The Social and Organizational Psychology of Compliance: How Organizational Culture Impacts on (Un)ethical Behavior

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In psychological theory and research, compliance is generally seen as the most superficial and weakest form of behavioral adaptation. The current contribution examines how the social context of work – the organizational culture – can be organized to stimulate ethical business conduct. By reviewing social psychological theory and research, we illustrate how an ethical culture can be developed and maintained through ethical leadership and by mainstreaming ethics into existing business models. This is markedly different from more common legal approaches. It requires that a commitment to ethical business conduct is visible from the tone at the top, that organizational leaders “walk the talk” on the work floor, and that this matches the implicit messages that organizational members receive on a day-to-day basis about what really matters and what should be prioritized. Attempts to increase rule compliance are bound to fail when organizational incentives and rewards focus on individual bottom-line achievement regardless of how this is done. Empirical evidence supports the claim that organizational culture is an important factor in stimulating ethical conduct. By creating an ethical culture, organizations develop an “ethical mindset” in organizational members, which helps them not only to understand and internalize existing guidelines in their current work but also to apply the “spirit” of these guidelines to new dilemmas and emerging situations. This makes investing in an ethical culture a sustainable business solution.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Handbook of Compliance
EditorsBenjamin van Rooij, D. Daniel Sokol
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 7 May 2021

Publication series

NameThe Cambridge Handbook of Compliance


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