Oct 20166

Do the Right Thing! Supporting Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

(Guest Blog by Nan Valentine)

Most of us take pride in having a strong moral compass.  We do our best to take the high road when presented with a moral or ethical challenge.  

Here’s a quick quiz for your eyes only.  How do you respond to the following statements?

1.    If people are saying negative things about a co-worker, I might join in.          Yes or No
2.    I would blame a co-worker for my mistake if she mistreated me in the past.          Yes or No
3.    I would call in sick if I wanted to go fishing or to the mall.          Yes or No
4.    I would accept a cash bribe to steer my company’s business to a supplier.          Yes or No
5.    I would steal a company laptop if I thought I wouldn’t get caught.          Yes or No

If you’re like most people, you probably found it easy to check “No” for #4 and #5.  Sometimes our moral code is very clear.

“No” is also the right answer for numbers 1-3, although these examples may seem less important ethically.  But are they?

How about #1, saying negative things about a co-worker?  My words may seem harmless, but they aren’t.  The targeted person usually finds out and is hurt by these comments.  He may even feel he is being bullied.  Gossip damages relationships, and when I participate I create a more hostile workplace.

What about statement #2, blaming a co-worker for a mistake she didn’t make because the co-worker mistreated me in the past?  I might justify doing the wrong thing because I think my co-worker deserves the blame for mistreating me in the past.

This is faulty reasoning.  As the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.  If I tell the supervisor my co-worker is responsible for a mistake I have made, I am lying to my supervisor, and I am acting unethically.

Let’s consider statement #3.  Is it really a big deal to call in sick if I want to go fishing or to the mall? When I make this call, I am lying to my supervisor.  If she finds out I wasn’t really sick, I’ll likely face disciplinary action.  My supervisor will also find it hard to trust me when I am actually sick.  Not only that, if my company pays for sick days, I am in effect stealing the wages I’m paid for that day.

So how can we be sure we’ll do the right thing when faced with a moral or ethical dilemma?  We can pay attention to that voice inside us that knows right from wrong.

This is the voice that causes us to pause if we’re about to do the wrong thing.  Maybe there’s a slight tug at our stomach, or we start feeling guilty even though we haven’t done anything yet.  If you’re like me, you have probably ignored that voice at some point in the past and have later regretted not listening to it.  
Most workplaces have written policies that cover ethical topics like stealing or accepting bribes.  Even so, no policy can cover every situation that might challenge us ethically.  Most of the time, we have to apply our own judgment about what to say or do.

Fortunately, we have strong internal support for those occasions.  All we have to do is listen.  That voice inside will help us do the right thing.

Nan Valentine is an Executive Coach and President of
Valentine Coaching & Consulting, a firm specializing in conflict resolution,
interpersonal communication, and executive success strategies.



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