Thomas Donaldson and Diana C. Robertson
Serious research into corporate ethics is nearly half a century old. Two approaches have dominated research; one is normative, the other empirical. The former, the normative approach, develops theories and norms that are prescriptive, that is, ones that are designed to guide corporate behavior. The latter, the empirical approach, investigates the character and causes of corporate behavior by examining corporate governance structures, policies, corporate relationships, and managerial behavior with the aim of explaining and predicting corporate behavior. Normative research has been led by scholars in the fields of moral philosophy, theology and legal theory. Empirical research has been led by scholars in the fields of sociology, psychology, economics, marketing, finance, and management.
While utilizing distinct methods, the two approaches are symbiotic. Ethical and legal theory are irrelevant without factual context. Similarly, empirical theories are sterile unless translated into corporate guidance. The following description of the history of research in corporate ethics demonstrates that normative research methods are indispensable tools for empirical inquiry, even as empirical methods are indispensable tools for normative inquiry.
Organizational happiness is an intuitively attractive idea, notwithstanding the difficulty of defining happiness. A preference for unhappiness rather than happiness in an organization would be out of tune with community expectations in most societies, as would an organization that promoted unhappiness. Some argue that organizational happiness is a misconception, that happiness is a personality trait and organizations cannot have personality. Others suggest that organizational happiness is derived from, or at least dependent on, the happiness of the individuals in the organization. A third approach involves virtue ethics, linking organizational happiness to virtuous organizations. Some discussion of the nature of happiness is needed before consideration of these three approaches to the concept of organizational happiness. If one leaves aside the notion of happiness as a psychological state, there remain three main views as to the nature of happiness: one based on a hedonistic view, which grounds happiness in pleasure, one based on the extent to which desire is satisfied, and one where happiness is linked to a life of virtuous activity and the fulfillment of human potential. Some would see no distinction between all three senses of happiness and what is called well-being.
Whether or not organizations can experience happiness is to some extent determined by whether happiness is considered subjective well-being, fulfilled desire, or virtue and to some extent by one’s view of the moral nature of corporations. There are dangers in the unfettered pursuit of happiness. Empirical research is impacted by questions of definition, by changes over time for both individuals and society, and by the difficulty that arises from reliance on self-reported data. Recent decades have seen the publication of quantitative assessments of organizational happiness, despite the difficulty of constructing scales and manipulating data, and the problems of effectively taking into account cultural, organizational, and individual differences in concepts of happiness. Potential research questions fall into two groups, those that seek a better understanding of what happiness is and those that seek to collect data about happiness in pursuit of answers to questions about the benefits of happiness.