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Ethical Leaders: Trust, Work-Life Balance, and Treating Individuals as Unique

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This study examined the ethical behaviors of leaders and managers in organizations. Specifically, we explored the frequency with which employees perceive their managers to be ethical, as well as managerial traits that influenced employees' perceptions. Respondents were asked to specify how frequently their managers exhibited ethical behaviors. We found that managers are not perceived as being routinely ethical. Interestingly, we found that trust, work-life balance, and treating individuals as unique positively influenced employee perceptions of their manager's ethical behavior. The interrelationship between work-life balance and treating individuals as unique emerged as an unexpected finding which is new in the literature.
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Ethical Leaders: Trust, Work-Life Balance, and Treating
Individuals as Unique
Tammy Cowart
The University of Texas at Tyler
Ann Gilley
The University of Texas at Tyler
Sherry Avery
The University of Texas at Tyler
Afton Barber
The University of Texas at Tyler
Jerry W. Gilley
The University of Texas at Tyler
This study examined the ethical behaviors of leaders and managers in organizations. Specifically, we
explored the frequency with which employees perceive their managers to be ethical, as well as
managerial traits that influenced employees’ perceptions. Respondents were asked to specify how
frequently their managers exhibited ethical behaviors. We found that managers are not perceived as
being routinely ethical. Interestingly, we found that trust, work-life balance, and treating individuals as
unique positively influenced employee perceptions of their manager’s ethical behavior. The inter-
relationship between work-life balance and treating individuals as unique emerged as an unexpected
finding which is new in the literature.
HUMAN SUBJECTS
All human studies have been approved by the appropriate ethics committee and have therefore been
performed in accordance with the ethical standards laid down in the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki.
Furthermore, all persons participating in the study gave their informed consent prior to their inclusion in
the study.
INTRODUCTION
The Ethics Resource Center reports that two major drivers of ethical culture are senior executives and
supervisors (NBES, 2011). According to the Ethics Resource Center’s 2011 National Business Ethics
70 Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014
Survey, employee perceptions of both groups has declined, with one third of employees reporting that
their managers do not display ethical behavior, the highest percentage ever reported. In addition,
confidence in senior leadership was at a historic low.
Schein (1985, p.2) stated that the “only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and
manage culture.” Prior research demonstrates that leaders influence company culture by focusing the
organization’s way of thinking and taking action (Gilley et al., 2008). However, when leaders and
managers also employ an ethical focus, the result can improve the overall long-term performance of the
company (Caldwell, et al., 2008; Longenecker, 1985).
What characteristics influence employee perceptions of ethics in their leaders and managers?
Guidance concerning specific characteristics that influence employee perceptions of ethics would prove
useful for both companies and their managers. However, the challenge here is that ethics is inherently
personal in nature. One’s ethical lens develops through family, education, relationships, and life
experiences, leading to different standards and approaches to ethics (Gilley et al., 2008). Despite these
differences and complexities, it is important for companies to develop programs that encourage leaders
and managers to act ethically.
This study explores leadership and management practices that influence employees’ perceptions that
their managers are ethical. Respondents were asked to specify, in their opinion, how frequently firm
managers were considered ethical. The three items that measured positive management behaviors
included trust, promoting work-life balance, and treating employees as unique individuals. The three
items that measured negative behaviors included creating a hostile work environment, lack of
management skills, and promoting ineffective managers. Results and implications are discussed below.
LITERATURE REVIEW
Leaders are challenged more than ever to think and plan strategically, act decisively, enhance
performance, work collaboratively, focus on customers, and develop the organization and its people
(Holt, 2011). Leadership has been found to be of particular importance to organizations in crisis situations
(Weick, 1995).
For decades, researchers have sought to identify the behaviors, skills, and styles demonstrated by
effective leaders capable of meeting these myriad demands (Bass & Avolio, 1994; Gilley, McMillan, &
Gilley, 2009; Ligon, Wallace, & Osburn, 2011). More recently, much of the research and literature have
shifted from trait theory to behavioral theory, which focuses on what the leader says and does (Miner,
2003). Despite this shift, Hemsley (2001) reminds us that a leader’s behavior is based on his or her skills
and traits. Today, research continues to seek a better understanding of effective leader behaviors (Steers,
Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004) and their predictors (Ferraro, Pfeffer, & Sutton, 2005).
