Ethics in The Workplace: Why it’s Important
Oftentimes, deciding to do the right thing can be a difficult choice. Such dilemmas, classified often as 'ethical' decisions, are commonly found in the workplace. Ethics can be described as a moral dilemma about distinguishing between what is right and wrong. Experts say the word 'ethics' can be commonly interchanged with the word 'judgment'. These ethical dilemmas can arise when the established rules or policies are unclear, and that typically the situation is so unique that there are no guidelines on how to approach them. One setting in which making the wrong judgment decision can have especially harmful impacts is in the workplace. Company time, money, and resources can all perish severely if one person makes an unethical decision.
Some of the world’s largest and most successful corporations have fallen due to employees using a lack of proper judgment when it comes to unique situations in which the right choice is not always clear. One prime example of this is the Enron Corporation, the multi-billion dollar energy company that went bankrupt after years of lying to shareholders about their financial statements. Since not all ethics issues are this phenomenal, I wanted to know more about how this controversial topic of ethics affects the workplace on a smaller, more probable scale. To do this, I sought out Dr. Hugh Turner, a professor at here at the University of Maryland. I wanted his point of view because he is an expert in the field and has had much experience with this issue in the past.
How Companies Can Manage Unethical Behavior
One thing that particularly peaked my curiosity during my initial research of ethics in the workplace was finding out how companies can limit the damage done by employees that make unethical decisions. To find out more about this, I asked Dr. Turner for his expertise. He explained to me that he believes the best way to reduce the chances of unethical decisions occurring is to establish clear company guidelines. Turner’s full answer is posted below:
After he explained this, I thought that made a lot of sense. As an employer, doing your best to make sure your employees know what is right and wrong in every situation will help protect them from making poor decisions. Many times, these poor decisions can lead to minor penalties, such as loss of company time or resources. However, these poor decisions can also lead to more hefty consequences, such as lawsuits or eventual bankruptcy for the company, as we saw with the Enron Corporation.
Can All Employees Face Ethical Dilemmas?
The wide range in consequences that result from making unethical decisions was very interesting to me. Obviously, not all ethical dilemmas will have the same result. At the same time, how can we know which ones will have a greater impact than others might? Is there a tell-all way to know which decisions will be more impactful than others? Does position within the company have something to do with it? To find these answers, I again looked to Dr. Turner. He explained that the results of unethical decisions that vary in size are often related to the hierarchy within the company:
Like Dr. Turner said, when officers of a company make poor decisions, it will often catch up to the company in a more severe manner. At lower entry level positions, these dilemmas will still occur, but rarely will they carry as hefty a penalty as a lapse of judgment made in a management or corporate position.
Real Life Ethics Cases
At another point during the interview, Dr. Turner described to me a real ethical dilemma he was faced with not too long ago here as a professor at the university. A popular class that he instructs here at the university was getting ready to specify a new textbook for its students, and there were three main competitors. “A rep from each particular textbook would check up on me and my decision and say things like ‘have you made your decision yet?’”, Dr. Turner explained. Then, he says, one company offered to treat him to an all expenses paid trip to Puerto Rico to discuss with the company ways to improve the textbook. “I didn’t feel comfortable with it,” Turner assessed. He was afraid the company was trying to persuade him to using their textbook for his course. This was a judgmental decision he had to make since there were no previously written policies about such unique circumstances. In the end, he did not take the trip. I believe he made the right decision, but I wanted to see what my fellow peers, who , like myself, are not experts in the field, thought as well. I described the professor’s dilemma to one of my roommates, and asked him what he would have done. His response can be heard here:
To tie all of my research together, I wanted to offer one last approach that has been taken on this controversial issue: that of the popular television comedy series The Office. In the clip, a manager from the corporate level comes to speak to their local branch about ethics in the workplace: what it means, the company’s policies, how to make the right choices, and so on. The employees are trying to get a grasp on what ethics is, and one employee offers his own take. Although this television series takes a humorous approach, it demonstrates that companies do take significant strides to ensure their employees know the difference between right and wrong.