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Values and Ethics in the Workplace

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Values and Ethics in the Workplace

Thesis: Many times a person find their personal, cultural and/or organizational ethics conflicting and must reconcile a course of action that will mitigate cognitive dissonance. In order to be a productive member of society, in small groups and globally, one must reconcile these conflicts on a daily basis and continually move forward while maintaining personal integrity and balance.

Values and ethics are a part of our everyday lives. We wake up to these values and beliefs each day as they are the “rules” that govern us. Instilled since childhood by our own parents and society, once these values and beliefs take hold, it is not easy to change them. Individual experiences of values and beliefs stem from the personal point of view, a cultural perspective all the way to an organization perception. As we grow, each person we meet introduces us to new values and beliefs as our world expands into adulthood. We either accept or reject new ideas dependent on if they are cohesive with values we’ve already come to own and hold true.

Morals also relate to values and beliefs in that they help us determine what is right or wrong and how we as individuals should behave. We say that our conscience delineates between right and wrong regardless of what the law/regulation indicates ought to be done. These are the main beliefs that we try to instill in our children and expect from one another. For example, in our culture we teach the “Golden Rule”, which states that one should treat others as one wants to be treated. Some cultures may not agree with this sentiment and that is when you must use your moral judgment to avoid falling into the “When in Rome, do as the Romans” trap. Using your moral judgment, you may not want to do as the Romans in Rome, whatever they may be up to. Thus we come to our first conflict of personal moral ethics. If visiting another culture, country, or even family, would you do as them, even if it goes against your value system and beliefs? For example, if you are against all forms of violence, but are visiting a country where they celebrate bull fighting as part of their country’s history, how do you reconcile this conflict? One must determine the extent of the transgression, if it is worth doing for the amount of self-punishment to be inflicted. Only the individual will be able to determine if these moral boundaries may be bridged.

In a workplace setting moral and ethical boundaries are crossed often. Individuals must balance their beliefs with the beliefs of their organization and determine if they are a good fit for the organization. For example, a staunch pro-life catholic would not fit in at a Planned Parenthood clinic. But, in most cases, the lines being crossed are not as easy to differentiate and pop up without warning, for example. A police officer witnessing another police officer stealing money from an exhibit will have cognitive dissonance if stealing is against that police officer’s moral beliefs, yet the officer continues to work in the same arena with the illegal activity. The officer must make a change in career, change the situation, or change his beliefs.

Our conscience delineates between right and wrong regardless of what the law/regulation indicate ought to be done. When we enter into a profession, we must ask ourselves if any behavior modification needs to take place; meaning if we should modify our behavior or give up something as a consequence of becoming an associate of that profession. That is a question we must all answer and deal with at a very personal level. But is it possible to separate the “self” from the “group”? Pipes, Holstein and Aguirre states that “individuals are capable of functionally separating themselves and their behavior from the groups (including professions) in which they are embedded” (“Examining the Personal -- Professional Distinction Ethics Codes and the Difficulty of Drawing a Boundary”). What is interesting is how capable is the individual in doing this? Each individual will react differently if faced with this dilemma. I believe it depends on the ethics/morals of each individual. Internal conflicts will be settled by which is deemed more important, moral values versus organizational values.

Ethical behavior in organizational leadership, much like a snowball, starts small and increases in volume as it rolls downward. In other words, staff responds, in kind, to the behaviors of the leaders. In the article Good Business by Jane Tortola, the author gives a four tier structure for building a positive organizational ethical code of conduct: Demonstrate, Articulate, Educate, and Evaluate.

Through what the author calls “Demonstration”, the manager provides the “best” example by not making snap decisions or judgments, thereby not violating rules or trusts.


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