The Ethics Sage Argues for One Set of Ethics

The Ethics Sage Argues for One Set of Ethics

One of the problems we who teach business ethics have to deal with is the idea that there is a separation between business ethics and personal ethics. I’m sure everyone in the field has dealt with students (and business people) who believe that they should leave their ethics at the door when they go to work. That this belief is common is most unfortunate and produces a great deal of evil. The idea of two kinds of ethics is the worst kind of hypocrisy. And this is because what is basically being said here is that “I am a good person just so long as I am not at work.” I can’t find much comfort or consistency in having two codes of morality.

And what does this say about business in this nation? That this is a common belief does not speak well of the ethics of American business. The idea of a separate set of ethics strongly indicates diminished concern for ethics and a predilection for what is called in the law, sharp practice, taking advantage instead of fair dealing. Yet, how often have you heard the phrase, “It’s just business.” And that always means the same thing, “I wouldn’t normally make this decision but we are in the world of business and that’s what is done here.”

The Ethics Sage
The Ethics Sage

The Ethics Sage strongly believes that we should live by a common ethical code, a code we practice both in and outside the workplace. So do I.

The quote below is an excerpt from The Ethics Sage’s latest work. It can found here. As always I recommend that you read the full article and subscribe. His work is well worth reading.

Are there two standards of behavior — one for the workplace and one in personal life?

We all should live life under a set of values that guide our actions, whether at home or on the job. Ethically, you can’t justify lying in the workplace for the “greater good” while never doing that at home. Ethics is not like a spigot we can turn on and turn off. We are what we do in life and ethical people always strive to do the right thing without compromising one’s values or beliefs. It’s not an easy standard to live up to all the time.

Ethics is prescriptive and not descriptive. It is an ideal that we all should strive to achieve — to be better people and contribute to the betterment of society. It is not about how we do behave but is about how we should behave. No one is perfect all of the time. Ethical people make mistakes. In such cases, whether in business or in one’s personal life, the best way to handle the situation is to admit your mistake right away — don’t cover it up — promise never to do it again. And then follow through by acting ethically in the future.

Business executives and business owners need to realize that there can be no compromises when it comes to ethics, and there are no easy shortcuts to success. Ethics need to be cultivated throughout the organization. Top management needs to set an ethical tone at the top. Actions must match words. Managers who believe this to be the case and act accordingly set the stage for the ethical leadership that is so important in organizations today.