Workplace Ethics

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Effective and appropriate workplace ethics-principles and practices that define the duties, obligations and, by implication, the rights of an organization's members-builds on the individual and collective values found in society. Any workplace ethical standards sharply at variance with those privately or publicly embraced by its members are likely to be protested, resisted or at least questioned by them.

Conversely, when an organization's specific rules and codes dovetail with the core morality of its employees, compliance facilitated by comprehension and agreement is very likely to be very willing. Preaching is always easier when it is directed at the already mostly converted.

When a given organization's ethics deviate from those of its employees, special effort will be required to "sell" them, e.g., in "pump-and-dump" stock operations that fleece clients as the wool is pulled over their eyes. (Yes, even evil-doers believe they are doing "the right thing"-at least for themselves.)

Workplace ethics, more commonly called "business ethics" in the US, occupies a spot somewhere between law and religion. Like the law, its rules and allowed practices are regarded as being susceptible to modification and evolution; like religion, those principles are regarded as somehow chiseled in stone emotionally, if not literally, and enunciated with piety akin to religious fervor.

Ideally, any code of ethics should be comprehensible to as well as compulsorily binding upon those subject to it. This means that workplace ethics should do more than control the behavior of an organization's members. In any of its specific embodiments, it should also seem reasonable and well-justified. Commandments without explanation seem to work well for religions; but they are not likely to seem compelling in the second sense, when trumpeted to a savvy, feisty or skeptical workforce.

The behaviors that a company wishes to instill in managing workplace ethics will primarily be determined by the organizational culture and priorities that guide organizational decisions, but with inspiration and constraints from the broader community in which the organization operates and is embedded.

To ensure a positive and ethical environment, the guidelines for the culture and goals must be reinforced on a regular basis, and each decision made should be based on the principles of the underlying mission, vision, and values upon which the culture is intended to be based. The simplest and most effective strategy for reinforcing workplace ethics is through the coaching method of management, which requires accountability at all levels and uses a mentoring-based solution to problems with employee behavior or performance.

As with any rule or guideline that the company wishes employees to follow, the key to compliance is consistency and clarity throughout the organization. If upper management is perceived as unethical, the likelihood of subordinates taking the morally higher road diminishes in proportion to the latter's awareness of and comparable immunity from the consequences of unethical behavior. Leading by example is best demonstrated in the area of ethics, as it is a reflection of a person both within and outside of the workplace, and will inspire the type of compliance that is highly desired.
  • Whistle-blowing

    Whistle-blowing occurs when an employee notifies others of unethical and/or illegal actions within an organization. It can be done internally by alerting managers or supervisors, externally by alerting someone outside the organization such as law enforcement, or through leaking information to the media.

    Business Ethics - Corporate Responsibilities

    Articles and information about corporate best practices in ethics and employer responsibilities to employees.

    Professional Ethics

    Should we think of professional ethics as a subset of our general ethics, or as somehow being distinct? One respect in which the moral expectations that govern any given profession differ from our more general ethics is that, for very many people, their broad code of ethics is frequently literally eternally chiseled in stone...

    Workplace Bullying

    If a coworker won't make space for you at a cafeteria table by removing a bag on a seat, you may feel as though you are being bullied. But, because this kind of behavior is "passive aggressive" rather than actively aggressive, e.g., intimidation, it may not always be easy to back up a complaint of "bullying".

    Work Values

    Successful job performance is not conclusive evidence of alignment of company and employee work values, since the latter may do the job well from fear or habit, rather than from some positive attitude toward the job. When values are more perfectly aligned, employee dependability, loyalty and satisfaction can more reliably be inferred and predicted, with benefits for employer and employee alike.

    Ethics Training

    Ethics training can be viewed in two very different, frequently conflicting ways-as authoritarian dogmatic "indoctrination" about right and wrong, moral and immoral, good and evil, or, as training to think reflectively and independently about ethics.

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