Why Ethics Matter at Work
Alankar Karpe

Why Ethics Matter at Work
Mr. Alankar Karpe, PMP, PMI-ACP, works as a services project manager for CA Technologies. He has 14 years of project management experience and serves as member of the PMI Ethics Member Advisory Group. He holds a post-graduate diploma in management and a master’s certificate in business analysis from IMDR, Pune, and George Washington University, respectively.

Ethical problems are common in a workplace that comprises of individuals with different motivations, ideas, education, and diverse backgrounds.

According to Harvard University Business School Professor Max H. Bazerman, ethical lapses in projects contribute to huge losses and brand dilution. These lapses also contribute to a negative workplace culture that damages trust and leadership effectiveness.

The organization is responsible for making employees realize and help to resolve ethical dilemmas. It should be driven by the value of an ethically strong and aware workforce that can create trust and confidence in their current and potential customers, investors, government, and competitors.

Ethical Dilemma

Project team members often find themselves doing the wrong things for what they believe are for the right reasons. They should be trained to see the ethical dimension that involves tension between targets/deadlines versus honesty and truth; and desire of protecting the company’s short-term interests versus long-term community interests. Contextual pressures to perform in such situations can mean taking shortcuts that result in a compromised position.

People operate under different ethical value systems depending on:

  •     Experiences
  •     Religious background
  •     Education
  •     Cultural background and values

Another factor that influences ethical behavior is office culture. Individuals may make unethical choices when bosses, managers, and co-workers engage in misconduct. The activities and examples set by the management and co-workers, along with rules and policies, are critical for setting up ethical compliance in an organization.

The Right Way Forward

One of the first step to establish corporate ethics is to clearly define what is acceptable and what is not by providing specific examples.

In many organizations, project managers create environments that lead their teams to do the dirty work for them. They say, “Just get the work done, I reward results.” They don’t bother to say, “I want you to get it done ethically.”

Organizations need to invest in creating workplaces where employees can safely raise their concerns without fear of retaliation. It is not only important to raise awareness of the ethical dimension within the organization, but also to provide a platform coupled with an environment in which employees can raise, object, and connect.

Project managers and organizations need to follow ethical practices in order to do what is right within their respective project teams.

  •     Follow ethical hiring practices, hire employees with strong ethical values, and emphasize ethics when recruiting new employees.
  •     Invest in ethics training programs, create awareness with mandatory attendance.
  •     Make the ethics code public and visible.
  •     Incorporate ethical decision-making, reporting breach, and disciplining employees who violate the code into the reward and feedback system.
  •     Make project managers accountable for their actions and encourage the team to question the manager.

Most importantly, organizations and project managers need to create a transparent culture and an environment of trust within teams so that people can freely ask for help, ask questions, and raise issues without any fear of being shot down.

Why Ethics are Important?

According to a study done by PricewaterhouseCoopers, ethical organizations are more attractive to employees because workers perceive that managers are more likely to be fair in their direct interactions with staff. This boosts employee morale.

Instilling and maintaining a code of ethics at work is a longterm investment. Organizations can save millions as a result of lawsuits and settlements later, and the risk of damaging the organization’s image.

According to a report published in the website, Business in the Community, companies that actively managed ethical issues outperformed their peers financially by 3.3 - 7.7 percent over a five-year period. This shows how following ethics standards and maintaining an ethical work culture makes perfect business sense.

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