Promoting Ethics Management Strategies in the Public Sector: Rules, Values, and Inclusion in Sweden

Date01 July 2022
Published date01 July 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2022, Vol. 54(6) 1089 –1116
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997211050306
Promoting Ethics
Management Strategies
in the Public Sector:
Rules, Values, and
Inclusion in Sweden
Staffan Andersson1 and Helena Ekelund1
This article studies two Swedish organizations with key roles in the
facilitation and promotion of ethics management vis-à-vis other public-sector
organizations. The study offers insights into how organizations combine
and prioritize ethics management measures, involve submanagement
employees, and consider external stakeholders, in contexts of democratic
governance and public concern about corruption. Our findings suggest that
these types of bird’s-eye view organizations studied are important as they
are in a position less prone to ad hoc scandal-driven responses. They can
thus promote strategies that consider a combination of aspects and avoid a
narrow rules-based focus.
ethics management, integrity, public organizations, public agencies
Sound organizational ethics are crucial for responsive and successful imple-
mentation of public policy and to generate confidence in public administra-
tion. An ethical climate is also positively linked to performance, employee
1Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden
Corresponding Author:
Staffan Andersson, Department of Political Science, Linnaeus University, Växjö, 351 95,
1050306AAS0010.1177/00953997211050306Administration & SocietyAndersson and Ekelund
1090 Administration & Society 54(6)
work satisfaction, and employee turnover (Cooper, 2012; Maesschalck &
Bertok, 2009, p. 21; Menzel, 2007, p. 10; Rose & Heywood, 2013, p. 10).
What is considered appropriate conduct in an organization is determined
by rules governing it and also by the values held by it, its members, and the
rest of society. Research on organizational ethics has emphasized that effec-
tive ethics management strategies need to combine measures to ensure com-
pliance with existing rules with measures that aim to encourage the
development of appropriate ethical values among staff (e.g., Huberts, 2018,
p. S26; Lewis & Gilman, 2005, p. 1; Menzel, 2007, p. 55). We know that
rules without compliance become meaningless, but as not every situation can
be accounted for in law, rules on their own cannot ensure appropriate behav-
ior (e.g., Cooper, 2012; Hoekstra et al., 2008). Moreover, trying to regulate
every aspect of administrative action, and eliminate administrative discre-
tion, would lead to inflexibility, inefficiency, and lower staff morale (e.g.,
Anechiarico & Jacobs, 1996). We also know that finding the most effective
mixture between measures focused on compliance and values is difficult.
Less is known about how organizations practically combine strategies and on
what grounds they choose the combinations they do. Similarly, the literature
increasingly points to the importance of considering inclusion of submanage-
ment-level employees and external stakeholders for strategies to be effective
while noting that more study is needed of how this is done in practice
(Anechiarico & Segal, 2020, p. 293).
This article contributes to our knowledge about how different strategies
are combined in practice by investigating how two organizations holding
important roles in promoting ethics management strategies in the Swedish
public sector combine different strategies and how they make priorities
between them. The organizations are the Swedish Agency for Public
Management (SAPM) and the Swedish Association of Local Authorities
and Regions (SALAR). Their respective functions (more on this further
down) enable them to hold a bird’s-eye view perspective on public-sector
organizations at the state level (SAPM) and local level (SALAR). We show
that ethics management strategies promoted in practice combine aspects
from rules- (compliance) and values-based strategies. Our study also shows
how these organizations are prioritizing between instruments and to what
extent involvement of submanagement-level employees and external stake-
holders is emphasized. We argue that some of the differences found between
the two organizations are related to contextual factors such as legislation
and experience of scandal in the state and local government sectors, respec-
tively, and also due to differences in the roles of the organizations.

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