The employee is faced with ethical requirements throughout their workday that must be met with knowledge and a trained attitude. Workplace ethics is one of the most crucial elements whether the person involved in an ethical dilemma is a high-level manager or an entry-level employee. An ethical stance is important because it is what guides the interactions that the employees will have with each other, their management, and the customers that patronize their products. It is also important that the business leaders follow an internal and external ethical stance so that the culture generated within the company is one that promotes positive ethical practices. This paper begins by talking about the way that the business leaders view the external world of ethics through accounting practices and how they deal with other companies. The discussion then moves inside the company and how the management treats its employees. Employee to employee interactions and employee to company interactions are then mentioned, with, finally, a look at how company employees should treat customers. This is a comprehensive look at workplace ethics from its history to its relation to every rung of the corporate ladder.
Ethics in the Workplace
Over the years, the workplace, around the globe, has changed dramatically, so the issues that affect those on the job have altered somewhat also. People go to work for someone else because they expect to be paid a decent wage, have a safe place to work, and most expect to be treated with respect also. Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Until the government began legislating workplace practices, people had to work for whatever executive management wanted to pay them, they often worked in unsafe conditions, and owners showed open contempt for employees in many cases. Because of regulations and unionization, much of this has ended, and workers are treated in a manner that breeds mutual respect. These issues are all tied to not only what a company is forced to do because of labor agreements and government legislation, but because there is generally an ethical stance that governs each and every person at a workplace. Many companies will couch these ethics in a values statement, or make them part of the corporate mission, but it has become popular to win employees by striving to have an ethical workplace.
The research into this area of business is detailed and long-winded. The issues that face companies and the people who work for them are many and varied, and it is often difficult to understand what goes into the ethics in the workplace. Because there are many issues, it is difficult to discuss them all in a small research paper, but it is possible to provide a good representation of what workplace ethics has evolved into. This paper will look at a company's ethical response as it relates to an overview of ethics, accounting, violence in the workplace, and how an individual employee is supposed to respond.
Business ethics is not a new topic, but it is one that seems to have been expanded in the twentieth century. Before that time, many businesses operated on via a totalitarian method which guaranteed the employee a job as long as they acquiesced to the requirements of the company. This often meant long hours with little pay and questionable safety for the workers. These facts have been well documented in the works of writers such as Upton Sinclair, and such works helped stem the tide of worker oppression.
The ethical stance that a particular company takes reflect the culture that they want to generate, and the values of the corporation (Embse, Desai, & Ofori-Brobbey, 2010). However, business ethics and workplace ethics are really two completely different fields of study. Business ethics has to do with how a particular company conducts itself as a company. This is more of an outward looking stance which is meant to demonstrate such elements as financial standing and how a company will deal with others companies. Workplace ethics has to do with the internals of the company, and specifically how the employees are treated and how they are expected to treat each other and the company. Every company sets ethics guidelines for its employees, but they will also, generally let those employees know what can be expected from the company also.
The ethics that a company posts for its employees usually refer to how the company will act externally, a company's actions toward employees, and how an employee must treat customers and fellow employees. The last two will be covered in the next section, but the first two deal with ethics speak to the larger culture that a company is trying to establish. For example, Southwest Airlines lists its core values as "Follow The Golden Rule, Adhere to the Principles, Treat others with respect, Put others first, Be egalitarian, Demonstrate proactive, Customer Service, Embrace the SWA Family" (Southwest Airlines, 2012). This is a message not just given to Southwest employees, but it is something that the airline itself is supposed to follow also. Much of the research regarding the company's responsibility in workplace ethics speaks of two areas which are prominent: financial accounting and employee safety.
Accounting principles may not seem to be one of the topics that need to be discussed when it comes to workplace ethics, but how a company deals with the external world says a lot about how it deals with employees and other matters internally. Enron was thought to be a great company, as was WorldCom, but when accounting irregularities were found at these companies, it was discovered that the executives had treated their employees just as harshly as they had investors (Klimek & Wenell, 2011). During the Enron fiasco, many employees lost retirement savings of over a million dollars. Because of these two scandals and others like them (Health South), Congress legislated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. This act, "created new standards for corporate accountability as well as [instituting] penalties for noncompliance including imprisonment for up to twenty years" (Klimek & Wenell, 2011). Due to these actions, the U.S. government made the workplace safer for its employees and more ethical. This reduces the danger that a company will commit accounting fraud, and it also means that employees can more likely maintain their jobs.
Another role the company has though is ensuring business partners are treated in an ethical manner. This also speaks to business ethics as well as workplace ethics, but it proves the actual culture of the firm also. A firm that treats another ethically when a contract is signed, and expects ethical treatment from their partner, is more likely to have an ethical workplace (Klimek & Wenell, 2011). This may not always be the case of course, but ethics is a system that flows throughout the company from the top executive to the newest hourly employee.
Companies have ethical standards because they want their employees to understand what is expected of them, and for the guidelines to be concrete. Most companies will also have a guide showing employees what kind of disciplinary action that they can expect from an act that violates their employer's ethical standard. Violations can end in some sort of censure or termination, but ethical violations that are caught will generally receive some degree of discipline (Van Ness, Melisky, Bluff & Seifert, 2010).
One of the more serious violations that occurs at times in the workforce is an act of violence. This can take the form of bullying, harassment, or actual physical confrontation (Rhodes, Pullen, Vickers, Clegg & Pitsis, 2010). The adult workplace is supposed to be a place where employees feel safe, and they should not be worried about feeling fearful.
"Workplace bullying is destructive for both individuals and organizations. It occurs when one employee creates a hostile work environment for another employee, typically through both verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Such hostility manifests itself, for example, in persistent, offensive, abusive, intimidating, malicious, or insulting behavior resulting in the target feeling upset, threatened, humiliated, or vulnerable" (Rhodes, et al., 2010).
Bullying has received a good deal of press as it relates to schools, but very little in the workplace. However, creating a hostile atmosphere for an individual is not appropriate whether the interaction occurs between two school age children or two adults. The main issue in the workplace is that the company needs production from workers in order to produce and sell the products that are the focus of the business. But, if workers do not feel safe when they come to work, there is not going to be a great deal of production. Many times this type of behavior happens between two employees on equal footing within the company, but it can also happen between someone in a supervisory or managerial position and a lower level employee.
In recent years a great deal of time has been spent by companies making sure that they cover the poor choices people sometimes make with regard to intimidation of a sexual…