Ethics in the workplace should be a core value of any organization. Aside from doing the right thing, conducting ourselves ethically has great rewards and returns. Being ethical is essential to fixing problems and improving processes. It is needed to establish baseline measures and increase efficiencies. Most importantly, it is essential to having strong working relationships with people.
Let’s say that I believe that it is important to be an honest person. What do I do when I make an error at work? Do I admit it or do I cover my error and hope that no one finds out? I may rationalize, “If I tell my boss, she will be disappointed in me. I may not get that raise that is coming up next month. There is no harm in not telling her.” Or, if you are the boss and made a mistake, you may rationalize that you don’t own your employees anything, including honesty, because–well–you’re the boss.
As humans, we tend to weigh the benefits and consequences of our actions and look for the path of least resistance, where we will suffer the fewest consequences, which include uncomfortable feelings. But this is like not counting the penalty strokes. It’s not going to help you improve, and it might cause harm to the people around. Instead, when we are deciding what to do with an error we have made, we need to ask ourselves: “Do I really value honesty like I say I do? If I am willing to lie or avoid hiding up my error, what am I really valuing?” When we lie to cover up our mistakes, we are doing so to protect ourselves from the consequences of our actions. We aren’t thinking about the team. So, what is the greater value to us, honesty or self-protection? This is an especially important question for leaders, as leaders set the standard for the culture of an organization and ethics in the workplace.
As leaders, the importance of being ethical must be emphasized more, not less. Leaders must always be cognizant of the fact that they are in a “fishbowl” and how they behave is clearly visible to everyone. Whatever they do will not only be seen by others, but may be duplicated as well.