Legitimating the legitimate: A grounded theory study of legitimacy work among Ethics and Compliance Officers

Linda K. Trevino, Niki A. den Nieuwenboer, Glen Kreiner, Derron G. Bishop

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

42 Scopus citations


Organizations have responded to ethical scandals in part by creating the Ethics and Compliance Officer (ECO) role to help insure employee ethical and legal behavior. Because ECO work is so fundamental to behavioral ethics in organizations and we know very little about it, we conducted a grounded theory study to learn more. We learned that, although most ECOs were hired to help their organizations respond to external legitimacy challenges, ECOs face major legitimacy challenges inside their organizations. Facilitating conditions may reduce these challenges and help ECOs reach internal legitimacy. But, we also found that ECOs engage in what we term legitimacy work that relies on a number of tactics to help them gain legitimacy in the eyes of their constituents. We tie our findings to the broader legitimacy literature and draw implications for the behavioral ethics literature.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)186-205
Number of pages20
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2014


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management

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