Questions arise in the workplace when moral choices are presented and no one in a position of authority is visible. During these moments, each person is challenged to make the difficult choice and do the right thing. Business ethics might begin with simple decisions, such as:
Taking additional items from the supply cabinet for personal use.
Padding an expense report following a business trip.
Spending time on the Internet to conduct personal research.
Taking a sick day without being physically ill.
Each one of these choices reveals the personal character of the individual. Small compromises can evolve into significant choices that impact the business environment. Ethical decisions create a cascade effect in the workplace that requires time to diagnose and correct. One person who makes poor ethical choices can change the culture of an entire organization. Significant ethics violations develop over a long period of time when checks and balances are not present. Whenever questionable behavior arises, the entire team must feel empowered to refute the actions to restore high ethical standards to the workplace.
Undermining results – When team members are rewarded primarily for individual results, one person can affect the project by negatively influencing the work of the entire team. Negative comments can affect perception, but destructive actions can change actual outcomes.
Overselling self – One person who embarks on a quest to be the most important individual on the team has a focus that is not ethical in the workplace. While this approach may seem innocent at first, the result is mistrust and division within the team.
Manipulating results – Expected results can cause a dilemma for the individuals tasked with creating valid reports. The right choice is to report the accurate result, and the ethical person will do so even against significant odds. Truth in reporting prevents compromises that lead to costly consequences down the road.
Favoring one over the other – Businesses have limited resources that are used to earn profit, serve customers and compensate employees. Leaders must exercise care in the quest to provide fair salaries and recognition for significant achievement to every employee. Perception of unfair treatment can cause the loss of important skills from the workplace if people resign.
Gossip – There are never acceptable situations where those not present can be the subject of the conversation. Even in discussions concerning performance, each individual’s contribution must be the subject and not the attributes of each person. Managers must refrain from discussing subordinates with others.
Acting outside of role – Effective team members know the boundaries of the position in which they sit. Taking actions that are not within the assigned role is against ethical standards in the business setting.
Hiding questionable practices – Some of the most famous business failures have been caused by decision makers who knew that their actions were questionable. All best practices must be followed to protect the business against legal and financial compromises.
“What are we going to tell them?” – If a meeting is conducted and this question arises, something is very wrong in the organization. Trust and truth must be the measure of all communications. Concocting a story that must be delivered in an effort to cover problems will lead to compromises in other areas.
Taking from one to benefit another – Actions that are taken to shift resources to one person or group at the expense of another are an indication of poor business ethic standards. Use of resources must follow a set of standards that are not shifted based on the current situation.
Tolerating conflicts of interest – Objective third parties can identify existing conflicts of interest that cannot be allowed in the workplace. Ignoring these conflicts opens the door for poor decisions that can cause resentment and compromise.
Ethical decisions are difficult because the human mind accepts progressively more questionable practices. Significant moral failures are borne out of a long series of poor decisions without appropriate accountability. Involvement of peers is essential for those who wish to live by the highest ethical standards. Others can provide important feedback concerning the ethical choices that must be evaluated through daily interaction. Open communication and strong professional relationships will ensure that every team member will hold to the highest ethical standards in the workplace.