Leadership has been viewed as a social phenomenon based on interactive relationships between
leaders and followers (Griffin & Stacey, 2005) and as a shared influence process that flows from the
interactions of diverse individuals (Van Ameijde, et al., 2009). The emphasis on interpersonal and social
skills finds support in the literature on effective leaders that posits a transformational as opposed to
transactional approach (Harris, et al., 2003). The four interpersonal aspects of transformational leadership
are idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration
(Bass, 1985, 1998; Bass & Avolio, 1993). Astin and Astin (2000, p. 49) concur in their view of
transformational leadership as “self-aware, authentic, and empathetic, and because it develops trust
through listening, collaborating, and shaping a common purpose.”
Although linkages have been found between transformational leadership and greater satisfaction with
and trust in leaders (Keller, 1995), Martin (1999) found that the most important element for leadership, in
general, is the ability to engender trust. Additional behaviors and skills critical for effective leadership are
ethics (Neubert, et al., 2009; Walumba, et al., 2011), the ability to build relationships and enhance
collaboration (Martin, 2005), and treat individuals as unique (Gilley, Heames, & Gilley, 2012), among
others.
Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014 71
Ethical Leadership
Ethics, a subject discussed for centuries (Toor & Ofori, 2009), has been anecdotally defined as “doing
the right thing when no one else is watching” (Wikiquote, 2013). In a business context, ethics generally
refers to the social and moral obligations of business. Thus, leaders and managers must pay attention to
the obligations and expectations society places on business.
It has been fairly well established that managers and leaders influence ethical culture (Bass &
Steidlmeier, 1999; Ciulla, 1995; Trevino et al., 2003; Trevino et al., 2000). In terms of ethics, ethical
leadership has been defined as the “demonstration of normatively appropriate conduct through personal
actions and interpersonal relationships, and the promotion of such conduct to followers through two-way
communication, reinforcement, and decision-making” (Brown et al., 2005, p. 120).
Establishing a positive ethical culture can lead to improvements in the entire culture of an
organization (Brown et al., 2005), such as extra effort, reporting problems, and other employee outcomes.
Previous studies have linked ethical leadership to higher job satisfaction and job commitment (Neuber et
al., 2009); better performance (Walumba et al., 2011); and lower levels of deviance (Mayer et al., 2009).
Thus, the characteristics and behaviors of those who would have such an influence over an organization
are important (Jordan et al., 2013). Jordan, et al. (2013) focused on what made followers, or employees,
perceive that executives were ethical. Their findings have shown that managers who are “caring, honest,
and principled individuals” are ethical, as well as those who are fair, trustworthy, reward ethical behavior,
punish unethical behavior, and communicate the importance of ethics to followers (Brown et al., 2005;
Trevino et al., 2003; Trevino et al., 2000; Yukl et al., 2013). Among these attributes, trust has the
strongest correlation to job satisfaction and organizational commitment (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002). As trust
seems to be an important theme in ethical leadership, we review the literature on trust below.
Trust
Trust is a vital element in all of our relationships personal, professional, and community. While
there are numerous definitions of trust in the literature, most focus on the idea of constancy (Bennis,
1989) and positive expectations of the intentions or behaviors of others (Hodson, 2004; Mayer, Davis, &
Schoorman, 1995; Nooteboom, 1997; Rousseau, 1998). Trustworthiness has been defined as an attribute
of exchange partners in which an exchange partner who will not exploit another’s vulnerabilities is
worthy of trust (Barney & Hansen, 1994). Merriam Webster Dictionary defines trust as, “assured reliance
on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something,” and includes trustworthiness in its
definition as well (Trust, n.d.). In the business ethics realm, some minimal level of trust is critical for
employees and managers to effectively interact with each other (Bandsuch, 2008). Unfortunately
however, society generally regards business leaders as untrustworthy (Child, 2004).
Theoretical Approaches
Dirks and Ferrin (2002) reviewed the literature and found that there are two theoretical perspectives
on trust. The relationship-based perspective focuses on the principles of social exchange and reciprocity
between managers and employees. The character-based perspective focuses on how the perceptions of a
manager’s character can affect employees in a hierarchical relationship.
Relationship-Based Trust
Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman (1995) proposed a model based on a relationship-based theory of trust.
Under this theory, managers and employees perceptions of each other’s trustworthiness will affect their
risk-taking behavior. The outcomes of risk-taking behavior will ultimately influence trust. The social
exchange process has also been used as a basis for examining trust in manager-employee relationships
(Konovsky & Pugh, 1994). Konovsky and Pugh (1994) wrote that employees who believe that their
manager has or will act with care and consideration will spend more time on required job performance
tasks.
