The effects of personal and organisational attributes on ethical attitudes of professional accountants: evidence from Ghana

Regina Mensah Onumah (Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, Accra, Ghana)
Samuel Nana Yaw Simpson (Department of Accounting, University of Ghana, Accra, Ghana)
Amoako Kwarteng (Business School, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, Accra, Ghana)

Journal of Global Responsibility

ISSN: 2041-2568

Article publication date: 18 January 2022

Issue publication date: 4 July 2022

299

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to examine the effects of personal attributes (greed and desire for personal gains, behaviour of peers and superiors, personal values, family influences and pressures, religious background, ego strength, etc.), organisational attributes (company policies, codes of conduct and visionary leadership, etc). and the moderating role of ethical codes of conduct on the ethical attitudes of professional accountants.

Design/methodology/approach

The study uses data from a survey of 340 professional accountants in Ghana, using the ordinary least square regression analysis to test hypothesized relationships.

Findings

The results suggest that personal attributes collectively have positive and significant influence on ethical attitudes. Similarly, organisational attributes collectively have positive and significant influence on ethical attitudes. Moreover, ethical codes of conduct moderate the positive relationship between personal and organisational attributes and ethical attitudes of accountants.

Originality/value

In the light of the social contingent theory, the findings imply that personal and organisational attributes, when interacted with professional code of conduct strengthens ethical attitudes of accountants. To the best of the knowledge, this is the first paper to have examined the moderating effect of professional code of conduct on ethical attitudes of accountants from a developing country context.

Keywords

Citation

Onumah, R.M., Simpson, S.N.Y. and Kwarteng, A. (2022), "The effects of personal and organisational attributes on ethical attitudes of professional accountants: evidence from Ghana", Journal of Global Responsibility, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 245-267. https://doi.org/10.1108/JGR-04-2021-0041

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited


1. Introduction

Concerns about the role of accountants in global scandals across the world in recent times have fuelled research aimed at improving the ethical behaviour of professionals (Copeland, 2015; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013). At the core of the debate on unethical behaviour and attitude is whether the scandals with their attendant losses could have been avoided by having ethically sensitive accountants in society (Ghazali, 2015). As illustrated in the study of Copeland (2015), there is the need for further research to inform attitudes towards questionable practices, especially in the accounting profession. What constitutes personal characteristics has been of concern in the literature (Holtbrügge et al., 2015). For example, studies have narrowly defined personality traits which calls for research that adopt extensive personality traits (Holtbrügge et al., 2015; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013).

Equally important in the fight against unethical practices has been the search for organisational factors as prerequisite for the development of ethically sensitive decisions (Holtbrügge et al., 2015). However, what constitutes organisational factors in the literature has been limited in scope. For instance, Ghazali and Ismail (2013) used the ethical position of a corporate entity while Holtbrügge et al. (2015) adopted organisational culture. In another study, Christie et al. (2003) used size of organisation as proxy for organisational factors. It is, therefore, essential to have research on the impact of an expanded form of organisational factors on ethical attitude as suggested in previous studies to guide educators (Holtbrügge et al., 2015).

Holtbrügge et al. (2015) argued that the perceptions of accounting professionals may differ from members of other professions regarding ethical and unethical practices. This is particularly important in an emerging economy where the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Ghana (ICAG), the professional body responsible for regulating accountancy practice in Ghana, has sanctioned four practising firms for their involvement in the recent collapse of seven banks (ICAG, 2019). The authors, therefore, called for studies that would examine the ethical attitudes of accounting professionals regarding personal and organisational characteristics (Holtbrügge et al., 2015).

The body of literature has acknowledged the effect of personal and organisational factors in shaping ethical attitudes. Some of the studies have focussed on personal attributes alone to the neglect of organisational factors (Conroy and Emerson, 2004; Conroy et al., 2010; Emerson et al., 2007; Fritzsche and Oz, 2007). Others have also considered organisational factors in isolation from personal attributes (Bowen, 2004). A lot more studies have focussed only on demographic variables as factors that influence ethical attitudes (Conroy et al., 2010; Emerson et al., 2007). The impact of personal, organisational and demographic factors on ethical attitude is therefore not realised. Consequently, further research is urgently required to provide a better understanding of factors that shape ethical attitudes (Narula and Desore, 2016; Nguyen et al., 2019).

Further, inconsistent findings have been reported in the literature about the effects of personal and organisational attributes on ethical behaviour. For instance, the following authors, e.g. Suryanto (2017), Brown and Mitchell (2010), Den Hartog (2015) and Brown and Treviño (2014) have all indicated that links between personal and organisation attributes and ethical behaviour is still far from complete. Other authors, such as Valentine and Godkin (2019), Latan et al. (2018) and Alleyne et al. (2018) have suggested that personal and organisational attributes are important mechanism for controlling ethical behaviour. Given the inconsistent findings which is attributed to the use of normal two-dimensional (2D) model used in the literature since human behaviour has been originally assumed to reflect individual personality and factors within the environment, which makes it 2D. This study adds a third dimension that includes the cognitive processes of individuals and factors within the environment (Wood and Bandura, 1989) to understand the ethical attitudes of professional accountants.

Additionally, the issue of professional or ethical codes of conduct have been noted to influence ethical behaviours in accountants (see Kusumaningrum et al., 2019; Christensen et al., 2018). Ethical codes of conduct have the ability to interfere with the relationship between personal and organisational attributes and ethical attitudes. This study, therefore, identified ethical codes of conduct as a moderator that will interfere in the relationship. Following Baron and Kenny (1986) and Namazi and Namazi (2016) this study modelled ethical codes of conduct as a moderator it affects the direction and/or strength of the relation between an independent variable and the dependent variable.

The purpose of the study was achieved through the following research questions:

Q1.

