Ethics is defined as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or group”. Our personal ethics guide decisions that we make each day. The same is true in companies.
In a recent survey by the Ethics Resource Center, some sobering statistics about ethics in the work place were cited.
Among these are:
* More than half of workers observed at least one type of misconduct and this was an increase over a survey taken in 2003.
* The two most prevalent types of misconduct were abusive behavior towards employees and lying to employees, customers, suppliers, and the public.
* The survey also found that only 55 percent of employees reported misconduct to management, a drop from 65 percent in 2003.
The conclusion from the study was, that despite the renewed emphasis on corporate ethics in the wave of Enron and other corporate scandals, there has not been much change in work place ethics over the last five years. Although training, awareness, and formal programs are necessary, the real difference ultimately comes down to organizational culture. The study found that employees in a strong ethical culture are almost twice as likely to report misconduct than employees in a weak ethical culture. Formal programs in weak cultures had no impact on ethical behavior.
The key to establishing a strong ethical culture is management behavior and action. Management establishes the standards for behavior by what is accepts and not accepts as appropriate. What employees see their top executives, managers, and co-workers do, and get away with, influences significantly their own views of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
The benefits of having a strong ethical culture are:
* Recruiting and retaining top quality people
* Having a more satisfying and productive work environment
* Building your company’s reputation in the community and in the market place
* Less chance of expensive litigation expenses
* No surprise visits from “60 Minutes”
Employees who work in organizations with a strong ethical culture, who see executives and managers modeling ethical behavior, and who see honesty, integrity, and trust applied regularly have an overall greater satisfaction with their organizations and feel more valued. There are fewer incidents of misconduct and when there is, there is a greater willingness to report them.
1. In order for people to work together, there must be standards of behavior that they agree on. These standards, if adhered to, with further the stability and integrity of the group. If the standards are compromised or violated, the result is decreased stability and effectiveness.
2. Every organization must have an agreed upon behaviors. These behaviors are based on the organizations values and serve as the basis for establishing a code of ethics.
3. Work place ethics is not about changing people’s values, but rather dealing with conflict between them.
4. Most ethical decisions faced by leaders are complex. When faced with complex situations, critical thinking and problem solving applied through the window of the organization’s values and code of ethics is needed.
5. Even the most ethical person can make poor ethical decisions when stressed, confused, pressured, or under informed. The organization needs a structure and process to help people process ethical decisions and come up with the best conclusions.
6. There will always be unethical actions and ethical dilemmas in the work place. Leaders and employees can create a supportive environment where they work together to identify and prioritize values. They can also work to establish policies and procedures that will help the organization to better manage its values.
When faced with a key ethical decision, here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Would I be happy for this decision to be on the public record? In one company I worked for, we always had a saying when faced with a tough ethical decision–“Would we want to be on 60 Minutes explaining this decision?”. This kept us honest in exploring alternatives and trying to make sure that we did the right thing. Think about all the poor decisions business and political leaders have made that did become public knowledge.
2. What would happen if everybody did this? Imagine that your decision becomes a rule for behavior for the organization. The right decision for one person should be the right decision for everyone.
3. Will the proposed course of action bring about a good result? Does the decision produce the greatest balance of good compared to harm?
4. How would I like it if someone did this to me? The fact that you may not like the same thing to happen to you may force you to consider other alternatives.
5. What will this decision do to my reputation and the reputation of my company? Decisions help to shape our character and vice versa. If an unethical practice becomes a habit, it undermines values and principles.
6. Is the proposed course of action consistent with my stated values and principles? The gap between word and deed in a powerful source of cynicism in an organization.
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