Workplace ethics

After having a discussion about ethics and social responsibility with a group of young people, one young lady was overheard saying: “My organisation has not provided us with any ethical guidelines, so how do I know when something is ethical and when it is not? I think that in my organisation anything goes.”

Another lady countered by saying that she “believes that the half naked pictures of women on the desktops of male employees in her department is unethical, but nobody does anything about it”.

Questions and statements like these are rampant among employees and they often remain unanswered because they are afraid to ask the manager if the organisation has an ethical code of conduct that governs such things.

An example of employees not having knowledge about ethical conduct was revealed by a male participant in the discussion who boldly stated that he was unaware that there was such a thing as cyberethics. He felt that it was okay to email naked pictures to colleagues regardless of if they wanted to see them or not.

The article this week provides and excerpt adapted from “Netiquette Tips” Keying In, November 2000, as cited in DuBrin, (2006) p. 112 as well as some hints on how to improve ethical behaviour when in doubt (as cited in DuBrin, 2006 p. 113).

1. The golden rule in cyberspace is to treat others as you would like to be treated.

2. Always act responsibly when posting messages to a discussion forum and do not use language or photographs that are racist, sexist or offensive. Also, be careful when using humour or sarcasm as this could be easily misunderstood.

3. Respect others’ privacy and do not read other individuals’ e-mail or access their personal files without permission.

4. Assist in maintaining the security of your office information system by taking precautions when downloading files from the Internet as they could introduce viruses into the system and cause damage or enable hackers or others to access company files.

5. Protect your account number and files with passwords and access codes and do not allow others access to use your password, if you have to, change the password immediately afterwards.

6. Respect intellectual property rights and do not use software you have not paid for. Always give proper credit for other people’s work and under no circumstance should you plagiarise the work of others.

7. Observe the policies of the organisation.

8. Protect your personal safety and never give personal information like phone numbers or your address to strangers on the Internet. If you have concerns report it to your network administrator.

Here is an adapted version of a guide to ethical decision making as suggested by DuBrin (2006). In the event that you are unsure if some behaviour is unethical you should ask yourself the following questions which are based on deontological theory:

1. Is it right? This is based on universally accepted principles of rightness and wrongness — for instance “thou should not steal”.

2. Is it fair? This implies that some actions are naturally either just or unjust. For example, would you dismiss a top performing employee and replace that individual with a poor performer who happens to be a friend or relative?

3. Who gets hurt? This point is based on the whole utilitarian notion that we do the greatest good for greatest number of people.

4. Would you be comfortable if the decision you made was made front page news in your newspaper? So would you want your decision disclosed.

5. Would you tell your child to do it? and

6. Does it smell right? This is mainly based on intuition and common sense, like taking a few pennies off or adding them on to a dormant account in order to increase the profit margin.

It is believed that should you as a manager be unsure whether certain behaviour is unethical you could put it to this test in order to determine if the behaviour is right or wrong. Management should also apprise employees of such in order to encourage them to act ethically in the workplace.

For your information, research on deontological theory suggests that most people would adhere to their obligations and duties when faced with a moral dilemma. This definition was taken from the following website. (

So managers out there, when next you are faced with a moral dilemma do not be afraid to ask yourself: “Is it right”? Until next time have a good week…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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