How the Construal of Past Socially Responsible Actions Influences Managers’ Subsequent Ethical Decisions

37 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2016

See all articles by Joseph Johnson

Joseph Johnson

University of Central Florida

Patrick Martin

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business

Bryan Stikeleather

University of South Carolina - Darla Moore School of Business

Donald Young

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business

Date Written: January 11, 2016

Abstract

Managers prepare corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports by recalling and describing their past socially responsible actions. Using an experiment, we test whether the manner in which managers prepare CSR reports influences their subsequent ethical decisions. CSR reporting guidelines and firm policies can affect whether managers construe their past socially responsible actions abstractly or concretely (i.e., whether they focus on the underlying reason/purpose of the action or focus on the manner in which it was carried out). Drawing on identity theory and construal level theory, we predict and find that managers subsequently act more ethically if they construe their past socially responsible actions abstractly as opposed to concretely. Further, their ethical decisions are similar regardless of whether their past socially responsible action benefitted or harmed their personal welfare. We also find that the effect of construal reverses when managers prepare reports about past self-interested actions (i.e., actions that benefit the manager but harm others). We discuss practical implications of our results for standard setters, regulators, and senior executives responsible for creating external and internal CSR reporting guidelines.

Keywords: corporate social responsibility, ethics, construal level theory, moral identity

Suggested Citation

Johnson, Joseph and Martin, Patrick and Stikeleather, Bryan and Young, Donald, How the Construal of Past Socially Responsible Actions Influences Managers’ Subsequent Ethical Decisions (January 11, 2016). Kelley School of Business Research Paper No. 16-5. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2713831 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2713831

Joseph Johnson

University of Central Florida ( email )

12744 Pegasus Dr.
Orlando, FL 32816
United States

Patrick Martin (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business ( email )

1309 E. 10th Street
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Bryan Stikeleather

University of South Carolina - Darla Moore School of Business ( email )

1014 Greene St
Columbia, SC 29208
United States
8037776034 (Phone)

Donald Young

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business ( email )

1309 East Tenth Street
Indianapolis, IN 47405-1701
United States

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