Do personal attributes influence ethical attitudes of professional accountants towards questionable unethical practices?

Q2.

Do organisational attributes influence professional accountants’ ethical attitudes towards questionable unethical practices?

Q3.

What other factors influence ethical attitudes of professional accountants towards questionable unethical practices?

Q4.

What is the moderating role of ethical or professional code of conduct in the relationship between personal and organisational and ethical attitudes?

To address the research questions, the study used the ordinary least squares (OLS) estimation method and gathered data from a cross-section of Ghanaian professional accountants. The study finds that personal attributes are positive and significantly associated with ethical attitudes of accountants. Furthermore, organisational attributes are positive and have a significant impact on ethical attitude of accountants. Moreover, ethical code of conduct (ECC) was found to moderate the positive relationship between organisational and personal characteristics on ethical attitudes of accountants.

To this end the study makes several contribution to the extant literature as follows: through its literature analysis and survey, the study contributes significantly to our understanding of the impact of personal and organisational factors on accountants’ ethical beliefs in a developing country where the subject has received little attention. It addresses the gap in the literature by providing evidence to support the contribution of an expanded form of personal factors beyond demographics in shaping ethical attitudes (Holtbrügge et al., 2015). The study confirms parts of the three-dimensional (3D) model interaction of the social cognitive theory (SCT) among personal, organisational and individual cognitive processes on ethical attitude. The work also contributes to the literature in the range of personal and organisational characteristics that have been considered to give a broader understanding of factors that have impact on ethical attitudes. This is essential for the design of change behaviour strategies among professionals (Holtbrügge et al., 2015).

2. Research context

This study is particularly important in the Ghanaian context for several reasons. In recent times, seven banks have collapsed between August 2017 and August 2018 in what is described as a moral crisis rather than a banking crisis. Reasons assigned for the collapses relate to ethics. These include the use of accounting entries to conceal the true state of affairs, breakdown in values, unethical behaviour and disrespect for ethics. Other reasons cited which relate to professional ethics include disbursement of large sums of depositors’ money to shareholders as well as to related and connected parties outside the normal credit delivery process. Also, such loans were kept off from the banks’ records as part of the loans’ portfolios. Additionally, loans and advances were disbursed to shareholders, related and connected parties without due process. Furthermore, the banks failed to keep proper documentation of loans to shareholders, related and connected parties and charged no interest on such loans and advances (Awadzi, 2018, pp. 8 and 9). The above situation has led to the commitment of huge funds from limited national resources in the payment of lost investments to restore confidence in the financial sector. The above context underscores the importance of upholding ethical principles to aid national development. Equally important is research from developing economies in sub-Saharan Africa with a background of a complex social structure that is difficult to examine and appreciate (Kwansah-Aidoo and Greenland, 2012; Nguyen et al., 2019).

3. Theoretical literature

The SCT describes the effect of personal attributes and cognitive processes in the behaviour of persons in organisations (Aquino et al., 2009; Holtbrügge et al., 2015). The theory presents a 3D model in describing the behaviour of individuals instead of the normal 2D model used in the literature. Human behaviour has been originally assumed to reflect individual personality and factors within the environment, which makes it 2D. SCT adds a third dimension that includes the cognitive processes of individuals and factors within the environment (Wood and Bandura, 1989).

The rationale for using this theory is that the study explores how the characteristics of the individual interact with the characteristics of the environment to predict the ethical attitude (see Chen et al., 1998; Mauer et al., 2017; Mueller and Thomas, 2001; Shapero and Sokol, 1982). According to this approach, individuals perceived that personal and organisational attribute and the consequent ethical behaviour can be understood in terms of the types of situations encountered and the social (reference) groups to which individuals relate throughout their lives (Gibb and Ritchie, 1982).

The cognitive aspect of SCT indicates that personal attributes and thought processes influence how individuals perceive and behave in their environment. The mechanisms through which environmental and personal attributes affect human attitudes and behaviour are cognitive processes. Among the most relevant of these capabilities are self-reflective and self-regulatory, vicarious and symbolic processes. The former refers to the capacity to evaluate one’s own behaviour using a set of personal standards and the ability to guide future behaviour by comparing past outcomes of behaviour and personal standards. Vicarious learning capability describes the ability to acquire beliefs and attitudes by observing others through social modelling rather than by personal trial and error. In particular, social modelling occurs either deliberately or unintentionally when observers perform in a way that they had not learned prior to exposure to the model. Symbolic processes refer to capabilities such as language and scientific notations that allow individuals to comprehend, create and adapt to environmental conditions. By the use of symbolic capabilities, individuals are able to react to events, solve problems and generate new courses of action. Consequently, human attitudes are a result of cognitive mechanisms (i.e. self-reflective and self-regulatory, vicarious and symbolic processes) that, in turn, are subject to personal (e.g. age, gender, personal traits) and environmental conditions (e.g. society, institutions, resource constraints). To sum up, from the perspective of SCT, an individual’s attitudes are an interplay of personal attributes and environmental conditions that, in turn, influence his/her cognitive processes (Bandura, 1991). Through self-reflective and self-regulatory, vicarious and symbolic capabilities, individuals determine which part of the environment is observed, what meaning is attached to it, and how this information leads to certain attitudes. Hence, individuals are neither solely influenced by personal attributes nor by environmental conditions. Both exert influence on an individual’s attitudes, although not necessarily in equal strengths (Bandura, 1991).

The attitudes of accountants may be influenced by their attributes (personality), the environment in which they operate (organisation/society) and the cognitive processes (how the person processes information available and benefits to be gained or losses to be suffered from a particular decision).

It has been argued that cognitive processes involve the development of attitudes through observing others’ behaviour to avoid mistakes in decision making or through learning from one’s mistakes (Holtbrügge et al., 2015). SCT may thus be useful in explaining attitudes towards questionable unethical practices in the environment where accountants may be engaged.

4. Empirical literature and hypotheses development

4.1 Personal attributes and ethical attitudes

Personal attributes may be described as the features, traits or characteristics inherent in a person that tend to influence their attitude and behaviour. There have been conflicting findings concerning the influence of personal attributes on ethical attitude. For example, Abuznaid (2009) reported a negative association between personal attributes (such as the stage of moral development, family influence and peer influence) and ethical behaviour. In contrast, some studies have highlighted a positive and significant association between values (the nature and personality of individuals) and ethical attitude (Christie et al., 2003; Costa et al., 2016; Holtbrügge et al., 2015; Modarres and Rafiee, 2011). However, others did not find a significant association between the impact of individual factors and personality traits on ethical attitude and decision making (Costa et al., 2016; Shafer et al., 2001). Consequently, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H1.

There is a positive relationship between personal attributes and accountants’ ethical attitudes.

4.2 Organisational attributes and ethical attitudes

Organisational attributes refer to conditions prevailing within the workplace that have the likelihood of influencing the attitudes of persons within that environment (Christie et al., 2003; Keller et al., 2007; Treviño, 1986; Victor and Cullen, 1988). Previous studies have reported a positive association between ethical attitude and organisational culture, values and corporate ethics position (Bowen, 2004; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015). In a study on the effects of organisational attributes on the conduct of employees at work, a significant, negative association was found between organisational climate and misbehaviour (Vardi, 2001). Other studies have, however, reported no significant effect of organisational factors on ethical attitudes (Roozen et al., 2001). The following inconsistent findings, we propose this hypothesis:

H2.

There is a positive relationship between organisational attributes and accountants’ ethical attitudes.

4.3 Other factors and ethical attitudes

Empirical studies on ethical attitudes have identified several other factors that explain the differences in ethical attitudes. Factors, such as age (Emerson et al., 2007; Ghazali, 2015), gender (Holtbrügge et al., 2015; Musbah et al., 2016), educational qualification (Ghazali, 2015), sector of work (Emerson et al., 2007), position or rank (Conroy et al., 2010) and experience (Eweje and Brunton, 2010; Ghazali, 2015) have been examined in the literature with inconsistent findings. The next section reviews the literature on the other factors used in the study.

4.3.1 Age.

Among the demographic variables that are key in influencing ethical attitude is age (Emerson et al., 2007). As individuals age, they develop principles and values that direct their attitudes (Bandura, 1999). Also, an increase in age has been associated with knowledge of the effect of unethical attitudes in society (Pan and Sparks, 2012). It follows that ethical attitude improves with age. However, there appear to be inconsistent findings regarding the influence of age on ethical attitude in several studies (Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015). For instance, while some studies have reported no significant relationship between age and ethical attitude (Eweje and Brunton, 2010; Forte, 2004a), others have found age as the most robust predictor of ethical attitude (Costa et al., 2016; Emerson et al., 2007; Emerson and McKinney, 2010; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015; Weeks et al., 1999). Given the contrasting findings in the literature, this study makes the following hypothesis:

H3a.

Older accountants are more likely to reject unethical practices than younger ones.

4.3.2 Gender.

Individuals’ cognitive perception of their environment can be partly explained by gender (Holtbrügge et al., 2015). According to the SCT, attitude could be explained by personal attributes, such as gender, cognitive processes and environmental conditions (Wood and Bandura, 1989). Ghazali and Ismail (2013) underscore the importance of research on gender differences regarding ethical attitudes due to the growing number of women that enter the job market and are holding managerial positions. However, there are mixed findings regarding the significance and directions of these relationships. For Instance, Kidwell et al. (1987) and Taylor (2013) found no significant differences between the ethical attitudes of men and women, while others uncovered inconsistent results, with women having significantly more negative ethical attitudes towards corporate misdeeds than men (Chan and Leung, 2006; Conroy and Emerson, 2004; Deshpande, 1997; Emerson et al., 2007; Sweeney and Costello, 2009). On the contrary, Musbah et al. (2016) found that men were more likely to be ethical in their attitudes than women in a study involving management accountants in Libya. Consequently, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H3b.

Female accountants have a negative attitude towards unethical business practices.

4.3.3 Educational qualification.

Regarding qualification, some studies associate educational qualification with improvement in decision making and rejection of questionable ethical practices (Swaidan et al., 2003). In contrast, other studies have highlighted a positive relationship between educational qualification and acceptance of questionable ethical practices (Deshpande et al., 2008; Ghazali, 2015). A lot more studies have found no significant relationship between educational qualification and moral reasoning and ethical attitude (Chan and Leung, 2006; Deshpande, 1997; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Kidwell et al., 1987; Musbah et al., 2016). Due to the mixed findings in previous research, the following hypothesis is proposed:

H3c.

There is a positive relationship between educational qualification and accountants’ ethical attitude.

4.3.4 Sector.

Conflicting findings are reported regarding the influence of the sector of work on ethical attitude. For example, whereas some studies have reported no relationship between the sector of work and ethical attitudes (Emerson et al., 2007; Pierce and Sweeney, 2010; Stewart and O’Leary, 2007), others have reported that the sector of work is associated with improved ethical attitude (Forte, 2004b; Kaptein, 2008). Consequently, the current study proposes the following hypothesis:

H3d.

There is a positive relationship between the sector of work and accountants’ ethical attitude.

4.3.5 Experience.

As with other antecedents, conflicting empirical evidence exists between ethical attitude and experience. For example, whereas some studies have reported no significant differences between experience and ethical attitude (Desplaces et al., 2007; Stewart and O’Leary, 2007), others have found positive and significant relationship between ethical attitude and experience (Eweje and Brunton, 2010; Ghazali, 2015; Kidwell et al., 1987; Valentine and Rittenburg, 2007; Weeks et al., 1999). Contrary to the above findings, a lot more studies have found inverse relationship between experience and ethical attitude (Deshpande et al., 2008; Roozen et al., 2001). Given the above findings, the following hypothesis is put forward:

H3e.

