Ethical perceptions of employees in small retailing firms: A case of indigenous-owned fast-food outlets in Zimbabwe

Patient Rambe, Takawira M. Ndofirepi

Abstract


Background: Although the subject of ethical business practices has a well-established tradition in large corporations where shareholder value maximisation is largely dependent on such entities’ conduct of good business ethics, its investigation in small businesses in agile, economically depressed economies such as that of Zimbabwe has targeted business owners and managers but excluded their employees. Given the middleman role that employees of emerging indigenous-owned retail firms play in the distribution chain from manufacturers to the consumers, the ethical perceptions of these employees are critical to the leveraging of businesses’ strategic orientations. Employees are the coal face of the firm, withering intense competition from these firms’ rivals and achieving the firms’ strategic orientations (profitability, market share, business growth and survival). In order to meet stakeholder expectations simultaneously largely depends on the ethical conduct of such employees.

Aim: The overall aim of this study is to contribute to ethical theory and literature by demonstrating how employees’ ethical perceptions and behaviour shape the strategic orientations of the business. To achieve this aim, the study sought to: (1) establish the typical ethical dilemmas that employees of these retail firms faced in their daily tasks, (2) assess how they responded to these ethical challenges, (3) ascertain whether demographic factors such as age, level of education, gender and their position in the organisational hierarchy influence their reaction to ethical dilemmas; and (4) determine these employees’ overall perceptions of ethical issues within their organisations.

Setting: The study was conducted on employees of an indigenous-owned fast-food firm operating in two cities in Zimbabwe.

Methods: A survey was conducted on 108 employees working in two cities. A structured questionnaire was developed and administered to the employees.

Results: The results suggested that a majority of the respondents were ethically conscious and could make ethical choices. In addition, most respondents deemed the ethical scenarios presented to them as morally wrong, suggesting that the surveyed employees wished to engage in ethical behaviour. However, while the respondents were deemed to be ethically astute in their individual capacities, they seemed to lack an in-depth knowledge of the ethical policies of their organisation.

Conclusion: The study concludes that owners and managers of small firms should provide interventions to cascade ethical policy to the lower ranks of the organisation to enhance the ethical perception amongst employees of these firms. The study implication is that an institutional top-down approach is critical to embedding ethical sensitivity into employees without which employees may continue to speculate about the business ethics of their organisation.


Keywords


ethical perception; employees; normative ethics; survey; small firms; Zimbabwe

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4102/sajems.v20i1.1574

Submitted: 11 April 2016
Published: 06 July 2017


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South African Journal of Economic and Management Sciences    |    ISSN: 1015-8812 (PRINT)    |    ISSN: 2222-3436 (ONLINE)