Ethical Behavior for Today's Workplace

By Danley, Janet V. | College and University, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Ethical Behavior for Today's Workplace


Danley, Janet V., College and University


In these troubled times rife with examples of corporate, institutional, and personal misbehavior, it is sometimes difficult for us to determine just what is an ethical response. With headlines disclosing college and university recruiting violations in athletics, researchers intentionally publishing erroneous or misleading results, presidents and other officers being accused of sexual harassment or misusing funds, it is little wonder that we are sometimes confused on how best to perform our duties and responsibilities. However, despite all that we see occurring around us, we can and should live our personal and professional lives in a manner that models high ethical standards.

What are the "rules" in this challenging environment? Whether our role is president of the institution or as a worker in an office that serves students, we are responsible for our own behavior as well as setting standards that inspire others to behave ethically. We must be consistent in our responses to everyday events, dilemmas, and challenges, and base our actions on the standard of ethics that we have developed.

So what are those ethical standards? Of course much has been written about ethical behavior and standards. Aristotle had much to offer us regarding the virtues of an ethical person and he considered bravery, truthfulness, justice and generosity to be the greatest attributes a person could observe and internalize (Irwin 1985). A more modern perspective is offered by Stephen R. Covey (1989). His book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, cites courage, honesty, fairness, and empathy as being traits necessary for ethical behavior. And former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani gives us his thoughts on what characteristics set great ethical leaders apart from others in his book Leadership (2002). The American College Personnel Association (ACPA) as well as the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) give us codes of ethics to guide our behavior in our everyday professional work. Individuals also apply the standards of ethics that they have acquired through their faith and personal belief system.

This article will briefly discuss standards of ethics in the context of situations we frequently encounter during our daily interactions with students and co-workers. Brief "real life" sketches will provide context for discussion. While by no means meant to be a definitive or all-inclusive review of any particular code of ethics, this article will strive to give the reader some thought-provoking examples and concepts to consider applying in the execution of his or her duties and responsibilities.

Creating Habits of Excellence

Habits of excellence involve knowing- almost by instinct-how and when to take action. For example, during his administration, Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated that he prepared for a crisis by imagining the absolute worst scenario possible and then documenting the steps and actions that would be necessary to deal with the situation. As a consequence, when the events of September 11, 2001 unfolded, Giuliani and his team already had in place plans that could be implemented quickly. As a result, Giuliani and his team were able to lead and communicate with the people of New York almost immediately, and most likely prevented mass panic (Giuliani 2002). In responding to crises or problems, our first reactions are typically the ones we have practiced. If we react in a manner that is ethical and honorable, most likely it is because we have internalized a strong ethical system of standards and behaviors.

In the same way, developing habits based on courage, integrity, fairness, and generosity prepare the leader for ethical responses to moral dilemmas and situations that require immediate action. So, how do these traits apply to our every day life at home and at work?

Courage

We all have different interpretations of courage. Is it being fearless when confronted with danger? …

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