Business Ethics

Introduction

Businesses have power through their ability to spend vast amounts of money. They have the ability to enhance or change situations that the common individual does not. As organisations affect many people, they have obligations to their employees, consumers, community and the world. They have a responsibility to conduct business in a way that is not harmful and which positively benefits as many people as possible and themselves. Although this sounds simple, it is easier said than done! as there will always be a conflict of interest between various groups of people. Any decisions made by businesses need to be made with an informed awareness of the specific situation and then act according to some sort of system of principals which is Business Ethics.

What is Business Ethics?

Business ethics is exactly the same as normal ethics, and that is knowing what is right or wrong, and learning what is right and what is wrong in a business environment. Then doing the right thing, but the right thing is not as straightforward as explained in many business ethics books. Most ethical dilemmas in the workplace are not simply a matter of Should she steal from him? or Should he lie to his boss? Businesses cannot function without ethics, why? Society dictates a set of rules and conformities and seeing as all businesses strive after common goals it means that these goals can only be achieved on the basis of standards, values and morals in society. It can be assumed that business life has to be called 'moral' as well. As in society, standards and values are spontaneously formed once people come together and start 'behaving', likewise, business life becomes exactly the same and that's when morals come into effect, and when businesses decide on implicit or explicit ways to achieve certain goals and then are agreed on. Businesses in general are working on the basis of an ethics that settles different interests. The standards and values within companies can be characterised as mutual respect. In this respect it is in everyone's interest, and is considering people as an end in themselves, not as a means, reciprocity and fairness. This ethics is passed down and filtered to a group of stakeholders who have an interest in the company. These parties usually are: personnel, customers, suppliers, subcontractors, shareholders, society and those who speak on behalf of the environment and future generations Many ethicists say there's always a right thing to do based on moral principle, and others believe the right thing to do depends on the situation, ultimately it's up to the individual on what they do and on what they believe to be the right thing is. Sometimes the right thing is not necessarily the best thing to do. Many philosophers consider ethics to be the science of conduct. Twin Cities consultants Doug Wallace and John Pekel (of the Twin Cities-based Fulcrum Group) explain that ethics includes the fundamental ground rules by which we live our lives. Many professionals in ethics say that new ethical beliefs are state of the art legal matters, and that what becomes an ethical issue of today is then later made into a law. Values that say how we should behave are said to be moral values, values such as respect, honesty, fairness, responsibility, etc. Statements about how these values should be implemented are sometimes called moral or ethical principles. The concept of business ethics has been seen to mean various things to different people, but usually it's knowing what is right or wrong in the workplace and doing what's right in regard to effects of products, services and relationships with stakeholders. Wallace and Pekel say that attention to business ethics is critical during times of fundamental change, times much like those faced now by businesses, both non-profit and for-profit. In times of fundamental change, values that were previously taken for granted are now strongly questioned. Many of these values are no longer followed.

Therefore, there are no clear morals to guide today's leaders through difficult problems about what is right or wrong, just vague perceptions of what should and has already been done. A focal point on ethics in the workplace shows and alerts leaders and staff on how they should act. An attention to ethics in the workplaces helps ensure that when leaders and managers are struggling in times of crises and confusion, they retain a strong moral focus. However, attention to business ethics provides numerous other benefits, as well. Note that many people believe that business ethics, with its continuing focus on doing the right thing, only asserts the obvious be good, don't lie,, and so these people don't take business ethics seriously. For many people, these principles can go right out the door during times of stress. Business ethics can be a strong preventative medicine.

10 Benefits of Business Ethics

These benefits were attained from http//: www.businessethics.com/index/benefits.htm Many people are used to reading or hearing of the moral benefits of attention to business ethics. However, there are other types of benefits, as well. The following list describes various types of benefits from managing ethics in the workplace.