Managers who display integrity with employees, tell employees the truth, and treat employees with
dignity and respect are also more likely to be perceived as trustworthy (Sankar, 2003). Another study
72 Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014
identified five types of trustworthy behaviors by managers, which are consistency, integrity, sharing and
delegation of control, communication, and demonstration of concern (Whitener, 1998). In their meta-
analysis on trust in leadership, Dirks and Ferrin (2002) examined 106 independent samples with 27,103
individuals. The results showed that trust had a positive correlation for work behaviors and outcomes with
altruism, civic virtue, conscientiousness, courtesy, and sportsmanship. In fact, trust in leadership had the
strongest relationship with job satisfaction and organizational commitment.
Caldwell (2008) adds to the literature by suggesting that the ethical stewardship model allows leaders
to earn the trust and followership of employees. Employees are more likely to trust management if the
manager’s behavior conforms to prevailing norms of fairness, integrity, and respect for employees’ rights
and interests, such as predictability and justice (Hodson, 2004; Kickul, 2005).
Character-Based Trust
The second theoretical perspective is character based and comes from employee perceptions of a
manager’s character. This is crucial since from the manager’s perspective, trustworthiness is a trait that is
most often associated with ethical leadership (Trevino et al., 2000). To establish trust, leaders must
clearly and fully communicate, institutionalize, and embody the company’s values.
Employees make judgments about their manager’s character, which will impact their work
performance and attitudes. Mayer, Davis and Schoorman (1995) examined how integrity, capability, or
benevolence affected employees’ willingness to take risks in the workplace. Cunningham and MacGregor
(2000) also researched supervisor characteristics, while Jones et al., (1975) researched forms of leader
behavior. Both found positive correlations between leader’s characteristics and levels of trust.
Trust Models
Several models have been used in the literature to analyze trust in organizations. Mayer, Davis, and
Schoorman (1995) proposed a model of organizational trust using ability, benevolence, and integrity as
factors, with the outcome being risk taking in relationships. The International Association of Business
Communicators has developed an organizational trust model that identifies the following factors as
significant influences upon trust: competency; openness; concern for stakeholders; shared goals;
reliability; frequency of interactions; rewards; and sanctions (Bandsuch, 2008).
Hodson (2004) used organizational ethnographies to examine managerial competence and supportive
employment practices as normative foundations of trust. In his model, four variables were used to
measure management competence, which is a key component of trust: organization of production;
leadership; communication; and level of repair. He also identified seven variables to measure supportive
employment practices: internal labor markets; on-the-job training; job security; promotion of self-
supervision; employee participation; absence of management abuse; and adequate pay and benefits.
Hodson’s findings showed that managerial competence was more significant than supportive employment
practices. Specifically, it positively influenced citizenship behavior and reduced conflict between
coworkers and management.
THE STUDY
Hypotheses
Prior findings that report low rates of ethical behavior (NBES, 2011) lead us to surmise that our study
will also reveal low rates of perceived managerial ethics.
H1: Managers are perceived as consistently behaving ethically with a relatively low
frequency (<50% of the time).
Research on traits of leaders and managers who are perceived as ethical reveals that ‘trust’ has one of
the strongest influences on employee perceptions of managers’ ethics (Brown, et al., 2005; Dirks &
Ferrin, 2002). Consequently, we predict that:
Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014 73
H2: Managers who are perceived as trustworthy positively influence employees’
perceptions of their ethical behavior.
Method
This study explores leadership practices that influence employees’ perceptions that organization
managers are ethical. Employees’ assessments of managerial behavior provide accurate ratings of
leadership performance (Hogan et al., 1994). Although this study was part of a larger, longitudinal study
of managerial practices, our primary research questions focused on how frequently leaders/managers are
perceived as ethical, and which of their behaviors influenced employees’ perceptions of ethical behavior.
The previously validated survey instrument contained 23 behavioral/content questions about
leader/manager behaviors, and nine demographic questions of the respondents.
Population
The survey instrument was given to students in MBA and organizational development (OD) masters’
and PhD students from five four-year, public universities in diverse locations (Mountain West, Midwest,
and South) over three semesters. Master’s and Ph.D. students were chosen to maximize industry and
position diversity, ultimately representing all organizational levels (front-line to executive) in
manufacturing, service, education, professional, and government entities. The final response rate was
92% with 313 useable responses.
