Orientation: Industrial and organisational psychologists (I-O psychologists) find
themselves at a cross-road regarding their professional existence. Being
competent in ethical decision making manifests in ethical reasoning in order to
take moral action when an ethical dilemma is presented without a clear definition
of right and wrong. How I-O psychologists react to an ethical dilemma will
determine to a large extent the sustainability of this field of applied psychology in
the workplace. For I-O psychologists to recognise these potential risks, it is
important to have an understanding of the ethical dilemmas they might be
confronted with when entering the world of work within the South African context.
Research purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore the ethical
dilemmas that I-O psychologists are experiencing in South Africa.
Motivation for this study I-O psychologists confronted with ethical dilemmas
may fail to differentiate between right and wrong because of the complexity and
relative obscurity of some of the ethical standards they have to apply (Ergene,
2004; Gumu_ & Gumu_; 2010). During 2015/2016 a number of ethical dilemmas
were put forward via the Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology of
South Africa’s (SIOPSA) Ethics helpline. The expectation is that I-O psychologists
should have a sound understanding of ethical standards and professional
responsibilities, be on the forefront of literary developments, rely on a sound
integration between personal ethics and professional ethics and continually use
self-questioning to deal with ethical dilemmas (Herlihy & Corey, 2006; Pope &
Vasquez, 2007; Welfel, 2006). The integrity of the profession is reliant on the extent
to which I-O psychologists can regulate their own behaviour and view selfregulation
as worth the work it involves (Pope et al., 1987; Lindén, 2008). Thus, the
main focus of the study is to explore the ethical dilemmas that I-O psychologists
are experiencing in the South African context of work. This is potentially useful in
situations where I-O psychologists have to employ sound ethical reasoning to
resolve an ethical dilemma that they will most likely be faced with. This is an
opportunity for I-O psychologists to re-evaluate the inherent and professional
value system they rely on to guide their ethical decision-making.
Research design, approach and method: This study used an interpretivist
paradigm as it’s a methodological approach and a qualitative methodology for
collecting data an exploratory approach was used to gain a better
understanding of the ethical dilemmas facing I-O psychologists in South Africa
(Dreyer, 2016; Robson, 2002) and for ongoing adjustments to the research design.
The researcher used a multiple-case strategy as this allowed the investigation to
use replication logic (Zach, 2006). Focus group discussions were scheduled at six of
the SIOPSA branches and were guided by a semi-structured discussion format.
These focus groups took part in a one day workshop at their SIOPSA branch. The facilitator put a prepared question to the participants to initiate discussion and
followed this with additional questions when new themes were identified or to
improve the interviewer’s understanding of the participants’ responses (Bryman &
Bell, 2007). Data was analysed using a thematic analysis approach.
Main findings: The researcher identified main themes and sub themes with
underlying facets through investigating the frequency with which these themes
and sub-themes were addressed throughout all six events at the SIOPSA branches.
The themes and sub-themes were discussed in detail. The main themes were
labelled Scope of practice, Assessments, Education and Internships. Under Scope
of practice the underlying sub themes were labelled Scope creep, Conduct,
Contracting and Application. The underlying sub themes for Assessments are
Instrument, Conduct, Data and Results. Under Education the researcher identified
Academic, Board exams and Professional as sub themes, and the sub themes for
Internships were labelled Programmes and Workplace.
Practical implications: The results of the study could assist I-O psychologists to
better understand their world of work by informing them about where ethical
dilemmas are prevalent. It should therefore also assist them to be more proactive
in their decision-making when they are faced with an ethical dilemma in the
Contribution/value-add: This study assisted in gathering the latest information
on ethical practice and contributing to a better understanding of ethical
dilemmas in the field of I-O psychology.
Dissertation (MCom)--University of Pretoria, 2019.