There is a positive relationship between the number of years’ working experience and ethical attitude.

4.3.6 Position/rank.

Inconclusive findings are evident regarding the influence of rank or position on ethical attitude. For example, given the experience and knowledge acquired, the expectation is that persons who occupy higher positions in firms would exhibit high ethical attitudes to serve as an example for those in lower positions (Conroy et al., 2010). However, some studies have argued that managers may exhibit a more ethical stance due rather to their moral development and responsiveness (Forte, 2004b). For instance, whereas Conroy et al. (2010) and Forte (2004a) did not find any relationship between one’s position and ethical attitude, Ponemon and Gabhart (1994) reported an inverse relationship in a study among auditors in US firms. Consequently, the under-listed hypothesis is proposed:

H3f.

There is a positive relationship between the position/rank of an accountant and ethical attitude.

4.4 Professional/ethical code of conduct and ethical attitudes

In today’s competitive business environment, a code of ethics (ECC) should serve as the foundation upon which members of a professional bodies make decisions based on honesty, integrity, confidence and trust (Okpara, 2003). A written code of ethics provides members with an understanding and knowledge of what their professional bodies expect from them in terms of responsibilities and behaviour. A code of ethics reflects corporation standards and establishes realistic modes of behaviour that applies to everyone in the organisation. Researchers Adams et al. (2001), Somers (2001) have suggested that formal codes of ethics generally will inhibit unethical behaviour of employees in organisations. From a conceptual perspective, codes of ethics are meant to highlight an organisation’s commitment to promoting ethical behaviour thereby acting as a part of a socialisation process designed to ensure highest standards of behaviour (Somers, 2001). Results of a research conducted by Murphy et al. (1992) lends support to the proposition that there is a relationship between ethical codes of conduct and employee’s behaviour in that findings of this research indicate that employees that respondents in organisations with formal codes of ethics were more aware of wrongdoing than were respondents in organisations without formal codes of ethics. Researchers have also suggested that organisations that have adopted codes of ethics have helped to facilitate ethical decision-making for their workers thereby leading to positive work attitudes and possibly to higher levels of organisational commitment (Somers, 2001; Weeks and Nantel, 1992). Given the above discussions, we decided to moderate ECC with personal and organisational characteristic. We, therefore, propose the following hypothesis:

H4.

Ethical code of conduct moderates the positive relationship between organisational and personal characteristics and ethical attitudes of accountants.

5. Research methods

5.1 Sample and data collection

The study purposely target accountants who are either members of ICAG or Association of Chartered Certified Accountants due to the object of the study. A total of 760 questionnaires were hand-distributed to these groups between October 2017 and May 2018 at residential marking centres and during the 2017 Annual Accountants’ Conference. At the end of the period, 340 completed and usable questionnaires, representing 44.7%, were collected. Since the respondents were all chartered accountants, they were all qualified to complete the questionnaires and more likely to provide answers based on their ethical experience at work (Ghazali and Ismail, 2013). The conference and marking centres serve as the main gathering of professional accountants in Ghana and this method of data collection is similar to what has been used in previous studies (Nguyen et al., 2019). It should be noted that even though the ICAG annual conference is a forum for professional accountants and examiners to converge, nonetheless, these accountants work for diverse industries, such as manufacturing, mining and services sectors. Some of these industries are classified as small and medium-sized enterprises and large firms. Therefore, the sample still represents a cross section of accountants from different background and industries. Furthermore, the usage of this approach aided in improving the study’s survey response rate. This invariably assisted in reducing non-response bias, which could have an effect on the study’s outcome.

5.2 The research instrument

The instrument was made up of four sections. Section A considered the demographic background of respondents. Section B contained measures of personal attributes adopted from Abuznaid (2009) and Christie et al. (2003). Section C measured organisational factors that influence the ethical attitudes of accountants adopted from Christie et al. (2003) and Victor and Cullen (1988). Section D measured ethical attitudes using 14 vignettes used in previous studies (Conroy and Emerson, 2004; Conroy et al., 2010; Emerson et al., 2007; Longenecker et al., 1989). The vignettes relate to unacceptable profit-maximising behaviour and accounting transactions that seek to conceal facts to report lower profits for tax purposes. The instrument was pretested with professional accountants in industry and practice and the feedback from the piloting phase was used to improve the final document to avoid ambiguity in questions and omission of important areas before administering them as suggested by Saunders et al. (2009).

5.3 Data analysis

The study used the traditional estimation technique using OLS regression to develop two models similar to other ethical studies (Ghazali, 2015; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013). Descriptive statistics were performed for all the variables to depict the distribution of the sample. Furthermore, regression analyses were run to test the effects of personal attributes, organisational attributes and age, gender, experience, position or rank, educational qualification and sector where an accountant is engaged in unethical attitudes. The dependent variable in the model is EAA and the independent variables are PAE, OAE, age, gender, experience, position, sector and educational qualification.

(1) EAA1=α1+β1PAE+β2OAE+β3Age+β4Gender+β5Sector+β6Expe+β7Posi+β8Educ+ε
(2) EAA1=α1+β1PAE+β2OAE+βECC+β(ECCxPAE)+β(ECCXOAE)+β3Age+β4Gender+β5Sector+β6Expe+β7Posi+β8Educ+ε

where:

(ECC × PAE) is the interaction term between ethical codes of conduct and personal attributes of accountants and (ECC × OAE) is the interaction term between ECC and organisational attributes of accountants.

