Consequences of Being Unethical in the Workplace

You could be fired or arrested for stealing at work.
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Would you take home pens and pencils from your workplace, or tell a lie to customers or your co-workers? For that matter, maybe you recognize the names Bernie Madoff and Enron. All of these are examples of being unethical in the workplace. Taking pens and pencils is still stealing, a lie is a lie, Bernie Madoff fleeced thousands of people and Enron -- which used unethical financial accounting practices to hide its business failures and keep stock prices high -- went bankrupt.

Employee Theft

    Even small unethical behaviors on the part of employees can cost employers a great deal of money because the effects are multiplied. Take the pen and pencil example -- say each costs an employer about a dollar. In a company with 100 employees, if each takes home one pen or pencil a week, the company will lose more than $5,000 a year. According to a September 2009 article in “Human Resource Executive Online,” employee theft may cost American businesses as much as $50 billion annually.

Lies and Cheating

    Quality management professionals in any business are particularly susceptible to the issue of falsified data -- a form of lie – according to a 2009 article in “Quality Digest.” The article notes that a 2006 study showed MBA graduate students cheat more often than graduate students in other programs. The article notes the problem is not new -- 41 percent of students performing research in 1993 felt it was acceptable to “fudge the data.” In addition to quality management professionals, scientists and engineers rely on accurate data to develop new medications or technology and build bridges, freeways or buildings. Researchers who falsify data may put lives at risk when a scientist relies on that data to develop a new drug or an engineer incorporates inaccurate structural standards into the design of a freeway overpass.

Bullying and Harassment

    Unethical behavior such as bullying, harassment and injustice may have both financial and health implications, according to a 2009 article in the “Journal of Business Ethics.” The authors report that harassment can affect job satisfaction and organizational commitment, while bullying increases turnover. This sort of behavior, the authors report, affects perpetrators, victims and witnesses as well as associated persons. For example, if bullying creates high turnover an organization may be less productive, leading stockholders to suffer financial losses.

Health Care and Ethics

    In the health-care industry, unethical behavior such as corruption can result in fraud, harm people or even cause death, according to the World Health Organization. WHO reports that as of 2009, as much as 25 percent of public spending -- including pharmaceutical spending -- was lost to corruption, while fraud and abuse in health care costs the U.S. up to $23 billion a year. If medication shipments are diverted or counterfeit and substandard medications are sent instead of the correct product, patients may continue to suffer or die.

Personal Consequences

    Unethical behavior at work could have personal consequences. For a start, you could get fired. Some unethical actions are also illegal, and you could be arrested. If employee theft is widespread or significant, you could lose your job because your employer goes under. “Human Resource Executive Online” reports 30 percent of small businesses fail because of employee theft. If you know someone is behaving unethically, it could make you feel angry, and if you personally are doing something unethical, it could make you feel anxious or guilty and increase your stress level.

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