Business Ethics

Business Ethics in the Workplace: It’s personal

“A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world” Albert Camus

I listened to a friend relate an office incident where a manager, wanting to see why the document she was printing took so long, found that a colleague jumped the queue. He had a lot of printing to do. The full tome of 50 Shades of Grey. One-sided, one-sheet-per-page.

She turned 50 shades of pink and considered discipline procedures.

I don’t know the end of the story, but it does bring me to the fairly sensitive issue of ethical behaviour in the workplace. And it is sensitive because it goes further than the ‘Our values’ plaque on the wall. It speaks to our personal integrity – and our excuses to justify less-than-ethical behaviour.

If we’re honest, we don’t always act with the integrity we require from others.  The same person who cheats on her taxes and steals office supplies wants honesty and integrity from her supplier, the politician she votes for, and the client she deals with in her own business.

According to the Josephson Ethics Institute,

“Ethics is about how we meet the challenge of doing the right thing when that will cost more than we want to pay.”

Does that mean people who help themselves to office equipment or stationery for personal use are acting unethically? Yes, it does. Whichever way you want to spin it, taking something that is not yours without permission from the ‘owner’ is theft. Theft will never make the 50 shades of ethics list.

Harsh? After all, it’s only stationery (or a few hours, or being cleverer than the taxman, or helping a friend). The problem is that we are creatures of habit. How long until a comfortable petty thief aims higher? If a procurement process can be fudged to help a friend, how long before that escalates to include kickbacks for the perpetrator?

If our internal ethics compass is easily compromised, it is only a matter of time before the business suffers. So what should my thinking process look like when I’m faced with a dilemma that challenges my personal ethics?

  1. Is what I am about to do right and ethical? If I answer in the affirmative because I have consoled my conscience with ‘everyone does it’, ‘I don’t have a choice’, ‘the boss won’t mind’, etc. I ask:
  2. If it is right and ethical, why do I wait until a time when no-one will see what I’m doing?
  3. If this was my company and I did not publically make provision for employees to use company assets, how would I feel if my employees took advantage at my expense?
  4. If I sort-of know this isn’t right, am I really prepared to be less than what I should and could be for the sake of instant gratification?
  5. If I really want to do the right thing – for me and the company – what is the better plan to achieve (whatever) with my integrity in tact?

You might have a different thinking process but for me, there are two things that are non-negotiable:

  1. To have a process that is aligned with your integrity and not with the discomfort of not giving in (which leads to creative justification); and
  2. The will to follow that process despite the opportunity presenting itself.

Let us know what you think is non-negotiable in your office by commenting below

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