Education in Business Ethics and the Prevention of Toxic Leadership: A Phenomenological Qualitative Study
Research has revealed the destructive impact of a toxic workplace on mental and physical health. The purpose of the qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the individual lived experience of toxic leadership and a toxic workplace and the perception of the possible connection between education in business ethics and the prevention of toxic leadership. The study was necessary because the harmful effects of a toxic workplace might be preventable. Education in business ethics has the potential to develop ethical awareness and moral courage. The study explored the gap in research and established a connection between the incidence of toxic leadership and lack of education in business ethics. Kohlberg’s theory of moral development recognized egocentrism and deficiencies in moral reasoning as the primary drivers of unethical behavior. The purposively selected participants, 18 Americans living in the United States and Germany, came from diverse backgrounds. The research findings revealed mixed feelings and perspectives. Contextual dynamics such as personal traits, level of power, and organizational culture were pointed out by a majority of participants as the deciding factors affecting the connection between the incidence of a toxic workplace and the lack of education in business ethics. The implications for leadership are evident as 17 out of 18 candidates described a failure in the implementation of the organizational codes of ethics or establishing the framework of legal protections and workplace justice. The problem of senior leadership and human resource managers falling victim to toxic individuals and a toxic workplace should be a separate topic for further research. The recommendations for preventing the development of a toxic workplace invite education with the potential to create a critical mass of individuals with moral courage to stand against unethical practices and generate a culture shift by raising the overall visibility and making toxic behavior socially unacceptable.