Measures
The dependent variable in the study was a perceptual measure of ethics. Respondents were asked to
specify, in their opinion, how frequently firm managers were considered ethical. Responses were
collected using a 5-point Likert-type scale ranging from never (1) to always (5). The independent
variables examined in this study were derived from research on leadership skills and managerial
behaviors. Using the same 5-point scale, respondents were asked the frequency with which organization
managers:
1. promote work-life balance
2. treat employees as unique individuals
3. are trustworthy
4. create hostile or fearful work environments
Additionally, two questions covering organizational practices were included in the survey.
1. Individuals who do not possess appropriate supervisory/management skills are promoted to or
hired for management positions
2. Ineffective or poor managers are promoted
Results
Population characteristics are summarized in Table I.
74 Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014
TABLE 1
SAMPLE CHARACTERISTICS
Description
Percent
Respondent’s gender
Male
50.5
Female
49.5
Respondent’s Age
<25
26.2
26-35
33.9
36-45
20.8
46-55
14.4
56-65
4.7
Respondent’s Years Employed at Organization (years)
<1
21.7
1-3
43.5
4-6
22.0
7-10
7.0
11-14
4.2
<15
1.6
Industry
Manufacturing
7.0
Service
28.4
Education
25.9
Professional
21.1
Government
12.1
Non-profit
5.5
Number of employees in organization
<100
31.0
101-500
20.4
501-1,000
9.6
1,001-2,500
11.2
2,501-5,000
2.9
5,001-10,000
6.7
>10,000
18.2
n=313
Table 2 reports employees’ perceptions that organization managers are ethical. Respondents
indicated that organization managers were “never,” “rarely,” or only “sometimes” ethical 51.8% of the
time, as compared with 48.2% for “usually” or “always” ethical. This analysis supports Hypothesis 1.
TABLE 2
ORGANIZATION MANAGERS ARE ETHICAL
Never
Rarely
Sometimes
Usually
Always
N
6
20
136
134
17
%
1.9
6.4
43.5
42.8
5.4
Cum. %
1.9
8.3
51.8
94.6
100
Note: N=313, M=3.43, SD=.77
Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014 75
Table 3 reflects descriptive statistics and between-subject correlations for all seven independent
variables and the control variable employee age. Strong correlations indicated by a p<.01 significance
level exist between the variables, except employee’s age.
TABLE 3
MEANS, STANDARD DEVIATIONS, CORRELATIONS
Variable
Mean
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
1. Are ethical
3.43
2. Promote work-
life balance
2.87
.50**
3. Treat employees
as unique
individuals
2.89
.54**
.57**
4. Are trustworthy
3.34
.74**
.51**
.55**
5. Creates hostile
or fearful work
environments
2.66
.28**
.33**
.33**
.37**
6. Do not possess
appropriate
supervisory/
management
skills
2.97
.21**
.31**
.37**
.34**
.32**
7. Ineffective or
poor managers
are promoted
2.87
.31**
.34**
.46**
.44**
.39**
.64**
8. Employee agea
2.38
.10
-.08
.06
-.01
-.17**
-.17**
-.18**
Notes: N=313, **p<0.01, aEmployee age stratified into 6 levels, level 2 is 26-35, average of 2.38 indicates
the average age falls within the age range 26-35.
Data Analysis
Two statistical tools were used to analyze the relationship between the independent variables and the
dependent variable managers’ ethics. Linear regression was used to test the individual item measures and
structural equation modeling was used to test the combined impact of the behaviors that could positively
or negatively impact the dependent variable managers’ ethics. Both methods rely upon similar
assumptions about the distribution of the data. The dependent variable exhibited a reasonable normal
distribution. Additionally, there was no evidence of collinearity (all VIF factors < 3.0).
Regression Analysis
To test the influence of the individual item measures on ethical behavior, a multiple regression
analysis using a stepwise method of all items was performed. Stepwise regression is appropriate for
determining significant influences of multiple independent variables on a single dependent variable
(Nunnally & Bernstein, 1994; Vogt, 2005). The following variables emerged as significant after initial
regression:
1. Managers promote work-life balance
2. Managers treat employees as unique individuals
3. Managers are trustworthy
4. Managers create hostile or fearful work environments
76 Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014
The stepwise criteria used on the F scores for variable inclusion were p< .05 for inclusion and p > .10
for exclusion. This resulted in four independent variables that were statistically significant at a minimum
of p< .05 (see Table 4). The item measures “trustworthy,” “work-life balance” and “treat individuals as
unique” had a positive impact while “managers lack appropriate management skills” had a negative
influence on the employees’ perceptions that organization managers are ethical. The negative traits of
hostile work environment and promotion of ineffective managers were not significant. The model
explained 57.7% (R2 adjusted = .577) of the variation of the dependent variable “My organization’s
managers are ethical.”