Attention to business ethics has substantially improved society. A matter of decades ago, children in our country worked 16-hour days. Workers' limbs were torn off and disabled workers were condemned to poverty and often to starvation. Trusts controlled some markets to the extent that prices were fixed and small businesses choked out. Price fixing crippled normal market forces. Employees were terminated based on personalities. Influence was applied through intimidation and harassment. Then society reacted and demanded that businesses place high value on fairness and equal rights. Anti-trust laws were instituted. Government agencies were established. Unions were organised. Laws and regulations were established.

Ethics programs help maintain a moral course in turbulent times. As noted earlier in this document, Wallace and Pekel explain that attention to business ethics is critical during times of fundamental change -- times much like those faced now by businesses, both non-profit and for-profit. During times of change, there is often no clear moral compass to guide leaders through complex conflicts about what is right or wrong. Continuing attention to ethics in the workplace sensitises leaders and staff to how they want to act.

Ethics programs cultivate strong teamwork and productivity. Ethics programs align employee behaviours with those top priority ethical values preferred by leaders of the organisation. Usually, an organisation finds surprising disparity between its preferred values and the values actually reflected by behaviours in the workplace. Ongoing attention and dialogue regarding values in the workplace builds openness, integrity and community -- critical ingredients of strong teams in the workplace. Employees feel strong alignment between their values and those of the organisation. They react with strong motivation and performance.

Ethics programs support employee growth and meaning. Attention to ethics in the workplace helps employees face reality, both good and bad, in the organisation and themselves. Employees feel full confidence they can admit and deal with whatever comes their way. Bennett, in his article Unethical Behaviour, Stress Appear Linked (Wall Street Journal, April 11, 1991, p. B1), explained that a consulting company tested a range of executives and managers. Their most striking finding: the more emotionally healthy executives, as measured on a battery of tests, the more likely they were to score high on ethics tests.

Ethics programs are an insurance policy -- they help ensure that policies are legal. There are an increasing number of lawsuits in regard to personnel matters and to effects of an organisation's services or products on stakeholders. As mentioned earlier in this document, ethical principles are often state-of-the-art legal matters. These principles are often applied to current, major ethical issues to become legislation. Attention to ethics ensures highly ethical policies and procedures in the workplace. It's far better to incur the cost of mechanisms to ensure ethical practices now than to incur costs of litigation later. A major intent of well-designed personnel policies is to ensure ethical treatment of employees, e.g., in matters of hiring, evaluating, disciplining, firing, etc. Drake and Drake (California Management Review, V16, pp. 107-123) note that an employer can be subject to suit for breach of contract for failure to comply with any promise it made, so the gap between stated corporate culture and actual practice has significant legal, as well as ethical implications.

Ethics programs help avoid criminal acts of omission and can lower fines. Ethics programs tend to detect ethical issues and violations early on so they can be reported or addressed. In some cases, when an organisation is aware of an actual or potential violation and does not report it to the appropriate authorities, this can be considered a criminal act, e.g., in business dealings with certain government agencies, such as the defence Department. The recent Federal Sentencing Guidelines specify major penalties for various types of major ethics violations. However, the guidelines potentially lower fines if an organisation has clearly made an effort to operate ethically.

Ethics programs help manage values associated with quality management, strategic planning and diversity management -- this benefit needs far more attention. Ethics programs identify preferred values and ensuring organisational behaviours are aligned with those values. This effort includes recording the values, developing policies and procedures to align behaviours with preferred values, and then training all personnel about the policies and procedures. This overall effort is very useful for several other programs in the workplace that require behaviours to be aligned with values, including quality management, strategic planning and diversity management. Total Quality Management includes high priority on certain operating values, e.g., trust among stakeholders, performance, reliability, measurement, and feedback. Eastman and Polaroid use ethics tools in their quality programs to ensure integrity in their relationships with stakeholders. Ethics management techniques are highly useful for managing strategic values, e.g., expand marketshare, reduce costs, etc. McDonnell Douglas integrates their ethics programs into their strategic planning process. Ethics management programs are also useful in managing diversity. Diversity is much more than the colour of people's skin -- it's acknowledging different values and perspectives. Diversity programs require recognising and applying diverse values and perspectives -- these activities are the basis of a sound ethics management program.


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