Building Ethical Capital: Perceptions of Ethical Climate in the Public Sector



This article examines influences on public servant perceptions of ethical climate in the public sector. The array of beneficial outcomes produced by perceptions of a positive ethical climate, the existence of government programs aimed at improving ethical climate, and implications for government accountability and trustworthiness all argue for a better understanding of the sources of these perceptions. Empirical analyses of survey responses from employees of the U.S. federal executive branch show that individuals in leadership positions perceive the ethical climate more positively. Conversely, work tenure tends to worsen perceived ethical climate, although supervisory status attenuates this negative effect. Ethics training, interaction with ethics officials, and perceived knowledge about ethics topics consistently influence perceptions of ethical climate and advice-seeking behavior in a positive way. A set of results related to advice-seeking behavior serves to reinforce the important role of ethics officials.