An Examination of How Entry-Level Staff Auditors Respond to Tone at the Top vis-à-vis Tone at the Bottom
41 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2012 Last revised: 5 Feb 2015
Date Written: June 23, 2014
Prior academic and practitioner literature argues that the ethical tone at the top of an organization is a key factor in establishing an effective internal control environment. Drawing on self-concept maintenance theory and in-group bias theory, we predict that entry-level staff auditors will disregard a company’s ethical standards unless they observe a strong ethical tone from both their partner (tone at the top) and their supervising senior (tone at the bottom). Also, we predict that staff auditors will be more influenced by the tone of their supervising senior than the partner when these two individuals provide conflicting tones. In a 2 x 2 experiment that manipulates the tone set by a staff auditor’s supervising senior and engagement partner, we provide evidence consistent with our expectations. Further analyses suggest that participants made less ethical decisions because they were less likely to view the situation as an ethical dilemma when either the senior or partner exhibited low tone. The results of this study emphasize that tone at the top is not, by itself, sufficient to produce ethical decision making; organizations must strive to foster a strong ethical tone throughout the entire organization, especially at lower levels of the organization.
Keywords: Accountability, Auditing, Control Environment, Tone at the Top, Underreporting
JEL Classification: M4, M41, G3, G34, L20, L84, M14, M59
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation