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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


BISSCHOFF, Christo. A longitudinal view of the attitudes on business ethics of South African managers: Trends from 2007 to 2016. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2018, vol.58, n.3, pp.530-547. ISSN 2224-7912.

This study aimed to identify trends in ethical attitudes of managers in South Africa from 2007 up to 2016. The literature basis of the study deals with defining business ethics in South Africa from the recent past up to 2017, investigates the contentious issue of using student groups as populations, and then also particularly ascertained the suitability of experienced part-time managers in training (or retraining) as a population for business studies. Here, sufficient evidence cleared population for a focused study such as this. The empirical study then proceeded to employ all managers who crossed paths with a South African business school through the years, i.e. part-time MBA students and managers entering into advanced executive education. In total, 1 929 managers partook in the longitudinal study where they had to evaluate the behaviour described in a set of 12 business ethical scenarios. Their attitudes towards the ethical business scenarios were annually recorded on a balanced six-point scale. The data showed high reliability with a Cronbach alpha coefficient of 0.873. The validated questionnaire developed by Fullerton in 1993 was adapted and used to fit South African conditions. This questionnaire is widely used and has collected business ethics data successfully in more than nine countries across six continents. Data were captured and analysed professionally by the North West University's Statistical Consultation Services. In general, the trend analyses on the scenarios indicate that, in 2007,11 of the 12 scenarios displayed unacceptable ethical attitudes by the managers. Then, up to 2011/12, ten of these scenarios displayed similar, or even worse, managerial ethical attitudes. Since then, the trends show a steep improvement in the ethical attitudes of the managers in nine of the original unacceptable attitude scenarios. The scenario notfitting the trend of the other nine deals with obtaining a benefit from loopholes in a system. This scenario was deemed as strongly unacceptable behaviour in 2007; however, up to 2016, it has steadily deteriorated up to a point where managers believe that to benefit from loopholes in the system is only marginally unacceptable. More specific scrutiny of this analysis is required for the categorisation of the results. Here, the results were categorised into three categories. : 1) Unacceptable in 2007, but acceptable in 2016; 2) Acceptable in 2007 and remained so in 2016; 3) Unacceptable in 2007 and remained unacceptable in 2016. A total of nine scenarios were characterised belonging to the first category. All of these scenarios improved and they all show similar trends (as indicated in the general discussion of results) of improvement after 2011/12. Regarding the second category, two scenarios indicated acceptable ethical attitudes by managers back in 2007, and they remained so. They deal with "repeated visits to a dealer to capitalise on restricted bargains", and "using a dealer to get product information and then buy it online". It is also evident that the trends are steadily increasing towards acceptable behaviour. This means the attitudes of the managers at present towards these scenarios are pointing towards acceptance of such actions, and consequently more towards unethical business practices. Although limited to two scenarios only, and despite their being categorised as unethical practices, these trends are worrisome. The final category is represented by only one scenario. This is where unacceptable ethical attitudes were recorded in 2007, and it is still unacceptable in 2016. Here, the results show that the practice of buying incorrectly priced goods was, and still is, deemed acceptable (thereby indicating an unethical attitude). It was deemed marginally acceptable to take advantage of a dealer's mispriced goods in 2007, but then ethical attitudes seriously declined up to 2014 when it became very acceptable to do so. It is encouraging to see that since 2014 the attitudes pertaining to this scenario improved, where this behaviour is once again marginally acceptable. The value of the longitudinal study resides in attitude being a strong behavioural driver. This means that ethical business behaviour can be positively influenced if attitudes are showing an inclination towards ethical business practices. Here, the measurement of attitudes is important to provide a barometer of the business ethical atmosphere of South African managers; this could be useful in ethical business behaviour alteration.

Keywords : attitude; ethics; business; managers; unethical; trend; scenarios.

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