Emotions and Ethics in the Hiring Process

Subject: Business
Type: Expository Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1186
Topics: Business Ethics, Emotions, Human Resources

Decision making is an important managerial function in any organisation. Whether an organisation meets its goals depends on the type of decisions its management makes. However, it is never possible to make decisions objectively. Instead, a number of factors come into play and influence how decisions are made and what is arrived at. These factors include emotions like sadness, moral disengagements like obscuring moral agency, ethical lapses like implicit attitudes, and moral blindness like moral licensing. These factors can play a significant role in the decisions a manager makes in a hiring process.

Whenever managers make decisions, their emotional state influence them in much the same way the outcomes of the decision they make influence emotions they experience. An emotion state refers to a set of feelings that arise under a certain circumstance or with a certain activity (Duque, Turla, & Evangelista, 2013). One such state that may influence a manager in, say, a hiring process is sadness. The choice of one applicant over any other is likely to depend on whether the hiring manager is sad, and if so, how much as well. It is not that emotions play a direct role in such a circumstance, but it is because they influence the manager’s evaluation process.

Sadness influences a hiring manager’s decision-making more than any other emotion, other than happiness. This is in accordance with Duque, Turla, and Evangelista’s (2013) finding that sadness and happiness are the strongest emotions when it comes to decision making. Managers would not be able to avoid the influence of these emotions. This is because it is impossible to make a practical decision without having emotions attached to their potential outcomes (Duque, Turla, & Evangelista, 2013). As sadness interferes with people’s ability to process information, hiring managers are likely to poorly evaluate job applicants and, hence, end up hiring the wrong candidates. As an avoidance tactic, a hiring manager should ensure that he or she is stays away from anything that would make him or her too happy or too sad on the day of conducting an interview. If he or she happens to be in either emotional state, the hiring manager should at least conduct the interview together with other hiring managers whose consultation during the interview would ensure objectiveness.  

Other than sadness, obscuring moral agency is also likely to affect a hiring manager’s decision making on who to hire and who to dismiss. Obscuring moral agency entails how managers think about their roles and how they use it as a basis for their decision making (Kolb, 2007). It takes the form of three main strategies: attribution of blame, diffusion of responsibility, and displacement of responsibility. Each of the three strategies can influence a hiring process. Moreover, to the disadvantage of job applicants, hiring managers may exploit them as a justification for rejecting applications. 

The three strategies can also serve to obscure unethical conducts of a hirer, particularly in the case where he or she is biased against employees of certain attributes. In terms of displacement of responsibility, a hiring manager may cede responsibility to a senior, arguing that a decision to not hire is in accordance with the requirements of senior management over which he or she has no control. As regards diffusion of responsibility, a hiring manager may simply dismiss some applications, believing that rejected applicants will understand that rejection is a common tendency in the labor market. As concerns attribution of blame, hirers may explain that prospective employees would have a better chance if they were better qualified than their counterparts. In order to avoid obscuring of moral agency, which may encourages unethical conduct in the hiring process, the interviewer simply need to be aware that its three strategies are likely to compromise his or her evaluation of applicants on the bases of skills and expertise. The awareness would help the manager keep it at bay. 

Another factor that is likely to lead to a hiring manager being unethical is their moral attitudes and values. The two constitute social cognition, which influences managerial decision making (Marquardt &Hoeger, 2009). Current social cognition research categorises attitudes into two: explicit attitudes and implicit attitudes. Explicit attitudes are “expressed evaluative reactions that operate at a more conscious level”, while implicit attitudes are defined as “introspectively unidentified traces of past experience that mediate favourable or unfavourable feeling, action or thought towards social objects” (Marquardt &Hoeger, 2009, p. 158). It follows that implicit attitudes, being evaluations that form on a sub-conscious level, may make hiring managers unaware of the influence attitudes have on their other psychological processes like decision-making.

Implicit attitude influences hiring process, especially through discrimination. Hiring managers may subconsciously discriminate against a certain group of people. The groups may take the form of race, religion, gender, or age. For instance, for a tech job position, a hirer may have a preference for millennials, despite it being evident that older people have more experience and are likely to be more productive in those positions. The fact that implicit attitudes are automatic, intuitive, relatively effortless, quick, unintentional, and can operate with the conscious awareness of the decision maker (Marquardt & Hoeger, 2009) means that they can negatively impact the productivity of the organisation concerned if people are not hired strictly on the basis of their skills, expertise, and experience. One possible avoidance tactic is for the hiring manager to have an outline of details of qualifications for available positions, and follow them strictly during the interview. An alternative would be to conduct pre-interviews over the phone in order to minimize distraction by and influence of the race, religion, gender, or age of applicants.

Finally, another factor that can affect decision making involving hiring is moral licensing. Moral licensing refers to a cognitive bias which affords individuals immoral behaviour without a threat to their self-image as concerns morality (Simbrunner & Schlegelmilch, 2017). The cognitive bias results from an accumulation of moral credentials in some situations to such an extent that individuals acquire a sense of entitlement to act immorally in subsequent or other situations. The history or record of acting morally and ethically shields managers from feeling guilty about contravening moral rules (Shalviet al., 2015). In order to avoid moral licensing undermining the hiring process, managers should equip themselves with their organizations’ morals regarding hiring just before conducting interviews, and ensure that they strictly adhere to them. This avoidance tactic is arguably the only one readily available, as moral licensing can take effect without a hirer’s full consciousness. 

Emotions like sadness, moral disengagements like obscuring moral agency, ethical lapses like implicit attitudes, and moral blindness like moral licensing influence how managers make decisions, for example, those regarding who to hire. The factors have the potential substantially undermine the decision-making process, and, as a result, negatively impact the future productivity and profitability of an organisation. One avenue for ensuring that these factors do not interfere with such important managerial functions as hiring is to ensure that the managers concerned fully understand and appreciate the unwanted role of these factors. This would enable them to make decisions objectively.

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  1. Duque, M.J., Turla, C. and Evangelista, L., 2013. Effects of emotional state on decision making time. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences97, pp.137-146.
  2. Kolb, R.W. ed., 2007. Encyclopedia of business ethics and society. Sage Publications.
  3. Marquardt, N. and Hoeger, R., 2009. The effect of implicit moral attitudes on managerial decision-making: An implicit social cognition approach. Journal of Business Ethics85(2), pp.157-171.
  4. Shalvi, S., Gino, F., Barkan, R. and Ayal, S., 2015. Self-serving justifications: Doing wrong and feeling moral. Current Directions in Psychological Science24(2), pp.125-130.
  5. Simbrunner, P. and Schlegelmilch, B.B., 2017. Moral licensing: a culture-moderated meta-analysis. Management Review Quarterly67(4), pp.201-225.
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