EAA is the ethical attitudes of accountants (how accountants rank the vignette), PAE is the composite of all personal attributes of ethics that influence EAA, OAE is the composite of organisational attributes of ethics that influence EAA. Also, Expe is experience; Posi is position/rank in organisation; Educ is educational qualification and ε (error term). Following previous literature, the study measured gender – male = 1, female = 0 and educational qualification – Masters/PhD = 1, Others = 0 (Ghazali and Ismail, 2013). Further, the study followed an approach similar to those in ethics studies in the categorisation of age into two: young (below 40 years) and old (40 years and above) (Deshpande, 1997; Nguyen et al., 2019). Also, the length of experience is categorised into two 10 years cut-off points – below 10 years and 10 years and above (Marzuki et al., 2017; Stewart and O’Leary, 2007, p. 27). Another study used less than five years and more than five years (Ghazali, 2015). The study also measured sector effect by the application of dummy variables to represent services, all other sectors as a reference following prior studies and position as Director/Manager = 1, others = 0 (Holtbrügge et al., 2015). Further, ECC was measured using employee perceptions as to the presence or absence of a formal corporate code of ethics. This was accomplished with a single-item indicator which gave respondents one of two choices as to whether their professional body had a “written code of ethics for its members” which included: “Yes” or “No”, where “Yes” is 1 and “No” is 0.

Notes: We recognised that structural equation modelling could be an alternative to the OLS. However, in this study, we wanted to explore if the combined effect of the personal attributes and organisational attributes will influence positively the ethical attitudes of accountants. Therefore, we extracted the composite scores from the individual indicators under their respective constructs through the use of principal component analysis and these were used to estimate both equations (1) and (2).

6. Results and discussion

Table 1 presents the respondents’ demographic profiles.

The minimum, maximum and mean scores, together with the standard deviations of ethical attitude, personal and organisational characteristics, are presented in Table 2.

In addition, the validity and reliability tests were performed on all the constructs and the results have been presented in Table 3. To assess validity and reliability, we used the average variance extracted (AVEs) and for the reliability we used the Cronbach alpha (CA), composite reliability scores (CR) and corrected items total correlation (CITC).

Table 4 shows the results of regression analyses.

6.1 Summary and discussion of findings

Table 5 presents a summary of how the research findings relate to other studies that have examined the determinants of ethical attitudes.

The results indicate that personal attributes are positive and significantly associated with ethical attitudes at a 1% level; hence, H1 is supported. Some studies have found that individual characteristics have no impact on ethical attitude and behaviour (Abuznaid, 2009). Other have, on the contrary, reported that personal values and attributes have a strong influence on ethical attitude and behaviour (Christie et al., 2003; Fritzsche and Oz, 2007; Holtbrügge et al., 2015; Costa et al., 2016). It is against these inconsistent findings that this study finds personal attributes as significant and positively associated with ethical attitudes.

Concerning organisational attributes, some previous studies have found no significant relationship with ethical attitude (Roozen et al., 2001) while others have reported a negative influence on ethical attitude (Vardi, 2001). Yet, in this study, organisational attributes are positive and have a significant impact on ethical attitude at a 1% level which is in agreement with the positive and significant association commonly reported in the literature (Bowen, 2004; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015). Thus, H2 is supported by the findings of this study. The result indicates that the promotion of factors within the environment by accounting educators and professional associations would impact on ethical attitude.

In relation to age, some studies have found that an increase in age comes with stricter ethical attitude and therefore report a positive and significant relationship between age and ethical attitude (Conroy et al., 2010; Costa et al., 2016; Emerson et al., 2007; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015). Yet, in this study, age is not significant in influencing ethical attitude though it is positive. And this is consistent with the insignificant relationship between age and ethical attitude reported in some studies (Eweje and Brunton, 2010; Forte, 2004a; Ghazali, 2015). As a result, hypothesis H3a is not supported. That is, factors not related to age may be influencing ethical attitudes among Ghanaian professional accountants.

The study reports a negative and statistically significant result at the 10% level with the influence of gender on ethical attitudes, thus lending support for H3b. That is, we found, in this study, that men have a lower impact on ethical attitudes compared to women. Considering the percentage of women accountants in Ghana, it is also possible that the few women who get admitted into the profession see it as a privilege and uphold a high ethical stance to protect their profession. The above finding is not surprising as some studies have reported similar findings about the relationship between gender and ethical attitude (Conroy and Emerson, 2004; Conroy et al., 2010; Emerson et al., 2007; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015). This is, however, in contrast with studies that have reported that men have stricter ethical stance than women (Musbah et al., 2016) and those that found no significant relationship (Kidwell et al., 1987; Taylor, 2013).

It has been suggested in the literature that qualification improves the ability to make ethical decisions. Yet, this study found an insignificant relationship (Swaidan et al., 2003). Thus, H3c is not supported in consonance with prior studies (Kidwell et al., 1987; Musbah et al., 2016). This means that the ethical attitudes of persons with tertiary educational qualifications are not different from those without it. This finding, however, is in contrast with studies that have reported a negative association between educational qualification and ethical attitude (Deshpande et al., 2008; Ghazali, 2015) and others that have reported significant positive relationship (Swaidan et al., 2003). The results of the study also show a positive association between ethical attitudes and sector, though not significant which is consistent with previous studies (Emerson et al., 2007; Pierce and Sweeney, 2010; Stewart and O’Leary, 2007). This is in contrast with other studies that have reported a significant positive association between the sector and ethical attitude (Forte, 2004b; Kaptein, 2008).

The study finds a positive and statistically significant association at the 5% level between work experience and ethical attitude, consistent with some studies in the literature; thus providing support for H3e (Eweje and Brunton, 2010; Ghazali, 2015; Valentine and Rittenburg, 2007). The results suggest that accountants with many years’ working experience are more likely to behave ethically than those with few years’ experience. This is in contrast with similar studies that have reported a negative association between experience and ethical attitude (Deshpande et al., 2008; Roozen et al., 2001) and others that have found no significant relationship (Desplaces et al., 2007; Stewart and O’Leary, 2007).

