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Business Ethics: Three Tips to Stay in Integrity with Yourself

Jun 9, 2008
Wow -- every day seems to bring us a new story about business ethics wrongdoing! Is America headed to hell in a hand basket because of a serious lack of ethics at the highest level in American business? Or, it is just that ethical transgressions are more visible now? Or is it that the media reports more? Whichever it is, I urge you to be concerned about business ethics, even if simply for yourself.

A few facts will raise your awareness about the current state of ethics in American business. The Ethics Resource Center notes that the number of ethics programs is on the rise in corporate America. Unfortunately, the center also notes that ethical misconduct is high. (Google "The National Business Ethics Survey" for more details.) Other research shows that a majority of people in America have quit a job due to an ethical concern at sometime in their lives. (Google "lrn" for more details.)

You may believe there isn't much you can do about ethics in American business. But, you can choose to follow a high standard of ethics for yourself.

Here are three simple tips to stay in Integrity with Yourself:
1. Listen to your gut. If it doesn't smell right, it probably isn't. Don't risk your reputation by going along with something that is fishy. Sometimes in the work place, what the policy says to do and what people are doing are two different things.

For instance, if you go to lunch with a co-worker to discuss business and you each spend $11.95, which is all you can claim on your business expense forms. But, your coworker may encourage you to submit a claim for $23.95 (since the policy says you don't have to submit a receipt until the amount is over $25.00, per IRS rules.) Your coworker may even say everyone pads their expense report. This action would be a quick way to double your cash back, but you know it isn't right. Don't cave-in to the peer pressure or temptation. Just don't do it!

2. Ask questions. Sometimes what you know is not the whole story. Ask questions to fill in the gap. Don't assume. Something you don't know may make what looks wrong actually be a good thing. As the former Director, Ethics and Compliance for a $1.5B company, I learned to ask questions before forming a judgment.

For instance, I know of a case where a manager became aware that his employee had lied about his whereabouts during the work day. One appropriate action would have been to discipline the employee or maybe even fire him. Another appropriate action would have been to extend a little compassion for the employee, who was under some external stresses, and work more closely with the employee to help him manage his time better. Asking a few simple questions revealed the external stresses, which opened doors to alternative resolution of the problem.

3. Keep an open mind. There is rarely an unequivocal right or wrong answer in any ethical issue.

For instance, an employee reported to me that he believed a co-worker was falsely claiming an important professional certification. I asked him why he thought that, and he said that the person didn't seem to demonstrate the knowledge base required for certification. He also said he had checked the certifying agency's website to find the co-workers name without success. Since falsification of job qualifications is a serious offense, I went to the website to check for the name too, and asked an internal recruiter to verbally check with the certifying agency.

As it turned out, the person under suspicion had registered at the website with his formal name, not the nickname he used at work; as a result his name wasn't recognizable at the website. Only by triple checking the website and making a phone call to the certifying agency were we able to get the whole story.

Stay in integrity -- do what YOU think is right and stay in good conscience.
About the Author
Sally Rhys, MS, coaches and consults on business ethics. As the former Director, Ethics and Compliance at a $1.5B publicly traded company, her expertise will help you increase both your business knowledge and professionalism. Contact her at http://www.coachingforperspective.com
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