability.And so Hawken raises a variety ofdifferent interesting questions about the current stateof our economy.Some of the basic assumptions about howwe set price and cost in our society in terms of economicsand also points a way forward in termsof reconciling some of the environmental issuesthat we have as well as creating profitable economic companiesas well.
STEVE MAY [continued]: [What would you identify as the key challenges of a coursein Organizational Ethics for a student,and what strategies would you advise them to counter thosechallenges?]In my course one of the key challenges for studentsI think is self-reflectivity.Again, I use a case study approachin my organizational ethics course.And so we talk about a whole varietyof different ethical dilemmas that companies and employeeshave faced, oftentimes, around misconduct.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so it's very easy for studentsto moralize and focus upon their own ethical perspective,but in an a course around organizational ethicsyou really have to take into accountnot just your own ethical perspective but that of others.And recognizing that there are some ethical differences thereand negotiate those, talk those through, have a sense of those.And so I think avoiding moralizingabout one's own position as preferredbecomes a key challenge in terms of organizational ethics.
STEVE MAY [continued]: [How do you approach the topic of Organizational Ethicsas a teacher?]Over the course I focus on organizational ethicsat three different levels and so we focuson the individual level first.And we talk about these different ethical perspectives,getting a sense of our own orientations,our own tendencies in terms of decision making and action.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And that becomes the primary starting pointfor organizational ethics.And then we transition to lookingat the organizational dynamics, identifying practiceswithin organizations that either unable or constrainedethical behavior.And those are things like dialogic communication,transparency, accountability, ethical courage.And then finally, we move to the societal leveland look at the role of businesses more generally.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And the kinds of positive or negativeimpacts if they may have upon the general publicand communities at large.[How important is research methodology and methodsfor a rigorous analysis of Organizational Ethics?]So research methodology in terms of organizational ethics,I think is important, but perhapsin a little bit different way than other realms of research.Because it's such a sensitive topic,it's very important to take into considerationthe political dynamics that are present within an organization.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So they're not a lot of organizations out therewho are necessarily comfortable with scholarslike myself talking to them about organizational ethics.They are there, but they're not necessarily common.So one of the key considerations in termsof research methodologies is thinking about access.How do we gain access?How do we protect in particular the subjectswe may be studying?This becomes particularly important.Such that employees will feel comfortableraising issues and concerns.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So my ability to keep their information confidential.But yet communicate that to executives in an organizationbecomes absolutely critical in many respects.So access and protection of employees really in termsof methodology for organizational ethicsare the two key considerations.[What new research directions do you find most exciting?]So I think in this sub-area of organizational ethics,corporate social responsibility is one of the hot emergingtopics in many respects.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And here scholars are rethinking the role of businessand business people are doing that as well.What responsibilities do we have to broader public's?What responsibility do we have to our media Community,a whole range of different stakeholders?So I think the opportunities and challengesaround corporate social responsibilityare particularly interesting at the moment.One of the areas that I'm interested in that I thinkit's going to be continuing to emergeis around public private partnerships.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So we have a lot of corporations whoare providing finances, variety of different resourcesto community issues.And the question becomes how is itthat you negotiate some of those relationshipsbetween large corporations and NGOs,or small nonprofit organizations and communities.Can we find good collaborative ways for those partnersto facilitate conversations and decisions thatultimately are in the best interests of communities.
STEVE MAY [continued]: [What is an example of a case study that showcasesthe practice of Organizational Ethics?]Yeah.One of their projects that I worked withwas a national health insurance companyand they had some concerns about lack of complianceamong their lower level employees.So when I go into an organization,oftentimes, I'll start with an anonymous surveyto ask a range of questions about their own personalvalues.
STEVE MAY [continued]: What they perceive to be as organizational values,but also some of the organizational conditions.Again, around communication transparency, accountability,ethical courage, participation, and decision making,and also follow up with interviewsand focus group discussions as well.One of things that I found in that particular caseis that over the last six months nearly 25%of lower level employees had seensome form of illegal behavior.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Not just an ethical behavior, but illegal behavior.And this was something that the executive team was notaware of.And in fact, denied that this was happening in some respects.One of the questions there is if so many employees at the lowerlevel of organization know that illegal behavior is occurring,why is it that they wouldn't necessarily come forward?
STEVE MAY [continued]: So again to learn that over a period of timethere was a tremendous fear of repercussionsin terms of raising issues.And this becomes a very important considerationin terms of organizational ethics.How is it that we can get employees to feel safein terms of raising issues and concerns about ethics thatare really sometimes putting their companiesor themselves in jeopardy.[Where would you like to take your own researchin the future?]In terms of my own research, I'm working at two different levelsof analysis.
STEVE MAY [continued]: One is on this internal dimensionand one is on the so-called external dimension.So within the inside of organizations,I'm really trying to understand further the very natureof ethical dilemmas.What are some the tensions and conflicts that employeesfeel within organizations.These would revolve around right-right dilemmas of truthversus loyalty, the tension between justice versus mercy,individual versus the organization.
STEVE MAY [continued]: or short term versus long term considerations.And so these become kind of key features.One of things that I've learned that's interestingis that the most common dilemma among employeesby far is truth versus loyalty.And when given a choice between telling the truth thatis being candid and remaining loyal to a co-worker,or a boss, or to the organization as a whole byand large about 90% of employees choose to remain loyal.
STEVE MAY [continued]: So I'm looking at this question of loyalty in organizationsthat I think it's really at the heart of a lot of our scandalsin businesses today.That is in fact we have too much loyalty in our organizations.We need much more candor and opportunities for employeesto voice concerns and opinions.On the external side, I'm lookingat the broader role of companies in termsof corporate social responsibility.
STEVE MAY [continued]: Trying to understand how again companiescan collaborate with NGOs and other nonprofit organizationsto address community issues.And there the perspective is not so much on the business,but more so on the community.How is it that we can have community members,key stakeholders involved in those discussionsto drive the agendas of corporations.And maybe not just exclusively focusupon how this might be a marketing opportunity or a PRopportunity for the business.
STEVE MAY [continued]: But really focus on legitimate needs within our communitiesand see what resources, and skills, and capacitiesthat business people have to offerto help solve those problems.[Where do you see the field of Organizational Ethics goingover the next five years?]I would like to see the critical traditionwithin organizational communicationpick up these kinds of questions.
STEVE MAY [continued]: The critical perspective has tendedto look at some of the broad cultural issues.But power dynamics in resistance within the workplace I thinkis an important consideration in terms of organizational ethics.So I'd like to see and I think this will happen,we'll see a merger between critical traditionsand some of the more narrow foci on organizational ethics.I think there are opportunities alsoincreasingly in today's world, especially in the United Statesand internationally, to look at economic divides.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so I think questions of economic justice,divisions between the rich and the poor,and the implications that has for us in terms of politics,and social dimensions, so on and so forth,I think will be an important consideration moving forward.I also think there will be a greaterfocus upon a range of different industriesthat have perhaps inherently ethical challenges themselves.
STEVE MAY [continued]: And so the health care industry, for example,I think we'll see more research on how do webalance making a profit and providingquality care for patients.When we think about the energy industry how again do webalance making a profit and sustaining the environment.In the media industry, how do we balanceproviding objective news for the citizenry at the same timethat we remain viable as a company.
STEVE MAY [continued]: I think these are three industries thatare really interesting and intriguing opportunitiesfor research right now.