While many companies post and profess to use a Code of Ethics, this may leave some areas lacking or simply not followed by current staff.
A Code of Ethics may be an adequate starting point, but organizations should consider a more formal training program. For example, a written Code may not provide the details or be interpretive to some individuals. They may not be aware or conscious of how their actions, whether purposeful or accidental, can affect the desired outcomes of an Ethics Code.
Organizations should at minimum have written policies and procedures regulating their Code of Ethics, as well as a mission statement. The mission statement and the Code of Ethics should help to define expectations and purpose. However, a progressive organization would do much better by implementing the interactive type of program. This would potentially have much better results by ensuring that ethical standards are clear and concise, as well as defining what types of ethical behaviors are expected of them.
Also, the examples have to start from the top of management. If upper management does not reinforce or follow the Code, the Code of Ethics basically becomes like any piece of paper, and over time, will lose its significance. This code needs to be applied and enforced equally, without favoritism or discrimination.
An interactive program, versus just a written Code, will have the ability to provide real-life examples that employees may find in the workplace. Furthermore, they can actually give practice to those going through the program. Those employees can truly learn expectations, become educated about ethics, and understand what is an expected or ethical response in their job. It can allow those participants to possibly see their actions in a different way or understand potential outcomes and consequences. Not all employees come from the same background, teachings, culture, etc., so to assume that everyone will interpret or realize the meanings of the Code of Ethics is not as beneficial. Providing employees with solid practice lets them develop their skills and helps to unify that everyone at the organization is on the same level of understanding about ethical expectations at work.
Employers can help to educate employees in many ways, in addition to ethics training (such as sexual harassment training, anti-discrimination training, etc.). By organizations using their position in a positive light, it can help to teach why ethics are important.
Taking it to the Streets
To go a step even further, these types of programs and education at work can have a positive impact on morality as a whole – public and private. Organizations can assist in bridging the gaps between both arenas of the private/business area and public. If employees are taught a basic understanding of ethics in practice or simulated program, it can help to improve their basic understanding and comprehension of the world, not just during working hours.
A good training program can have other effects on a person. It can potentially affect the employee’s attitude, as well as personal and career growth and development. Additionally, this can make a difference in the employee’s overall productivity not only at work but their responsibilities to their community and to society as a whole. Employers can help to make a change either positively or negatively.
Separating Work From Personal Ethics
Some employees may have difficulty separating their personal ethics from the work ethics expected of them. While these two sides may disagree, it is important for the employee to understand the basis of the corporate values they are expected to uphold. Some employees may not have the same opinion, as the corporation, due to previous life experiences, culture, etc. However, the corporation is responsible and potentially liable for the employee’s actions during work time. (For example, potential sexual harassment comments may be tolerated in other cultures, but not in the United States). Therefore, an employee must mindful of their role and responsibilities to the employer during these hours.
The employee may not want to or be willing to give in to corporate or business values when they conflict with their ethical standards. It is thought that the employee would be held to the values of the organization and would not act in an ethical manner. Unfortunately, there have been cases of the organization acting inappropriately, illegally, or unethically in their business dealings – and sometimes their actions conflict with their own policies. (Enron is the most popular case).
If the employee is expected to do things that are in conflict with their personal belief systems (in particular if they are illegal), the employee may find they have to make a choice. That choice is to decide if they want to edit or change their own ethical standards and compass in order to perform what is expected of them, or if they want to stand by their personal position and potentially risk problems at work, including potential termination depending on the severity.
Moral values and principles do transcend and cross over into other aspects of people’s lives. While we may not realize it, most people are shaped or partially formed by their belief systems – whatever those systems may be. These values may become part of us as a person, and other things such as culture, society, and current beliefs can influence them.
The article, "Do Objective Moral Standards Exist in the World Today?" by Johnson, describes the difference between morals and ethics: "Actions (or morals) that are right for one person are not always right for another person. This argument is a form of subjectivism because it is being argued that each individual determines what is morally right for him or her. Often people will try to claim that because people behave differently, there are no moral absolutes."
It seems that morals are more of a personal trait or value is given by an individual. These can be influenced by outside sources such as religious beliefs, friends, and culture.
The article further states “Different cultures have different moral codes—this is the key to understanding morality. This is the conventionalist argument for ethical relativism, which more specifically can be referred to as cultural relativism. The distinction between cultural relativism and ethical relativism is hard to distinguish, however, no matter what category one puts it in, the arguments are the same."
The American Heritage Dictionary defines ethics as "A principle of right or good conduct; A system of moral principles or values." It defines morals as, "Of or concerned with the judgment principles of right and wrong in relation to human action and character; Teaching or exhibiting goodness or correctness of character and behavior."
The Josephson Institute of Ethics has six basic human values or ethics to use. They are, "Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring and Citizenship." While ethics may be individual values and morals pertain to humanity as a whole, companies, and individuals can reap the benefits of a Code of Ethics to help shape actions.