Moral choice in an agency framework and related motivational typologies as impacted by personal and contextual factors for financial institutions in China.
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In this study an empirical investigation is conducted of the factors affecting moral choice, a necessary antecedent to moral behaviour (or action). The theoretical framework has drawn upon Rest's (1983, 1986) model of moral behaviour, with particular interest in the components motivation and moral judgment. The theoretical framework also integrates agency theory, with its emphasis on the individual as a psychological egoist, as a perspective from which to test hypotheses about determinants of moral choice and the motivational typologies arising from moral choice. Such hypothesis testing is undertaken in the setting of the banking and financial services industry in the People's Republic of China.The development and empirical testing of a set of motivational typologies is a major focus of this study. Such a set of typologies effectively replaces the singular concept of the agent as a self-serving individual. It enables the identification of other realist moral predispositions that may strongly influence the choices business operatives make. These predispositions range from altruism to thinly disguised self-interest. An individual's predisposition to be altruistic or to display strongly disguised self-interest has long been recognized in the ethics literature, but these notions have received little attention in agency theory testing. In addition, an attempt was made to incorporate human judgment theory, including Simon's (1992) concept of "bounded rationality", as a basis for decision making as part of the proposed model.This research study has been conducted in the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone of the People's Republic of China during the period 1999 to 2001 and has involved a sample of 400 business operatives employed within national state-owned banks, regional commercial banks, insurance companies and securities companies. Use has been made of a modified experimental design that involves operatives listening to a culturally adapted audiotaped business dilemma (involving an agency problem) and making moral responses that are recorded on an accompanying questionnaire. The latter has been designed to collect data used to construct motivational typologies. In addition, various personal and contextual data have been collected as part of the research agenda. Of particular interest has been the collection of personal data that permits the author to investigate the impact of both Chinese cultural values and the moral judgment ability of the respondents.After considering the literature pertinent to this study, a number of hypotheses have been developed and tested using the instruments referred to above. The results of these tests can be summarized into three parts.The first set of tests has involved the effects of various personal and organizational factors in the agency-based experiment. After confirming the veracity of the standard agency model as a predictor of moral choice, it was then found that differences in age, gender, employment status and religious affiliation act to significantly affect moral choice, whereas differences in business experience, and education level do not affect choice. The investigation has provided clear evidence that female operatives, within the age group of 26-30 years, who occupy clerical positions within the tested institutions, display a significant adversity to risk when making moral choices in situations that involve moral hazard, including the presence of adverse selection criteria.In comparison, the effects of size and type of institution have provided rather mixed results when tested as organizational factors influencing moral choice within an agency framework. A further analysis of the related data, however, points to other variables such as differences in ethical climate type and cultural orientation being significantly associated with moral choice. There is also some evidence that age acts to influence the extent to which business operatives apply traditional Chinese cultural orientations.The second part of the data analysis has involved the use of appropriate multivariate statistics in order to establish the existence of a mutually exclusive set of motivational typologies (involving concern for self and/or management within an agency context). The pattern of membership across the typologies does not change significantly when agency conditions altered. This outcome provides evidence that, in relation to the field experiment used in this study, respondents have used informational heuristics that are consistent and logically applied.Financial sector operatives, who identify with a particular typology, are found to respond to moral issues in specific ways. For example, altruists hold high moral positions regardless of the agency conditions facing them, while operatives adopting a thinly disguised form of egoism are likely to be less supportive of management. Further, the study demonstrates that operatives, who displayed strongly disguised egoism/enlightened self-interest positions in situations where an agency problem is not excessive, are likely to be replaced by psychological egoists when faced with a significant moral hazard and adverse selection criteria.Again, by applying multivariate statistical analysis, it has been possible to identify those personal and contextual factors that discriminate between the various typologies. Of the personal characteristics, the Chinese cultural value orientations, integration and human heartedness have been identified as relatively strong discriminators of motivational typology group membership regardless of the agency conditions. The role that traditional value orientations play as discriminators of group membership become even more significant for operatives aged 30 years and older.The discriminating influence of the contextual factors, namely elements of ethical work climate and job satisfaction, has been somewhat less definitive and has tended to depend on the nature of the agency conditions. The ethical work climate perception, instrumentalism is seen to display a significant influence on the way that the job satisfaction variables of pay and conditions, co-workers and work itself discriminate between the motivational typologies. However, these perceptions do not necessarily influence moral choice depending on the typology adopted by the financial operatives.The third part of the analysis has examined the direct influence of various personal and contextual factors on moral choice. A linear multiple regression analysis of data has revealed that certain factors affected moral choice depending on the nature of the agency conditions defined within the experimental design. The value orientation, integration, arises as a major predictor when adverse selection criteria is absent from the field experiment, whereas the contextual variables instrumentalism and employment status emerge when such conditions are present. In this study it appears evident that operatives expressing strong collectivist views are more likely to be supportive of management when agency conditions minimize the degree of personal conflict. Instrumentalism is identified as a widespread condition in the financial sector and influences moral choice when moral hazard, including adverse selection criteria, is present. Employment status, as a workplace demographic is found to be associated with adversity to risk, impelling junior employees to avoid supporting management in situations that might affect their employment or promotion prospects.The widely accepted component of moral behaviour, namely moral judgment ability, has been thoroughly tested within the terms of the hypotheses developed for this study. The variable did not emerge as a statistically significant factor influencing moral choice and its role as a discriminator of the motivational typologies was limited. However, its application within an oriental setting produced some interesting outcomes, including evidence that all stages of moral development exist amongst the respondents and that levels of principled reasoning (as identified by the standard p-score (Rest, 1983, 1986)) are on average lower than for equivalent tests conducted in western societies.This research study contributes significantly to the body of knowledge about morality of business agents employed in the financial sector and permits investigators to look beyond the simplistic assumptions associated with the classical principal-agency model. The study's originality as contained in the derivation of motivational typologies and the factors discriminating between them, provides a fresh stepping off point for further studies seeking to refine the understanding of moral choice in business organizations. The fact that the study was conducted in a rapidly developing sector of the People's Republic of China provided additional insights into how people in this environment view moral issues and how traditional cultural values impact on their thinking.
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