TABLE 4
REGRESSION ANALYSIS
B SE
Constant
1.068***
.145
Are trustworthy
.596*** .045
Treat employees as unique individuals
.143***
.041
Promote work life balance
.089**
.038
Appropriate management skills
-.097**
.040
**p < .05, **p < .001
Structural Equation Modeling
Amos 20.0 was used to estimate the model. The two-step approach recommended by Anderson and
Gerbing (1988) was followed. In the first step, confirmatory factor analysis was used to validate the
measurement model. In the second step, structural equation modeling was used to evaluate the full model
including both the measurement and structural model.
Measurement Model Assessment
The variables “promote work-life balance,” “treat employees as unique individuals,” and
“trustworthy” were included in the positive traits construct, while “hostile work environment,”
“individuals lack appropriate management skills,” and “ineffective managers are promoted” were
included in the negative trait construct. The results of the confirmatory factor analysis, along with the
composite reliability and average variance extracted, are detailed in Table 5. All items were statistically
significant at p<.05. All but one of the individual item factor loadings exceeded the minimum threshold of
.5 recommended by Hair, et al. (2006). The composite reliabilities for both constructs exceeded the
minimum threshold of .7 (Hair et al., 2006) and the average variance extracted (AVE) met or exceeded
the threshold of .50 (Fornell & Larcker, 1981). The fit indices for the measurement model also
demonstrate a good fit with χ2=20.96, GFI=.98, AGFI=.94, NFI=.97, RFI=.94, IFI=.98, TLI=.96,
CFI=.98, and RMSEA = .07. Recommended thresholds for the fit indices are .90 or better and for the
RMSEA .08 or less (Hu & Bentler, 1999). These results provide evidence that the measurement model is
valid.
Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014 77
TABLE 5
CONFIRMATORY FACTOR ANALYSIS WITH COMPOSITE RELIABILITY AND AVE
Items
Item reliabilities
AVE
Positive Behaviors
.77
.63
Managers promote work-life balance
.64
Managers treat employees as unique individuals
.70
Managers are trustworthy
.84
Negative Behaviors
.74
.50
Managers create hostile or fearful work environments.
.48
Individuals who do not possess appropriate
supervisory/management skills are promoted to or hired for
management positions.
.73
Ineffective or poor managers are promoted.
.85
Note: Composite reliabilities in bold.
Structural Equation Modeling Assessment
The fit indices for the structural model demonstrate a reasonably good fit with χ2=69.75, GFI=.95,
AGFI=.89, NFI=.92, RFI=.88, IFI=.94, TLI=.91, CFI=.94, and RMSEA = .096. The model and results are
reported in Figure 1. The positive trait construct had a positive influence (p<.01) on employees’
perceptions that firm managers are ethical. In contrast, the negative trait construct had a negative
influence (p<.01) on employees’ perceptions that firm managers are ethical. Additionally, employees’ age
has a positive impact, which indicates that as employees mature their perceptions that firm managers are
ethical increases.
FIGURE 1
STRUCTURAL MODEL
**p<.05, ***p<.001
Note: Standardized regression weights are reported.
78 Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014
DISCUSSION
Our study concurs with others that highlighted the frequency of ethics in the workplace and the
impact of trust on employee perceptions of leader behaviors. We add to the research and literature base
via our findings on the importance of work-life balance and treating employees as unique individuals as
instrumental to perceptions of ethical behavior.
Implications for Trust in the Workplace
Research indicates that managers must be intentional in their efforts to establish trust in an
organization, ensuring that their actions are constant, focused, and transparent (Bandsuch, 2008).
Employees who perceive a manager to be trustworthy will likely increase their personal commitment to
follow him or her (Caldwell, 2008). The worthwhile positive results of managers’ efforts to establish trust
are employee loyalty, job satisfaction, and the perception of leader effectiveness (Bandsuch, 2008;
Brown, et. al., 2005; Gillis, 2003).
Furthermore, some studies have shown that trust in leadership is positively correlated to
organizational performance, improving problem solving, communication, negotiation, performance,
organizational commitment and employee turnover (Dirks & Ferrin, 2002; Dirks & Ferrin, 2001;
Gillespie & Mann, 2004; Williams, 2005). Conversely, a lack of trust within an organization can erode a
shared sense of value and purpose between employees and managers and increase conflict in the
workplace (Hodson, 2004). Employees will be less likely to make a sacrificial choice to honor trust if
there is no consensus in the organization that honoring trust is the right thing to do (Dobson, 1990).