Contrary to expectation, the results indicate a negative but insignificant association between a person’s position or rank and ethical attitude, which is consistent with previous literature (Conroy et al., 2010; Forte, 2004a). This means one’s position does not influence ethical attitude; hence, H3f is not supported. In contrast, Forte (2004b) reported a significant relationship between rank and moral reasoning.

6.2 Robustness of the model

To ensure the validity of the regression results, we decided to test some of the basic assumptions underlying any regression model.

Firstly, the OLS assumption of no multicollinearity says that there should be no linear relationship between the independent variables. To test this, we used the variance inflation factor (VIF).

A VIF value of 3 means that there is potential multicollinearity and a value of 10 means that there exist multicollinearity among the predictor variables (Vatcheva et al., 2016). As can be seen from the table above, the VIF values are below the cut-off point of 3 for all predictor variables, thus eliminating any potential multicollinearity issues.

Secondly, the OLS assumption of homoscedasticity and no autocorrelation says that the error terms in the regression should all have the same variance. To test this, we use the Breusch-Pagen test of Heteroscedasticity. The results chi2 (1) = 0.65, Prob > chi2 = 0.4229 indicate that the assumption of homoscedasticity is accepted. Further, the correlation matrix of the variables are provided to support the case of no autocorrelation.

Thirdly, the OLS assumption of error terms should be normally distributed states that the errors are normally distributed, conditional upon the independent variables. The Shapiro-Wilk test of normality was performed and the results indicate that the residuals are normally distributed.

Shapiro-Wilk test of normality.

Fourthly, the sample taken for the linear regression model must be drawn randomly from the population. Indeed, the sample used in this study was drawn randomly from a cross section of accountants in Ghana. Further, linear regression needs the relationship between the independent and dependent variables to be linear. In this case the scatterplot shows linearity is present. Thus, the use of OLS was appropriate to a large extent since some of the assumptions underlying the use of OLS were satisfied.

6.3 Moderating role of ethical code of conduct

In relation to the moderating role of ECC, we tested equation (2) and the results of which are presented in Table 9 showed that the interaction effect between the moderator and the main independent variables, i.e. personal and organisational attributes were positive and significant (Table 9). Equation (2) is a regression model that incorporates all the study variables including the interaction terms.

Thus, confirming H4. This suggest that the interaction of ethical or professional code of conduct and organisational characteristics strengthen the ethical attitudes of accountants. This is consistent with findings from authors, such as Adams et al. (2001) and Somers (2001), who have all established a direct link between ECC and ethical attitudes.

With these results, we decided to explore further by looking at the interaction plot of the ECC. Figures 1 and 2 present these results and as can be seen, members of professional bodies with ECC exhibit more ethical attitudes compare to those without ECC.

As can be seen from Figure 1, members of professional bodies with ECCs when interacted with personal attribute of ethics exhibit more ethical attitudes. Thus, the relationship between personal attributes of ethics and ethical attitudes of accountants is strengthened with the presence of ethical codes of conduct.

Further, at higher levels of ethical codes of conduct as measured by the presence of professional ethical codes strengthens ethical attitudes of accountants as depicted in Figure 2. The implication, therefore, is that code of ethics should serve as the foundation upon which members of a professional bodies make decisions based on honesty, integrity, confidence and trust (Okpara, 2003). A written code of ethics provides members with an understanding and knowledge of what their professional bodies expect from them in terms of responsibilities and behaviour.

The findings from the study could be situated within the context of SCT. The central assumption of this theory is that ethical behaviour influenced by the interaction between both individual characteristics and the environmental characteristics (see Chen et al., 1998; Mauer et al., 2017; Mueller and Thomas, 2001; Shapero and Sokol, 1982). Thus, ethical behaviour can be understood in terms of the types of situations encountered and the social cognitive processes. More specifically, the sources of influence are family background, situational factors and the broader environment context (Nguyen et al., 2019).

In relation to the personal attributes of accountants, the SCT implies that the combined effects of several factors such as Greed and desire for personal gain, Behaviour of one’s peers, Behaviour of one’s superiors, Personal values, Family influences and pressures, religious background and ego strength will influence the ethical attitudes of accountants. In relation to organisational attributes of accountants, the SCT postulates that formal company policies and codes of conduct, visionary leadership, organisational climate and organisational culture/values interact to influence the ethical attitudes of accountants.

Empirical studies have found evidence that the SCT influence ethical behaviour (Cope and I’Anson, 2003; Tetlock and Lerner, 1999; Zapata-Fonseca et al., 2018; Rutledge et al., 2016).

In deed from this current study, it was noted that the combined effect of personal attributes, organisational attributes and some personal demographic variables will influence the ethical attitudes of accountants. The role of ethical or professional codes of conduct were identified to moderate positively the relationship between personal and organisational attributes on the ethical attitudes of accountants. This implies that at high level of ethical codes of conduct, ethical attitudes are strengthened and at low levels of the existence of ethical codes of conduct, ethical attitudes weaken.

7. Conclusions, limitations and suggestions for future research

The concept of personal values, organisational factors and ethical attitudes have been important research subjects for several years (Pan and Sparks, 2012). This study has examined the influence of personal and organisational characteristics together with the moderating role of professional code of conduct in predicting ethical attitudes. Based on 340 usable questionnaires from accountants in Ghana on questionable ethical vignettes, several insights have emerged.

This study has uncovered that personal attributes are strong predictors of ethical attitudes and must be considered in accounting education by educators and professional bodies. Besides, what constitutes personal attributes has been extended more broadly to cover more variables (greed and desire for personal gains, behaviour of peers and superiors, personal values, family influences and pressures, religious background, ego strength) than a narrow concentration on limited variables in some studies (Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015).

