Ethical behavior at work has as much to do with the bottom line as it does with squaring your conscience. Unethical behavior can cost the company money. In fact, unethical behavior can sink the company – the now-defunct Enron Corporation is a prime example of how unethical behavior at the highest level can result in the destruction of reputations and a company’s demise. Ethical behavior helps to protect a company’s assets and can make an organization a better place to work.
Outright theft is clearly not an ethical practice, but there are many small ways in which an employee can take something from an organization. Office supplies are individually inexpensive, but in an organization with 100 employees, if each takes a $2 pen home once a week, the organization will lose more than $10,000 a year. An ethical employee will leave office supplies at the office, avoid padding expense accounts, refrain from making personal long-distance calls on company accounts and use sick time only when truly ill.
The way you treat fellow employees or customers is an ethical issue. If you promise a customer the moon when you know you can’t deliver, your customer will lose faith in both you and the organization. Blaming others for your mistakes leads to loss of trust and even outright hostility from coworkers. This is an area where the well-known Golden Rule is a good touchstone for ethical behavior. If you wouldn’t want someone to do it to you, don’t do it to them.
Much ethical behavior has to do with honesty. Stealing is obviously dishonest, but other kinds of dishonesty can be equally damaging. You might not want to tell your boss he has made a mistake, although you feel it will cost the company in the long run. After all, messengers often get shot down, even when the message is accurate. As another expample, you might tell a coworker who is a potential rival that his idea is terrific, when you know or suspect that it has serious flaws, in hopes that he will lose out when promotions come around.
Ethics is a complex issue, especially when your own self-interest is involved. Ask yourself some tough questions about your motives. Would your decision cause someone an injury? How would you feel if you stood on the other side of the fence? Make it a habit to treat people with respect, keep promises and avoid decisions made solely for your personal gain. Apply the “newspaper test” – if you would feel comfortable having your decision published in the newspaper for the whole world to see, you are probably acting in an ethical manner.
- Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Research: Importance of Ethical Behavior in the Workplace (TI)
- Pepperdine University: Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture
- Workplace Psychology: Creating an Ethical Organizational Culture
- Central Michigan University: Work-Place Ethics
- Ethics World: New Research Identifies Three Workplace Actions That Contribute Most to Employees' Ethical Behavior and Compliance
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images