Businesses around the globe face a universal challenge of ethical dilemmas that aren’t always black and white. Failing to make the right decisions not only jeopardizes a business’ relationship with its employees and customers but puts corporate existence at stake. For example, in a 2018 LinkedIn survey, 39% of respondents said they would rather quit than engage in unethical conduct.
It is, therefore, imperative for aspiring business professionals to undergo ethical training so that employees work effectively and harmoniously. Many institutions incorporate moral training pedagogies such as case studies, guest speakers and textbooks, but they lack engagement and interactivity.
To raise awareness about the importance of good ethical decision making among aspiring business professionals, researchers Robert Steinbauer and Anh Mai To, supported by the CPA, conducted a research study using XpertVR’s office simulation on a group of over 150 people from around the world.
The VR environment was based on a well-known MBA case (the Pinto fire case) by Dennis Gioia, where the participants were asked to decide whether to fix a dangerous vehicle defect for a cost of $200 million or leave the model as-is, causing an estimated 180 deaths and another 180 burn injuries. The data from people experiencing the VR environment was then collected and compared to participants who went through video-and-text based versions of the same case.
In the VR environment, students can walk around the office, watch a video from the CEO talking about the company, hear a water-cooler conversation between co-workers, witness a customer service call and listen in on a meeting between the CEO and COO. Through these experiences, XpertVR’s office simulation presented two office cultures: ethical and unethical.
In the ethical scenario, the environment elements focused on the importance of organizational values, long-term profits and stakeholder balance. In contrast, the unethical scenario focused on short-term profits, stock-market value, and executive bonuses.
Participants in the experiment were grouped according to one of the three case formats they engaged with: video, text or VR. Using a psychometric scale, commonly involved in research, the participants were asked to answer a series of questions to assess their experience.
Results & Feedback
Surveys of the participants suggested that the VR case was more emotionally engaging and put people under more pressure, making the decision more effortful. In comparison, decision-making pertaining to the text-based case was reflective and dispassionate but less likely to be perceived as complicated or overwhelming.
The study also found that participants’ response to the VR scenario is likely to be the best guide to what they would do if facing a similar dilemma and culture in real world—outperforming the video and text versions of the scenarios.
To conclude, the research study showed VR could be an incredibly effective tool for organizations and educators in giving people a space where they can learn, through experimentation, about how to voice their values effectively when asked to engage in unethical conduct.