Bringing an Ethic of Care to Organizations

By: Hannah Ramil

The Ethic of Care (EoC) rests upon the belief that “an awareness of the connection between people gives rise to a recognition of responsibility for one another, a perception of the need for response” (Gilligan, 1982). In essence, the EoC perspective emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and the needs of others in moral reasoning and moral decision-making.

Previous studies have found that care and compassion in the workplace can enhance commitment to the organization (Lilius, Kanov, Dutton, Worline, & Maitlis, 2012), workplace self-esteem (McAllister & Bigley, 2002), and resilience (Waldman, Carmeli, & Halevi, 2011), and reduce work-based anxiety (Kahn, 2001). Building on these previous findings, Lawrence and Maitlis (2012) proposed the EoC as an underpinning for narrative practices in the workplace. They suggested that narrative story-telling of shared experiences, struggles, and possible futures amongst coworkers can be a vehicle for enacting care in the workplace. For example, when a work team debriefs about a recent performance episode, members can take this time to appreciate and acknowledge one another’s abilities and commitments. This practice can lead to group potency, a shared belief among team members in the general efficacy of the team as a whole (Guzzo, Yost, Campbell, & Shea, 1993; Lester, Meglino, & Korsgaard, 2002).

Carmeli and colleagues (2017) empirically examined the EoC perspective as a corporate culture. Corporate culture is “a set of norms and values that are widely shared and strongly held throughout the organization” (O’Reilly and Chatman, 1996, p. 166). These shared norms and values influence worker attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction and organizational identification) and behaviors (e.g,. task performance and counterproductive work behaviors). Their study focused on how corporate culture may influence workers’ likelihood of engaging in sustainability-related behaviors, such as prioritizing environmental concerns, choosing more sustainable alternatives for products, services, and practices, lobbying, activism, and encouraging sustainable behaviors throughout the company (Carmeli et al., 2017).

In their first study, they found that an organizational culture based on EoC increased employees’ satisfaction with the organization’s sustainability concerns and increased employee motivation to follow through with the organization’s sustainability values. This boosted employee involvement in sustainability-related behaviors. Their second study found that EoC was related to increased employee sustainability-related behaviors. Not only did EoC improve sustainability behaviors, but it also enhanced the employees’ identification with the organization.

For organizations hoping to increase sustainability efforts (e.g., WeWork’s new meatless initiative), establishing a corporate culture founded on an EoC may help employee adherence to initiatives.

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