Ethics in the workplace can be challenging for new graduates venturing into the working world

2012-05-27T00:00:00Z Ethics in the workplace can be challenging for new graduates venturing into the working worldBy Bob Moulesong Times Correspondent
May 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

College graduates from Northwest Indiana and Chicago’s South Suburbs will soon be flooding the market with job applications, hoping to land work. In this tough economy, jobs are less plentiful than they were in the not-so-distant past. Graduates need to be more flexible, and more willing to bend to company needs.

But bending to company needs can have many connotations. Being willing to perform work that is outside of their qualifications is one thing. Being asked to perform tasks that are borderline illegal or unethical is another.

How should new hires respond when management suggests that they manipulate sales numbers, or when they encounter a racially biased work environment, or when they are instructed to lie to cover up a mistake?

New hires will inevitably face ethical challenges. A manager may ask them to fudge a number on a report, or check a box and say a test was done when it was not. The new sales employee may be told to exaggerate the capabilities of a product, or that it is normal to disguise alcoholic drinks and personal entertainment on expense reports so the company pays for them.

Since it will be challenging to find jobs this year, it is possible that many new hires will be less likely to resist the temptation. They may be afraid to put their new job at risk by refusing an order.

New hires may have to rely on the values of their own behavior in their decision making and in their actions.

Ethics is about behavior. In the face of dilemma, it is about doing the right thing. Ethical managers and workers take the “right” and “good” path when they come to the ethical choice points.

Values drive behavior. Values exert influence over attitudes, and attitudes influence behavior. Values are how people respond to situations.

What type of values will drive the decision making of new hires?

Wisdom/knowledge. It’s the capacity to take information and convert it to something useful. Wisdom comes from one’s own experiences. Knowledge intuitively knows the difference between right and wrong. New hires can use knowledge and wisdom to solve problems ethically and to do what is right.

Self control. The ability to avoid unethical temptations. Self control provides the capacity to take the ethical path. Ethical people say no to gain if it is inconsistent with the overall good of the organization. It is up to the new hire to put personal motivation aside and act with objectivity by doing what is right.

Justice and fairness. The fair treatment of people and situations. A manager’s commitment to justice is tested with the allocation of organizational resources. Are certain individuals and groups given special treatment without regard to criteria by which to judge fairness? New workers can try and establish just and mutually agreed upon criteria and administer them fairly to all situations.

Positive reactions. In an organization, there are many types of positive reactions to coworkers, groups, or situations. An organization “with heart” allows for the expression of compassion and kindness among and between workers. The goodwill created can be drawn upon when one of the workers faces ethical challenges. It is important for both managers and workers to recognize and encourage others for their contributions.

Courage and integrity. Courage is needed to act ethically and with integrity. It is not easy to resist the temptation to take the easy way out. These values involve discerning right from wrong and acting accordingly. For example, this may mean making unpopular decisions based on fair consideration of the facts.

In practice, these five categories of values are interdependent on each other.

For example, the capacity to distribute work resources fairly and offer guidance to stakeholders along the way is supported by courage and integrity. Difficult decisions surrounding the allocation of limited resources leave some individuals and groups with less than they would prefer. But what it is important is that everyone believes that these types of decisions are made with fairness and integrity. Unpopular decisions are easier to accept when they are perceived to be derived fairly and with integrity.

How can managers make sure that new employees understand that workplace ethics are a high priority?

Most new hires go through some sort of orientation. This provides an excellent opportunity to make sure that new workers receive and overview of company expectations regarding ethics.

Human Resources can give a talk to new workers on workplace ethics. If the HR department cannot provide this for whatever reason, the direct manager of new hires can take the task on. It doesn’t matter who talks to the new hires, as long as someone does.

Many companies have a video that they show employees regarding workplace ethics. Others have a webinar that walk the new hires through various scenarios and provide ethical answers to work dilemmas.

Another option for a manager is a simple, informal talk on the subject. A manager can take the new hire out to lunch and discuss workplace ethics in a more informal atmosphere.

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