Business Ethics Part II

Continuing from Business Ethics Part I in Part II we'll be covering objective ways to look at the world in terms of business ethics, how to avoid ethical dilemmas, and we'll give you the keys to your ethical office.

Over the years, there have been many philosophers who have attempted to define a system for making rational decisions. These tools may help you in some situations, but be cautious, all have been criticized at some point or another, and none are perfect.

  • The Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." We've all heard this one before, essentially what it is saying is that we all want to be treated well, so we should treat others well with the expectation that it will be reciprocated. The problem lies in that we are all different, so we have different interpretations of how we want to be treated, thus we treat others differently.
  •  The Golden Mean: Aristotle believed that the key to ethical behavior is moderation. For example, acting rashly isn't a good idea, but neither is being a coward. The virtuous behavior would be the half way point of the two, courage.
  • Utilitarianism: Essentially, utilitarianism, means choosing the solution that has the most benefit and least cost to society. This philosophy has a few problem areas due to its vagueness. One issue is deciding which factors to weigh in your decision (financial, social, political, etc.). The second problem is that it can be difficult to identify benefits and costs. Third, this philosophy doesn't allow much consideration for human factors like exceptions and extenuating circumstances.
  • The Categorical Imperative: Immanuel Kant, in the 18th century, believed that the only rule everybody should live by was, "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Kant is basically saying, that if you make a rule or law once, that rule should apply forever. An obvious problem is that there is no room for human growth and societal evolution. The world would be a strange place if we were still living by the laws of the 18th century.
  • Utopianism: This philosophy offers the basic creed that everyone's needs and rights should be fulfilled. While this sounds nice, it is impractical. For example, a drug company has the need to make money, but a mother of five needs medicine for her children, but can't afford it. How do you fulfill the needs and rights of both?

These are just a few of the many philosophical views of ethics and they all have their pros and cons that you should take into consideration when faced with an ethical dilemma. However, in the next section, we'll give you some preventative tips on avoiding ethical dilemmas altogether.

While we can't guarantee that these tips will offer a 100% success rate, they should help reduce the number of dilemmas you find yourself in.

  • Make sure ethical expectations are clear by discussing hypothetical situations with your supervisor. Here are a few situations to consider:
    • What do I do if I find out confidential information that could affect you, but that is supposed to remain hidden from you?
    • What if you ask me to sign your name to some documents, and I sign documents that I wasn't supposed to?
    • What if your supervisor asked you to perform some financial transactions for you?

You should also make sure that your values are clear to your supervisor. If you think lying is always wrong, say so. Setting boundaries up front helps to ensure you stay within your ethical comfort zone.

  • Don't just say "yes", learn to say "no".
    • Avoid the knee-jerk reaction of saying yes whenever your supervisor asks you to do something. Instead, take a moment to consider the request before committing to action. If the task is one that you think may be unethical or lead to compromising situations then you should respectfully say no. A good way of doing this is by being truthful, "I'm not comfortable doing that," should work just fine.
  • Don't be the frog. If you put a frog in boiling water, it will immediately jump out, but if you put it in cold water and gradually raise the temperature it will boil to death. Don't become complacent or comfortable in an increasingly unethical environment. You should be evaluating your surroundings daily and taking the ethical temperature of your workplace so that you can jump out when things start to heat up instead of slowly boiling to death.

Now that we've covered the philosophies of ethics and given you some tips on preventing ethical dilemmas, it's time to hand over the keys.

Ethics expert, Nan DeMars has identified 22 keys to help make your office more ethical, below we've listed the first 10.

  1. See things as they are, not as you want them to be.
  2. Lead by setting an example of good ethical conduct and good ethical problem-solving skills.
  3. Never give the impression that you don't care that improper actions are taking place.
  4. commit to being involved in the process
  5. Anticipate ethical conflicts.
  6. Communicate well.
  7. Establish the language of ethics with those in your office.
  8. expect people to have different standards.
  9. Remember that people are normally not as ethical as they think they are.
  10. Define ethical expectations early in the relationship.

We'll list the last 12 keys on the third and final part of our series on Business Ethics, so be sure to stay tuned. In the meantime, we encourage you to apply the philosophies, tips and keys we've covered today to your daily life at work and at home.