Is your behavior at work shaped by your ethical principles? Many people spend half of their waking weekday hours at work, so they have plenty of opportunities to embrace their ethics on the job. Here are several ways to help make that happen, shared by organizational behavior professor Isaac Smith. For more tips on building an ethical framework in the workplace, listen to the Purpose in Action podcast.
Identify your own values. What are your guiding principles, the standards or behaviors you hold most important? Understanding what matters to you can help you live by your beliefs, Smith said.
As part of that effort, consider the distinction that The New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks has made between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. When you’re at work, you’re most likely focusing on your resume virtues, or the values or behaviors that can help advance your career. Those are useful virtues that are well worth having. However, they’re different from your eulogy virtues, or the actions or characteristics that you would want people to remember after you die. Thinking about these two types of virtues can help you hone and uphold the values that mean the most to you.
Reframe what your career is about. What do you mean when you talk about a “successful career?” Management expert Peter Drucker advised professionals not to focus on what they can achieve in a career, but rather on what they can contribute. That can shift the focus of your efforts from racking up accomplishments to making a difference in people’s lives.
Find the right place for you. It will be easier to live your own principles if your workplace is a good moral fit for you. Do the mission and values of the organization—and your own department—reflect your own? Are ethics important to the organization and do its leaders demonstrate ethical behavior?
The answers can help you clarify your company’s expectations, Smith said. It’s also a good idea to find an ethical role model within the organization whose actions you can learn from or a mentor you can talk to about ethics issues.
Ask the right questions. Imagine you’re being asked to make an important decision at work. These are some simple questions to consider, and when people neglect to ask them, it can be easier to slide into unethical behavior:
What is the right thing to do in this situation? There may be long-standing approaches to the way workers deal with customers or suppliers or the way they treat their colleagues. Doing things the way they’ve always been done doesn’t guarantee ethical behavior, though. Regularly considering what’s truly right can ensure that your approaches remain ethical.
Who might be harmed by this situation? Thinking about how a decision or existing practice can impact other people can help employees reconsider the best ways to conduct business.
Reflect on your own behavior. When you take time to think about your approach to ethics, it can be easier to see if you are rationalizing improper actions. Here are three questions Smith suggested asking when you’re uncertain if you’re doing the right thing:
If my actions or decisions were made public, would I feel comfortable defending them? Would I be certain I had done the right thing?
If my actions became a precedent that other people followed, would I be happy with that? Would I believe that I had been a good influence on others?
Finally, after I took this action, would I be able to look myself in the mirror and like the person I see?