Behavioural science shows that our sense of personal identity as an ethical person is highly valued and when publicly threatened we change our behaviour. The pressures we face in modern workplaces constitute a significant threat to our fulfilling our ethical ambitions as it is the workplace context, not our moral character, that is the biggest influence in how we choose to behave. It is relatively easy to be “ full of good intent”, but it is in “walking the talk” that that most of us fall short. The science shows us that we are inherently emotional rather than rational social creatures.
Forearming yourself against the inevitable workplace ethical challenges that lurk in modern workplace involves becoming familiar with the contextual, social, cognitive and emotional factors that shape our behaviour at work. Contextual pressures such as time, budget, remuneration or sales target pressures; social forces including our need to belong,to feel safe and to experience a sense of achievement; psychological pressures and our innate cognitive biases all conspire to dull our senses and leave us ethically blindsided. Key steps to build your ethical antennae include:
1. Invest time in clarifying what it is that you stand for and this will safeguard against falling for anything when under pressure
2. When under stress, ask yourself, will this action enhance my reputation or diminish it in the eyes of others?
3. Be on high alert when friends or family ask you to do them “a favour” that involves your workplace. Emotional loyalties can crowd out rational thinking.
4. When faced with a seemingly impossible target, ask yourself, how far am I prepared to go to get results and how this action raise or lower my ethical standards?
5. Tune into your rationalisations. The number one reason people do unethical things is to help their organisations, and they then justify their actions on the basis that the had “nothing personal to gain from it.”
6. Keep fit. We are predisposed to unethical actions when we are tired, stressed or believe we the workplace context is “unfair.”
7. Pay attention to how you or others choose to “frame” workplace decisions. “Can we” rather than “should we” frames excludes vital information from consideration. Decision-frames that screen out ethical concerns may be more common than moral compasses at leadership levels.
Developing the skills to canvass the ethical dimension of every workplace decision is a critical life skill in an era of instantaneous adverse media exposure.
Your mission, should you choose to accept, it is to hone the skills necessary to ensure you are capable of acting ethically.
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