Ethics on the job has a rippling effect from the inside out, starting with the employee’s reputation, the morale of others in the workplace, the productivity of the company, the trust of the clients, and on and on it spreads. Each person in the workplace brings to the table their own set of values, their inner motivations that drive them in a certain direction, the words that come out of their mouth, their belief system, the core of who they are – their character.
You will attract people who are like you. (This would be a good time to have a reflective moment and think about some of the people you call your close friends…) If your agenda for the morning is to share the latest gossip with coworkers around the coffee pot, you will never – and you can mark my words on this – lack an audience. In the farthest opposite corner of the room, you will probably find another sort of crowd who probably showed up for work 20 minutes early that morning and have several items already crossed off their “to do” list for the day. No fancy production graph needed to prove which group of employees is producing the most valuable work.
“I am just one employee that is part of a small team in a large corporation boasting 500+ staff members,” you might insist, “My actions have no real bearing on the company as a whole.”
I disagree. Wholeheartedly.
Who you are as a person and the core values that rest in your bosom are intricately linked to your work ethic. If you have no issues with lying and being underhanded outside of work, you will be no different on the job. Period. Let’s just say that you do twist the truth a bit in order to land that deal that you have been working on for months. You reason that the boss will overlook any discrepancy because it brought in mega revenue for the company. The boss may have given you a healthy bonus for your successful contribution but you can bet that your employer is going to be on guard about what else you may do to get ahead in the game. What if the client senses something was underhanded about your dealings? Once you lose the trust of a client, they may take their business elsewhere and tell the world why they did.
Still don’t believe the actions of the few have an impact on the company at large? Take a look at two highly publicized examples of bad moral choices in a company and how others suffered from it:
Enron – This infamous corporation was an accounting corruption disaster that took many years to expose but, when the cover came off, it took the whole company down with it and sent many of its head honchos straight to prison.
Johnson & Johnson – The BABY company? Well, that’s what many of us usually associate it as, but this company is a major pharmaceutical manufacturer specializing in medical equipment, biotechnology products and a whole lot more. What is less well-known is that Johnson & Johnson, as well as many other major pharmaceutical companies who market many of the drugs we use, have had numerous lawsuits against them for being negligent about labeling their product warnings. The consequences of their negligence? Sadly, in many instances, they just pay the fines and move on without truly being held accountable for their unethical actions. I’ll let you guess who really pays for that misfortune.
Let’s look at character on a smaller scale – on the personal level.
As much as you deny it, you are never an entity to yourself. As a matter of course, there is always someone watching you and your character choices influence the actions of those around you. Those choices have the power to inspire others in a positive, productive way or tear down the fibers of work morale and pride in a job well done. Your character – inside and outside the workplace – influences how trustworthy you are in other’s eyes, your capacity to be an ethical team leader and how loyal you are to the success of others even when you do not benefit directly from it.
If an employer can trust you to take responsibility for your actions, they will reciprocate by trusting you with more responsibility within their company. Your input and suggestions will have merit and others will look to you for leadership. In an employer’s eyes, that kind of true character and dependability they find in one employee will be worth more than the other 20 employees that are still standing around the coffee pot every morning.
The time was the 19th of May, 1780. The place was Hartford, Connecticut. The day has gone down in New England history as a terrible foretaste of Judgment Day. For at noon the skies turned from blue to gray and by mid-afternoon had blackened over so densely that, in that religious age, men fell on their knees and begged a final blessing before the end came. The Connecticut House of Representatives was in session. And as some men fell down and others clamored for an immediate adjournment, the Speaker of the House, one Colonel Davenport, came to his feet. He silenced them and said these words: “The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish, therefore, that candles may be brought.”
(Winning the New Civil War, Robert P. Dugan, Jr., p. 183)