Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Do the Right Thing! Exploring Ethical Decision-Making in Financial Institutions
by Fichter, Rachel Danielle, Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University, 2017, 244; 10276976
Abstract (Summary)

The purpose of this study on employee ethical decision-making (EDM) in financial institutions was to explore how bankers experience tension between a firm’s formal ethical standards and those that are actually practiced, as they make decisions about issues that arise in their daily work. Interviews with 13 bankers explored three main questions: (a) how they approach challenging business decisions that have ethical implications; (b) what factors they take into consideration as part of the decision-making process, especially where existing laws and guidelines are inadequate; and (c) what learning processes they engage in that underpin their decision making.

This qualitative inquiry utilized a single-case study method with a common rationale to provide insights into the ethical decision making across the financial industry. Three data collection methods were used: (a) a pre-interview questionnaire, (b) in-depth interviews using a critical incident technique, and (c) a review of publicly available industry documents. Four key findings emerged: 1. Bankers experienced significant tension between the espoused theories and theories-in-use of their organizations. 2. The majority of bankers endeavored to preserve their integrity and find meaning in their careers while accepting the tensions they experienced and even defending the industry. 3. Six factors impacted informal and incidental learning processes utilized by bankers for ethical decision making 4. All bankers engaged in at least one of three levels of reflection as part of their decision-making process.

Deeper insights into the data were revealed through a cross-interview analysis, and three analytical categories were used to further synthesize and interpret the data: (a) lack of fit between individual and organization priorities; (b) time horizon as a determinant of ethical decision making; and (c) individual, organizational, and environmental forces impacting learning.

Five conclusions were drawn from the descriptive findings and the analysis: 1. EDM in financial institutions is a complex social process. 2. Organizational strategies designed to help EDM actually prevent it. 3. Speaking up is hindered by the desire to preserve integrity. 4. Informal learning is important for EDM, but insufficient. 5. HR must have a voice as employee advocate.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Yorks, Lyle, Gondek, Adela
Commitee: Marsick, Victoria, Rebell, Michael
School: Teachers College, Columbia University
Department: Organization and Leadership
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Ethics, Finance, Adult education
Keywords: Adult learning, Ethical decision making, Informal learning, Organization theory, Organizational culture, Transformative learning
Publication Number: 10276976
ISBN: 9781369794649
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