ethical issues have been increasingly brought to the forefront. This is because a variety of challenges are impacting the way executives and employees are behaving inside the workplace. A good example of this can be seen by looking no further than Tyco. What happened is Dennis Kozlowski was the CEO of the company from the early 1990s until 2002. This is when a wide scale fraud was reported, as he used the company's funds to live a lavish lifestyle. (Hitt, 2009)
To help support the fraud he encouraged some of his closet executives to participate in covering up these issues. At the same time, he had a seat on the board of directors and was effective at preventing them from independently investigating these events. This helped him to live a celebrity lifestyle by showing to the world how he was new generation of CEOs. They were focused on creating large conglomerates that could take advantage of new opportunities inside the global marketplace. (Hitt, 2009)
However, once the economy began to slow, is when there was a change in the company's financials (with earnings declining). This lead to increased amounts of scrutiny about the practices he was embracing and the long-term impact on the firm's bottom line results. Once this occurred is when the fraud was discovered and Kozlowski was convicted. He was sentenced to prison for his role in these events. This is showing how unethical practices inside the workplace can eat away at the integrity of the largest firms. (Hitt, 2009)
To fully understand how ethical issues are impacting the behavior of employees and executives requires carefully examining current practices. This will be achieved by concentrating on a legal and ethical issue effecting employers. Together, these elements will highlight the way these factors are influencing behavior and the policies that are imposed inside a variety of work environments.
Legal and Ethical Issues Impacting Employers
A Culture of Acceptance Inside the Workplace
One of the biggest legal and ethical challenges impacting all employers is creating an environment where everyone is taking a sense of responsibility for their actions. This is because managers will often impose different policies and procedures that require everyone to follow select practices. (Bryce, 2004)
For instance, at Enron, Jeff Skilling (the former CEO) used the employee evaluation as a way to determine those individuals who were working within the company's ideals. This meant that they did not question the directives of managers. Instead, it focused on those people who did what they were told by their supervisors. (Bryce, 2004)
This created a situation where the firm could engage in illegal and unethical activities through imposing a culture of acceptance. During the California energy crisis, Enron was the largest trader of electricity and natural gas. To increase their overall returns, he encouraged employees to manipulate market prices by driving them higher. When this happened, consumers realized a 50% rise in their electric bills. This was taking place, while commodities prices (such as oil and gas) were trading at much lower levels in contrast with what the firm was charging. (Bryce, 2004)
The biggest factor that enabled the crisis occur, was to use the employee evaluation to weed out potential whistle blowers. Anyone who performed poorly in these areas was forced to leave the firm for not meeting the ideals of the organization. This is illustrating how the employee evaluation allowed these activities. In the future, this created a culture of acceptance inside the organization. (Bryce, 2004)
Moreover, Larson (1989) determined that this caused many employees to deflect responsibility for their own actions and mistakes. Evidence of this can be seen with him saying, "A culture of acceptance occurs where a poor performing employee regularly seeks informal praise from his or her supervisor at inappropriate moments. Often the feedback-seeker will get the praise they want, since they choose the time and place to ask for it. In effect, they 'ambush' the supervisor by seeking feedback at moments when the supervisor is unable or unprepared to give them a full and proper answer, or in settings that are inappropriate for a frank assessment. The supervisor may feel 'put on the spot', but will often provide a few encouraging words of support. The game seems innocent enough until appraisal time comes around. Then the supervisor will find that the employee recalls, with perfect clarity, every casual word of praise ever spoken! This places the supervisor in a difficult bind. Either the supervisor lied when giving the praise, or least, misled the employee into thinking that their performance was acceptable (in fact, this is the argument that feedback-seekers will often make). The aim of the game is that the feedback- seeker wants to deflect responsibility for their own poor performance. They also seek to bolster their appraisal rating by bringing in all the 'evidence' of casual praise. Very often the feedback seeker will succeed in making the supervisor feel at least partly responsible. As a result, their appraisal result may be upgraded." These elements are showing how appraisals and reviews can create a situation where everyone will have less responsibility and independence. When this happens, they will be able to avoid responsibility and pass the blame onto others. These areas are showing how potential abuses can take place inside the largest and most successful firms (based upon an effective evaluation procedure to control attitudes / beliefs). (Larson, 1989)
One of the primary factors which are contributing to the culture inside the workplace is greed. This is occurring through managers focusing on how they can meet the organizational objectives at any cost. What is happening is firms are becoming increasingly concerned with reaching the Wall Street earnings consensus. To achieve these objective managers have been pushing employees to engage in practices that are taking a variety of short cuts.
In the future, this will hurt the ability of these firms to take into account issues that could impact other stakeholders. This creates a situation where they will ignore ethical and legal guidelines in the process. Once this takes place, is the point that the firm will face tremendous amounts of pressure in meeting their financial benchmarks or reducing costs in other areas.
A good example of this can be seen by looking no further than the activities of BP. Throughout the years; the firm has been concentrating on maximizing their profit margins to reach various benchmarks. This is achieved by reducing costs and increasing their profit margins.
During this process, is when they cut the costs of maintaining various safety and legal procedures inside their facilities. However, the problem with this approach; is these practices have led to a number of incidents that illustrated how the firm is: avoiding legal, ethical and safety procedures in the process. Evidences of this can be seen with the below incidents (which are highlighting how this focus is harming various stakeholders in the process) to include:
The Texas City Refinery Explosion: This event was set off by a consistent pattern of BP encouraging employees to knowingly circumvent different safety and legal procedures. Moreover, the firm dramatically cut funding to various emergency warning alarms and systems. This created a situation where the refinery fell into a state of neglect from the lack of investment in maintaining the basic infrastructure. In 2005, this led to an explosion that killed 17 people and injured 150 others. (Goodwin, 2010)
The Prudhoe Bay Spill: BP was responsible for maintaining the Alaska oil pipeline over the course of many years. However, the company was focused on reducing its maintenance costs. This led to large sections of the pipeline falling into a state of disrepair. When this happens, corrosion was occurring on the inside and at the seals for various sections. In 2006, this caused the pipeline to burst leaking 200 thousand gallons of crude oil. (Korosec, 2010)
To make matters worse, the firm engaged in these kinds of practices after the accident at Prudhoe Bay occurred. From 2008 to 2009, this lead to a series of mishaps that almost resulted in similar kinds of spills from clogs developing on three different pipelines on the North Slope of Alaska. According to a Congressional report they found, "That these near misses were from a failure of equipment meant to prevent gas buildups and an improperly installed warning system for workers." This is illustrating how the firm has been continually neglecting safety, legal and ethical standards by ignoring these provisions. (Korosec, 2010)
The Deep Water Horizon Accident: In April 2010, the Deep Water Horizon well off the gulf coast of Louisiana exploded and sank to the bottom of the sea. This was the worst environmental disaster ever seen in U.S. history. What made this situation worse, is BP knowingly ignored safety and environmental standards. This resulted in a gas build up developing which led to the explosion and leaking of oil on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. After nearly three months, the company was able to plug the well. A…