Cogs in the wheel or spanners in the works? A phenomenological approach to the difficulty and meaning of ethical work for financial controllers

Francois-Regis Puyou*, Eric Fay

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    10 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    The aim of this paper is to propose a new perspective on the difficulty and meaning of ethical work for financial controllers. This is achieved by drawing on concepts from Michel Henry’s phenomenology of life in the field of business ethics. The French philosopher Michel Henry (1922-2002) is distinguished by his identifying two modes of appearing: “intentionality” (appearing of the world through representations) and “affectivity” (appearing of life). Henry suggests that relying only on abstract representations constitutes a specific ideology that causes individuals at work to ignore the actual experience of being affected, and hinders the appearance of life to guide their actions, in turn hindering ethics. Empirical illustrations are provided by a case study that explores the practices of management accountants in a travel retail corporation. By observing the empirical practices of management accountants, a body of professionals whose role is largely dependent on Information Technology (IT), abstraction and technical expertise to trace organisational flows and transactions, we shed light on the difficult ethical issues associated with their role of surveillance and control of other managers’ work. The case study illustrates a wide range of everyday working practices among management accountants. Some convey the impression that they lack empathy and consideration for other individuals, while others engage in close cooperation and ethical practices despite the constraining configuration of their role. A significant result of this research is that it illustrates and interprets, based on Henry’s phenomenology, a wide range of working practices. Consistent with Henry, we argue that the source of business ethics lies beyond professional standards, codes and values.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)863-876
    JournalJournal of Business Ethics
    Volume128
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2015

    Keywords

    • Financial controllers
    • Information technology
    • Management accountants
    • Michel Henry
    • Work ethics
    • Phenomenology

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