Also, organisational characteristics (company policies and codes of conduct, visionary leadership, organisational culture and climate) have been highlighted as a strong predictor of ethical attitudes. Professional code of conduct was identified as a moderating variable that can strengthen the ethical attitudes of accountants. Thus, professional accountants who belong to a professional body with ethical codes of conduct exhibit more ethical attitudes.

With respect to demographic variables, the study identified gender as negative and marginally significant at 10% level in influencing ethical attitude. It would thus appear that female gender is less disposed to questionable practices than men. Experience of accountants was statistically significant and positive in predicting ethical attitude. Overall, it may be concluded that personal and organisational characteristics, gender and experience are predictors of accountants’ ethical judgement. The findings have support in the literature (Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Holtbrügge et al., 2015).

The findings have important implications both theory and practice. As follows:

In the context of theory, the study confirms parts of the 3D model interaction of the SCT among personal, organisational and individual cognitive processes on ethical attitude. Thus, ethical behaviour is stimulated by a combination of factors relating to not only individuals, such as attitude and perceptions but also the environment, including family, school and society. The analytical essence of this study, therefore, explains the impact of organisational and environmental factors on the ethical attitudes with individual characteristics through SCT. The failure to take due account of social contingency necessarily reinscribes a view of personal characteristics as a determinant of ethical attitudes that is no longer plausible (Cope and I’Anson, 2003; Guerin, 1998). The work also contributes to the literature in the range of personal and organisational characteristics that have been considered to give a broader understanding of factors that have impact on ethical attitudes. This is essential for the design of change behaviour strategies among professionals (Holtbrügge et al., 2015).

In terms of policy, the study implies that code of ethics should serve as the foundation upon which members of a professional bodies make decisions based on honesty, integrity, confidence and trust. A written code of ethics provides members with an understanding and knowledge of what their professional bodies expect from them in terms of responsibilities and behaviour.

In terms of practical implications, the study implies that organisations must configure their training programmes to include issues that inculcate ethical values in employees especially from the organisational attributes perspective. Other policies aimed at developing strong personality attributes such as the ability to withstand the behaviour of peers, superiors and family must be encouraged. To better improve ethics in the profession, accounting educators and professional bodies should develop strategies that promote ethical practices. Besides, government policy must ensure the development of organisational environment that promotes ethical behaviour.

Although the study makes substantial contributions, it had some limitations which warrant alternative future research directions. Firstly, opinions reported using 340 professional accountants may not reflect the views of the entirety of accountants in Ghana. Future research should endeavour to expand the sample to cover partly qualified accountants to determine if their opinions would differ from the results of the present study.

Figures

Interaction plot of PAE and ECC

Figure 1.

Interaction plot of PAE and ECC

Interaction plot of OAE and ECC

Figure 2.

Interaction plot of OAE and ECC

Descriptive statistics of chartered accountants

Accountants = 340
Demographic profileFrequencyPercent (%)
Gender
Male 272 80
Female 68 20
Educational Qualification
Degree/Masters/PhD 266 78
None 74 22
Experience
Less than 10 years 186 55
10 years and above 154 45
Rank/position
Director/Manager 62 18
Others 278 82
Sector
Service 250 74
Other 90 26
Age
Below 40 years 147 43
40 years and above 193 57

Descriptive statistics of variables

Variables Observations Minimum Maximum Mean Std. deviation
EAA 340 1 7 5.110 1.422
PAE 340 1 7 5.110 1.382
OAE 340 1 7 5.450 1.371

Validity and reliability results

Variables/constructs Average variance extracted (AVE) Cronbach alpha (CA) Composite reliability (CR) CITC
PAE 0.597 0.865 0.875 0.342–0.728
OAE 0.632 0.769 0.824 0.423–0.749
ECC 1.000 1.000 1.000
Gender 1.000 1.000 1.000
Age 1.000 1.000 1.000
Sector 1.000 1.000 1.000
Expe 1.000 1.000 1.000
Position 1.000 1.000 1.000
Education 1.000 1.000 1.000

Regression of personal and organisational attributes with ethical attitudes

Dependent variable EAA
PAE 0.172*** (0.053)
OAE 0.162*** (0.054)
Gender −0.233* (0.134)
Age 0.017 (0.133)
Sector 0.075 (0.121)
Expe 0.135** (0.059)
Position −0.203 (0.142)
Education −0.037 (0.129)
_cons 0.293 (0.021)
 
N 340
R2 0.238
adj. R2 0.227
F 3.785
p 0.00116
Notes:

Standard errors in parentheses; * p < 0.1; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01

Summary of the effect of personal, organisational and demographic characteristics on ethical attitudes in comparison with other studies

Factor Level of significance Effects on ethical attitudes Examples of other studies supporting the observed effect/relationship Examples of other studies opposing the observed effect/relationship
Personal characteristics 99% Personal attributes have an impact on attitudes (Christie et al., 2003; Costa et al., 2016; Fritzsche and Oz, 2007; Holtbrügge et al., 2015; Modarres and Rafiee, 2011) Abuznaid (2009)
Organisational characteristics 99% Organisational attributes have an impact on attitudes Bowen (2004), Ghazali and Ismail (2013) and Holtbrügge et al. (2015) Vardi (2001)
Gender 90% Women have stronger ethical attitudes compared with men Chan and Leung (2006), Conroy and Emerson (2004), Deshpande (1997), Emerson et al. (2007) and Sweeney and Costello (2009) Musbah (2016), Kidwell et al. (1987) and Taylor (2013)
Age ns Age is not a predictor of ethical attitude Eweje and Brunton (2010) and Forte (2004a) Costa et al. (2016), Emerson et al. (2007), Emerson and McKinney (2010), Ghazali and Ismail (2013), Holtbrügge et al. (2015) and Weeks et al. (1999)
Experience 95% Those with more years’ work experience have improved ethical attitude Eweje and Brunton (2010), Ghazali (2015), Valentine and Rittenburg (2007) and Weeks et al. (1999) Desplaces et al. (2007) and Stewart and O’Leary (2007)
Position/rank ns Position/rank is not a predictor of ethical attitude Conroy et al. (2010), Forte (2004a) and Ponemon and Gabhart (1994) Forte (2004b)
Educational qualification ns Educational qualification is not a predictor of ethical attitude Chan and Leung (2006), (Deshpande, 1997; Ghazali and Ismail, 2013; Kidwell et al., 1987; Musbah et al., 2016) Deshpande et al. (2008), Ghazali (2015); Musbah et al. (2016)
Sector ns Sector is not a predictor of ethical attitude Emerson et al. (2007), Pierce and Sweeney (2010) and Stewart and O’Leary (2007) Forte (2004b) and Kaptein (2008)

VIF results

Variable VIF 1/VIF
OAE 1.840 0.543
PAE 1.810 0.553
Expe 1.380 0.726
Age 1.360 0.733
Gender 1.040 0.958
Sector 1.040 0.965
Educ 1.030 0.966
Posi 1.020 0.978
Mean VIF 1.320  

Source: Hair et al. (2014)

Correlation table

Variables EAA PAE OAE Gender Educ Posi Sector Expe Age
EAA 1.000
PAE 0.146 1.000
OAE 0.156 0.664 1.000
Gender −0.094 −0.011 0.016 1.000
Educ 0.024 −0.035 −0.029 0.151 1.000
Posi −0.094 0.007 −0.010 −0.080 −0.016 1.000
Sector 0.055 0.019 0.094 −0.084 −0.104 0.015 1.000
Expe 0.133 0.024 0.093 0.087 0.023 −0.120 −0.069 1.000
Age 0.055 −0.083 −0.049 0.097 0.056 −0.105 −0.014 0.500 1.000

Shapiro-Wilk W-test for normal data

Variable Obs W V z Prob > z
EAA 339 0.964 1.447 1.038 0.435

Source: Hair et al. (2014)

Regression results of equation (2)

Dependent variable EAA
PAE 0.170***
(0.053)
OAE 0.159***
(0.054)
ECC 0.168***
(0.069)
ECC × PAE 0.152***
(0.059)
ECC × OAE 0.212***
(0.083)
Gender −0.231
(−0.134)
Age 0.019
(0.130)
Sector 0.075
(0.121)
Expe 0.135**
(0.059)
Position −0.203
(−0.142)
Education −0.037
(−0.129)
_cons 0.223
  0.031
N 340
R2 0.245
adj. R2 0.237
F 3.254
p 0.017
Notes:

Standard errors in parentheses; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01

Appendix 1. Personal attributes of ethics

Statement

  • J1. Greed and desire for personal gain.

  • J2. Behaviour of one’s peers.

  • J3. Behaviour of one’s superiors.

  • J4. Personal values.

  • J5. Family influences and pressures.

  • J6. Religious background.

  • J7. Ego strength.

Notes: 1=strongly disagree; 7 = entirely agree.

Appendix 2. Organisational attributes of ethics

Statement

  • Formal company policies and codes of conduct.

  • Visionary leadership.

  • Organisational climate.

  • Organisational culture/values.

Notes: 1=strongly disagree; 7 =entirely agree.

Appendix 3: Vignettes on ethical attitudes of accountants

Vignettes

  • An executive earning GH¢100,000 a year overstated his expense account by about GH¢3,000 a year.

  • To increase profits of the firm, a general manager used a production process that exceeded legal limits for environmental pollution.

  • Because of pressure from his brokerage firm, a stockbroker recommended a type of stock that he did not consider to be a good investment.

  • A small business received one-fourth of its gross revenue in the form of cash. The owner reported only one-half of the cash receipts for income tax purposes.

  • A company paid a GH¢350,000 “consulting” fee to an official of a foreign country. In return, the official promised assistance in obtaining a contract that will produce GH¢10m profit for the contracting company.

  • A company president found that a competitor had made an important scientific discovery that would sharply reduce the profits of his own company. He then hired a key employee of the competitor in an attempt to learn the details of the discovery.

  • A highway-building contractor deplored the chaotic bidding situation and cutthroat competition in his industry. He, therefore, reached an understanding with other major contractors to permit bidding which would provide them with a reasonable profit.

  • A company president recognised that sending expensive Christmas gifts to purchasing agents might compromise their positions. However, he continued the policy since it was common practice and changing it might result in a loss of business.

  • A corporate director learned that his company intended to announce a stock split and increase its dividend. On the basis of this information, he bought additional shares and then following the announcement sold them for a gain.

  • A corporate executive promoted a loyal friend and competent manager to the position of divisional vice president in preference to a better-qualified manager with whom he had no close personal ties.

  • Finance Director selected a legal method of financial reporting which concealed some embarrassing financial facts that would otherwise have become public knowledge.

  • An employer received applications for a supervisor’s position from two equally qualified applicants but hired the male applicant because he thought that some employees might resent being supervised by a female.

  • Dan is a purchasing agent who has the final say on which suppliers his firm will buy from. Dan let it be known that when price and other things were equal, his purchasing decisions could be swayed by receipt of an “appropriate” gift.

  • The board of directors of TT Co Ltd recently approved a policy earmarking 7.5% of its profits for corporate giving. The funds will come directly out of retained earnings and thereby reduce the payout of dividends to the shareholders of the firm.

Notes: 1 = always acceptable; 7 = never acceptable.

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Further reading

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Corresponding author

Amoako Kwarteng can be contacted at: akwarteng@gimpa.edu.gh

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