Ultimately, a manager’s interactions with employees are critical to establishing and maintaining trust
within an organization (Bandsuch, 2008).
Work-Life Balance
Work-life balance is an increasingly studied topic, particularly in light of generational differences
(Chao, 2005; Twenge & Campbell, 2008; Wong, et al., 2008). Twenge (2010), for example, found that
GenY/GenMe employees gravitate to companies that focus on work-life balance issues. This is salient to
our study as well, as a significant percentage of the respondents in our study were under the age of thirty-
five.
Findings of our study suggest that the manager is a key factor in establishing work-life balance.
Scholars have noted that managerial support, communication, and understanding are critical to
employees’ achievement of work/family balance (Anderson, et al., 2002; Batt & Valcour, 2003; Clark,
2002; Eversole, et al., 2012). Eversole, et al. (2012) claim “an insensitive and inflexible manager
increases tension, decreases productivity, has the single most negative influence on work-life, and makes
the whole company look insensitive” (p. 615).
Watkins (1995) stated that the supervisor-subordinate relationship is one of the most powerful
predictors of work/family problems, while Collins, Hair, and Rocco (2009) further claim that the
relationship can be enhanced with knowledge of generational differences and the contrasting work values
of each generation (Eversole, et al., 2012). Thompson et al. (1999) found three factors associated with
what they termed as workfamily culture and the first factor was described as the managerial support
factor, defined as “the extent to which managers were supportive and sensitive to employees’ family
responsibilities” (p. 401). “While researchers have posited that ‘contextual factors’ such as work-life
policies and managerial support are important, there is not substantial empirical research that examines
employees’ perceptions regarding the extent to which a context is supportive of work-life issues and the
implications this has for work-life policy utilization (Allen, 2001)” (Greenberg & Landry, 2011, p. 1164).
Treating People as Unique Individuals
Recent research on individual differences lends support to our findings on the importance of treating
employees as unique. Research by Wong, et al. (2008) emphasized “the importance of focusing on
individual differences” (p. 878). This theme was supported by participants in a study by Gilley et al.,
Journal of Leadership, Accountability and Ethics vol. 11(3) 2014 79
(2012), who indicated that unique treatment of the individual “was a critical ingredient and primary
remedy to managerial ineffectiveness…” (p. 74). The rise of influence in the workplace of generations X,
Y, GenMe, and Millennials lends further support to the need for emphasis on individualism and
recognition of employee uniqueness (Twenge, 2010). Moreover, leaders are perceived as ethical when
they consider the individual needs of employees (Zhu, et al., 2004). Organizations who seek to hire or
retain these talented employees will need to attend to policies and practices that support the evolving
needs of new generations of workers.
Limitations and Future Research
There are limitations inherent in all empirical studies. In our study, we assessed manager ethics only
from the perception of the employee. It would be interesting to explore and contract employee perceptions
with the perceptions of the managers and their managers. This could provide additional information about
the ethics of the organization. Although our population included people from multiple sectors across
various parts of the country, they were all students, which may have some effect on the responses we
received. Additionally, our study focused on the main effects of work-life balance, unique individuals,
and trust on ethics. Future research could examine the interactions of these variables on work-life balance.
One possible approach could be to include ethical dilemmas to prevent oversimplification of ethical
leadership.
CONCLUSION
Our study implies that leaders and managers who create trust-based relationships, respect work-life
balance, and treat their employees as unique individuals are perceived as more ethical than those who do
not. Additionally, when individuals who do not possess appropriate management skills are placed in
leadership/managerial positions, they are perceived as unethical. Our results point to positive constructs
managers can use to enhance their ethical behavior.
Employees from generations X, Y, GenMe, and Millennials are more interested in issues such as
work-life balance and being treated uniquely. Creating programs that support work-life balance will
validate the unique individual needs of employees. These efforts promote an environment of trust
between manager and employee, laying the foundation for an ethical culture. Conversely, our results point
to negative behaviors that erode perceptions of ethics. Leaders and managers who lack appropriate
management skills or are ineffective may unwittingly create a hostile work environment, which
negatively affects perceptions of ethics. Intentional efforts to emphasize these simple but critical positive
elements may help create a work environment in which ethical behavior is the norm.
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