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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Rules or Values in Ethical Development

Developing ethics within organizations is not an easy task. Many companies offer some rudimentary ethics classes in orientation with little to no follow up. As can be expected, these ethical values only last for so long before they are tested and compared against actual working conditions. To develop higher levels of ethical standards among employees it is necessary to ensure that they find a match between their own personal values and the ethical standards.

It is not easy to have employees internalize certain values and maintain ethical standards when other options are available. Connecting employees to their personal value systems and infusing ethical standards into the organization's culture can go a longer way in creating lasting beliefs. Internalized ethical standards rely on employee values, organizational values, and standards coming together with compatibility.


Identity based ethical decision-making combined with rule-making ethical decision-making has a longer positive ethical influence then rule oriented decision-making (Gu & Neesham, 2014). When employees can find a match between their personal value system and that of the employers they are more likely to adhere to those values. When ethics is based in the need to avoid rules then its shelf-life is limited.

Think of how rule and regulations may contain outward adherence based upon fear or self-interest but doesn't move beyond that. An over focus on rules and regulations as a deterrent may bring compliance but not necessarily belief thereby nearly ensuring that problems are repeated. Helping people find shared values that comply with organizational (i.e. societal) beliefs creates a more lasting impact.

After orientation employees look to their peers and other members of their social network to determine how to act in moral dilemmas. Once a company develops a strong ethical culture they create internal social criticism of unethical behavior which improves upon ethical maintenance (Sonenshein, 2005). Having ethical values embedded into the culture can make a huge impact.

People do this naturally in daily life. The values people hold are based upon their upbringing and social networks. Matching internalized values to ethical standards is only one part of the problem. The other part of the problem is ensuring that the social network also accepts those values. When issues arise the social network is likely to be a significant anchor to bounce options.

Strong ethical decisions require both an internalized value system and a social network that believes in and promotes those ethical values. Without these two aspects rules and regulations may create compliance but not a deeper sense of value incorporation. Those who internalize these values are likely to maintain them even when some force is not being used as deterrent.

Long lasting ethical values are based in promoting beliefs within the workplace both on a personal level and a social level to encourage higher levels of ethical performance. Fear of punishment only works for so long and this is one of the reasons why despite renewed focus on ethics there are plenty of scandals to go around. People will judge ethical dilemmas by their own value systems as well as the value systems of their social networks. Longevity in ethical values requires an an alignment of ethical models between self and society.

Gu, J. & Neesham, C. (2014) Moral identity as leverage point in teaching business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 124 (3).

Sonenshein, S. (2005). Business ethics and internal social criticism. Business Ethics Quarterly, 15 (3).

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