Unethical, neurotic, or both? A psychoanalytic account of ethical failures within organizations

Simone de Colle, R. Edward Freeman

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper aims to integrate insights from psychoanalytic theory into business ethics research on the sources of ethical failures within organizations. We particularly draw from the analysis of sources and outcomes of neurotic processes that are part of human development, as described by the psychoanalyst Karen Horney and more recently by Manfred Kets de Vries; we interpret their insights from a stakeholder theory perspective. Business ethics research seems to have overlooked how “neurotic management styles” could be the antecedents of unethical behavior within organizations. After showing the connection between five managerial neuroses and the corresponding potential ethical failures within organizations that have been already identified within business ethics research, we suggest three organizational strategies to counteract these failures. First, we argue that managers should pay greater attention at the complexity of human motivation, avoiding the simplistic view of compliance-based approaches. Second, we discuss the importance of developing a conversation around values within organizations, enabling healthy individual growth and limiting the emergence of neurotic processes. Finally, we discuss the role of the business ethicist in facilitating such a process, suggesting a parallel between the role of the business ethicist and that of the psychoanalytic therapist.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)167-179
    Number of pages13
    JournalBusiness Ethics
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Business and International Management
    • Economics and Econometrics


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