Every workplace action has an ethical dimension arising from our interdependency with others. Acting ethically means canvassing our impacts on others and eliminating potential adverse consequences. To forewarn yourself about workplace ethical challenges, pay attention to:
Context: The context you are in will have a more substantial impact on how you act than your character! Be on the alert as social pressures predispose us to turn a blind eye to others’ misdoings or take our lead from them.
Beware of Goals: If you find yourself justifying your behaviour choices as necessary to achieve your goals, you are on a slippery slope to more unethical behaviour. Stop and review your values and use these to guide your actions.
Beware of Loyalty: We fail to see that our actions are unethical because we think personal gain must be involved. Lying to protect others or fudging figures to assist with team targets or cash flow is still unethical behaviour even if there is no personal gain.
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 gets hurt; x is dependent on me doing this; its time pressure that makes me act this way. Tune into your internal dialogue and stay alert to ethical slippage.
Well-being: We are more prone to act unethically when tired or stressed or being unfairly treated. In these situations, it pays to check out with a trusted colleague whether your proposed action is an ethical one.
Framing: How we “frame” a decision can ignore its ethical dimension. If you hear yourself saying “it’s only a business decision” chances are you are ignoring its ethical aspects. Avoid making decisions out of a narrow range of information.
Friends and family: Be on alert when friends or family ask you to do something as your loyalty to them may override your duty to your organisation and leave you slipping into unethical actions.
Competing values: Ethical challenges arise from competing values such admitting the organisation has made a mistake or incurring adverse media; short term wins being pursued at the expense of harmful consequences or micromanaging employees at the cost of their social needs. Anticipate, confront and discuss inevitable tensions to enable you to better manage them.
Learning to think ethically is a skill that needs to be continually honed and updated in response to emerging social research on the key motivators and shapers of workplace conduct as shared by EthicalSystems.org.
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