If you ever read The Ethicist column in the New York Times or on Twitter, you understand the complexity of ethics in our daily life and in our life at work:
Do I tell someone something that is being kept secret from them?
Do I stay silent when I know someone has cheated?
Am I obligated to turn someone in if I see them doing something I know is wrong?
Do I reveal a mistake that has been made in my favor?
The thorny issue often seems to be about our behavior as it relates to another person’s behavior. Much of our values, ethical behaviors, and beliefs in this area are formed well before we start working, much of our behavior is influenced by the people with whom we work.
When people talk about ethical behavior at work, they often point to the person who embezzles hundred, thousands or millions of dollars. They hold up as an example the person who lies on their resume about an earned degree that they never actually received.
But for most of the organizations that you work in or I work with, there are silent agents of sabotage that we might know about:
- Aiming for ‘OK” because you don’t want to risk failure
- Not paying attention to the details
- Taking credit for the work of others
- Writing CYA memos to make sure potential bad decisions don’t harm you
- Blaming others for poor results that arose from poor decisions that you made
You might look at this list and think that this isn’t really unethical behavior,; it’s just human behavior. And I wouldn’t disagree.
But I know many people who exemplify better behavior. And I think we are capable of better behavior.