Every workplace action has an ethical dimension. It arises from our interdependence with others. Acting ethically means canvassing for possible negative impacts on others before we act, and then seeking to minimise these. To forewarn yourself about the ethical challenges pay attention to:
1. Context: The context you are in will have a stronger impact on how you choose to act than your character! If you feel pressure to go along to get along be on alert as social pressures predispose us to acting unethically including turning a blind eye to others’ misdoings.
2. Beware of Goals: People often slip into unethical behaviours at work due to the pressure of unrealistic goals. If you find yourself justifying your behaviour choices as being necessary to achieve your goals, recognise you are on a slippery slope that leads to more unethical behaviour. Stop and review your organisational and personal values and use these to guide your action options.
3. Beware of Loyalty: Employees can find themselves acting unethically because they are protecting their manager, their teams or even the organisation’s from harm. We excuse our unethical actions because we think we have nothing personal to gain. Lying to protect others or fudging figures to assist with team targets or cash flow is unethical behaviour even if there is no personal gain.
4. Inner thoughts: People behave unethically up to the point that they can make excuses for their behaviour. These “excuses” or rationalisations are the stories we tell ourselves – everyone’s doing it; no one get hurt; x is dependent on me doing this; its time pressure that make me act this way or whatever other story you tell yourself to justify your actions. If you hear yourself making excuses be on the alert to ethical slippage.
5.Well-being: We are more prone to act unethically when we find ourselves tired or stressed or when we feel we are being mistreated. In these situations, it pays to check out with a trusted colleague whether your proposed action is an ethical one.
6. Framing: How we “frame” a decision can ignore its ethical dimension. If you hear yourself saying “it’s only a business decision” or “just do it” or “ it’s a simple choice between winning and losing” chances are you are ignoring the social or the environmental impacts of your decision and therefore its ethical dimensions. There is no such thing as only one dimension when humans are making decisions.
7. Friends and family: Be on alert when friends or family ask you to do something in the workplace as your loyalty to them may override your duty to your organisation and leave you slipping into unethical actions.
8. Competing values: Ethical challenges arise from competing values such as telling the truth to customers or admitting the organisation has made a mistake; achieving results in the short term that bring adverse long term consequences or being overly demanding of people you manage rather than sympathetic to their needs. We need to anticipate, confront and discuss these tensions so we can better manage them.
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