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The roles of moral intensity and moral emotions in the ethical decision-making process: A study of human resource management professionals

Jennifer Mencl, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Employee health and wellness are significant considerations for organizations today and have gained renewed focus with the movement in positive psychology (Snyder & Lopez, 2002). Not only are businesses required to comply with health-related rules and regulations, they are also concerned about how these issues impact the costs associated with human resources. In instances where regulations do not exist, human resource professionals are often faced with difficult decisions affecting various individuals and stakeholders. ^ These types of dilemmas are infused with ethical implications. Many researchers have investigated individual and organizational characteristics that influence ethical decisions. Additionally, studies have examined issue-contingent characteristics, thoughts, attitudes, and values that affect the ethical decision-making process. More recently, feelings and emotions have been posited to impact the way in which individuals make ethical decisions. ^ The purpose of this research was to determine the extent that moral intensity factors (Jones, 1991) and moral emotions (i.e., empathy, guilt) influence the ethical decision-making process (Rest, 1986). Two research questions were addressed: (1) How do dimensions of moral intensity affect the ethical decision-making process? (2) What is the role of moral emotions in the ethical decision-making process? ^ These relationships were examined by analyzing data from vignettes and questionnaires administered to a sample of human resource professionals (n = 95). The findings suggest that psychological proximity was more strongly related to elements of the ethical decision-making process compared to social proximity and physical proximity, particularly when magnitude of consequences was low. Additionally, cognitive empathy and affective empathy significantly and positively influenced moral evaluations. Integration with previous literature, future research directions, implications for human resource managerial decisions, and strengths and weaknesses are discussed. ^

Subject Area

Business Administration, Management

Recommended Citation

Mencl, Jennifer, "The roles of moral intensity and moral emotions in the ethical decision-making process: A study of human resource management professionals" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3147146.