Behaviors That Raise Ethical Questions in the Workplace

Sharing a drink with a competitor is OK -- sharing confidential information is not.
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Ethical work behaviors do matter. Companies with good reputations are viewed by the public as ethical and upstanding. Companies that operate outside ethical boundaries or walk a fine line when it comes to ethical practices can lose customers and market share. Whether a company walks that line or avoids it depends on the ethical conduct of its employees. If you want to protect your company -- and, by default, your job -- avoid doing anything that puts your own ethics into question.

Personal Integrity

    Work attitudes and behaviors are signs of your personal integrity. If you don’t respect your company’s rules and policies, colleagues will see that your values do not coincide with company values, and your sense of ethics could be seen as out of synch. Other indicators that you might hold yourself to lower ethical workplace standards can include lying, being selfish and letting your personal biases affect your willingness and ability to collaborate with others.

Dealing with Customers

    In sales, taking a customer to lunch is common, but to dinner and a show is questionable. Paying for a customer to travel to one of your company locations might be a valid business expense, but agreeing to pay for the customer’s family is never OK. Moving a customer’s son or daughter to the front of the line for a job or internship might sound like an innocent gesture, but it could bring your company’s hiring practices under fire -- and get you fired along the way.

Dealing with Vendors

    Sometimes you might find yourself on the receiving end of gifts and special treatment, especially if you’re in purchasing. Colleagues will notice you wearing jackets with logos, going to sporting events or other venues and taking long lunches. Granting contracts to vendors who lavish you with gifts will make it appear as though they have bought your loyalty, regardless of their ability to provide your company with the best products or services at the best value. You might be friends with a vendor outside of work, but at work you must never let friendship -- or gifts -- cloud your judgment.

Talking to Competitors

    If you are friends with someone in a competing company or you encounter competitors during networking events and professional conferences, you must always be mindful of what information you share and what topics you discuss. Divulging confidential information puts your ethics into question and could harm your company. You must also avoid discussions relating to pricing, vendor preferences, and regions or territories. Each of these topics could indicate you are on the verge of breaking antitrust laws that prohibit competitors from working in collusion.

Managing People

    Managers should serve as examples for their employees, but sometimes it’s the manager who needs to see some examples. While managers can exhibit any of the behaviors already noted, they have the added responsibility of providing ethical leadership to staff members. Managers who treat some staff members better -- or worse -- than others for reasons other than performance and capability could be exhibiting biased and unethical behavior. These behaviors walk a fine line between unethical and illegal, potentially violating employment laws intended to protect us all from harassment and unfair treatment.

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