How the Construal of Past Socially Responsible Actions Influences Managers’ Subsequent Ethical Decisions
37 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 11, 2016
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
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