Ethical behavior in an organization means “acting responsibly in gray areas where rules of right or wrong behavior is ambiguous” (Stephen P. Robbins, Guidelines for Acting Ethically). Although many companies have strict rules of conduct to follow written in their employee handbooks, interpretations of these rules are determined by particularized situations. For example, a manager promoting his relative over a more highly qualified candidate for a position in the company might be legal and authorized but it may be construed as unethical. Another example could be choosing a vendor with similar completive prices only because he/she offered you tickets to a hockey game. Microsoft code of ethics handbook explicitly states that “We do not accept incentives such as kickbacks or bribes in return for conducting business with them” with regard to vendors. (Steven A. Ballmer)The definition of ethics “commonly refers to the rules or principles that define right and wrong conduct”. (Stephen P. Robbins)
To comply with the changing business and legal environment organizations ensure ethical behavior by issuing orders of compliance with severe consequences. For example, Microsoft takes the standard of business conduct very seriously and “consequences for such violations may include disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment”. (Enforcement) These are severe penalties with long lasting implications that require employees to take ethical rules and guidelines earnestly to secure a long lasting relationship with their organization.
Taking a personal responsibility for ethical behavior is foremost a necessary requirement otherwise a prevalent attitude of ambivalence will lead to misguided interpretations of what is right and wrong. The feeling of a group norm mentality that everyone else is doing it will prevail without analyzing the results and the true meaning of your actions. For example, if you work in a company that does not recycle because the company manager has decided that is too expensive and time consuming to order recycling bins this may create an ethical dilemma for you. You know because of your core beliefs and values that everyone must do their part to save the environment and not increase landfills with waste but at the same time doing so would go against the wishes of your supervisor and could jeopardize your job. You realize that if you do not follow the supervisor’s wishes to throw paper and plastics into the main trash bin even though everyone else in the company is doing it you could be labeled as a troublemaker and could be fired for insubordination. Even though it is still legal for the company to be socially irresponsible it goes against every grain of your core beliefs. You are faced with the decision to go along with the company’s policy or stand in the unemployment line. This situation would fall into the category of being legal but unethical. Doing the right thing would be ethical. I would either try and change the behavior of the company or resign. Unfortunately, some people’s choices are not so simple, if the employee depends on his wage to pay his mortgage and have adequate health insurance because there is a baby on the way or is responsible for a family member who depends on those health benefits. Ethical choices have to be weighed in order to make the right decision. This is where the gray area comes into play.
Large scale unethical behavior can be practiced widely by a large group of people if there are no guidelines to follow. In the case of the Equity Funding Corporation of America scandal which perpetrated fraud by relying on equity fund policies as their primary source of operating cash, large scale blind loyalty was at its peak. Employees cooperated with top management executives to achieve their goals giving no thought to ethical implications. This 1973 scandal in the insurance industry proved that “guilt is elusive [and that] everyone presumes that somebody else will bear the final responsibility”. (Henderson)
It is interesting to note that laying the blame on higher authorities does not take away the ethical personal responsibility of individuals. If you feel that something is wrong based on your core values and beliefs it probably is. What you as an individual will do to correct the situation is the ethical responsibility that you must bear considering the consequences.
Changes in laws and social standards dictate norms and standards of behavior in corporations and members of groups. (Linda Klebe Trevino) Laws are made to correct imperfections in social responsibilities and injustices but they do insure that they will not happen. This was not more evident than in the recent “egregious unethical behaviors across a wide variety of organizations”. (Luis R. Gomez) AIG, Time Warner, CitiGroup, and the Bank of America were all involved in activities that circumvented proper ethical behavior to its customers. As Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “It Takes a Village”, it only took one person to write that book, as it takes only person to make a stand when injustices surface. The nameless man who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square will forever imprint an image of one lone person who stood up for not only what he believed in but what was right for all society. In the same way, each one of us should stand up and voice our opinion to right a wrong if that is what we believe in. It is our moral imperative as individuals to shape policy and social integrations to the proper ethical behavior in business and in our own personal lives.
Enforcement, Microsoft Administration and. "Microsoft Standards of Business Conduct ." 29 June 2009. Microsoft Business Conduct and Compliance Program. 7 March 2010 <http://www.microsoft.com/About/Legal/EN/US/Compliance/Buscond/Default.aspx>.
Henderson, Verne E. "The cost of blind loyalty is high ." Henderson, Verne E. What’s Ethical in Business? . New York: McGraw Hill, Inc, 1992. 83.
Linda Klebe Trevino, Katherine A. Nelson. "Norms – "The Way We Do Things Around Here"." Linda Klebe Trevino, Katherine A. Nelson. Managing Business Ethics . New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. , 1999. 208.
Luis R. Gomez, David B. Balkin, Robert L. Cardy. "Ethics and Social Responsiblity ." Luis R. Gomez, David B. Balkin, Robert L. Cardy. Managing Human Resources . Boston: Prentice Hall , 2010. 19.
Stephen P. Robbins, David A. DeCenzo. "Guidelines for Acting Ethically." Stephen P. Robbins, David A. DeCenzo. Supervision Today . Upper Saddle River : Prentice Hall , 2010. 51.
Stephen P. Robbins, David A. DeCenzo. "What is ethics? ." Stephen P. Robbins, David A. DeCenzo. Supervision Today . Upper Sadle River : Prentice Hall , 2010. 44.
Steven A. Ballmer, Chief Executive Officer. "Microsoft Standards of Business Conduct ." 29 June 2009. Microsoft . 7 March 2010 <http://www.microsoft.com/About/Legal/EN/US/Compliance/Buscond/Default.aspx>.