Ethics at Work


Douglas Adams said, “To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity.” 

Etiquette and Ethics sound the same. Their definitions are almost identical. Yet there is a critical difference. Etiquette is about conduct. Ethics is about conscience. Organizations that fail to recognize the importance of etiquette and ethics training risk not only their reputation and bottom line but also their very survival.

Good conduct and consideration for customers and colleagues is the new mantra for organizational success today. Many organizations have codes of conduct yet there are many principles of ‘right conduct’ involving honesty and integrity that are hard to write out, let alone apply. The younger workforce in particular encounter a variety of ethical challenges and dilemmas in business interactions and are unsure of how to respond or react and follow along with what they see others doing.

Ethics can differ between societies and cultures but there are some common ethical standards governed by etiquette that can be applied in the workplace.

One of the primary etiquette rules that apply to ethical business behavior is respect. Employees who respect their organization and co-workers refrain from subjecting their organization to losses in time, production, overhead charges, initiative, professionalism, customer respect, reputation, attitude, spirit and drive.

Consistently arriving late for work even by a few minutes everyday or leaving work even a few minutes early regularly causes loss of time. Spending several hours a month on personal calls and errands causes loss of productivity. Offering a customer a product knowing it has a quality problem is a loss to reputation. Blaming others for missed commitments or bad results causes loss of attitude. Endless meetings and memos to make sure that one is covered or can distance oneself from a bad decision is a loss of professionalism. Not doing what is needed to succeed because one fears the consequences of failure more than he or she values the reward of success is a loss of initiative. Marking items in the company’s database as ‘sold’ even if they are not, just so that it deprives another’s ability to make a sale is a loss of spirit. The costs of these losses are high both for the employee as well as the organization.

Some employees often seem obliged to do something unethical simply because they do not know how to refuse such a request or demand, especially if it is from someone senior. Etiquette offers some diplomatic guidelines in order to handle these professional dilemmas.

If a superior asks to lie or falsify something the first best thing to do is to allow the opportunity to retract the request by saying something like “You would like me to enter a sale of RO 500 even though the actual sale amount is RO 700?” or perhaps say something like, “Please excuse me. Let us look for another way to solve this”. There is a possibility that the person making the unethical request will think twice and retract the request. If asked for confidential information simply reply that you would have gladly provided it if it wasn’t confidential. Sometimes of course such strategies may not work, but it is important to remember that it is always in your best interest and in the interest of the company to refuse an unethical interest.

Ethical behavior is essential for the smooth running of the organization and society. As with etiquette, it is good to remember that we all make mistakes but must learn from them and change how we behave in the future.