Reasons to Act Ethically
There is no certainty that an organization's ethical behavior will pay off in the short term or the long term. However, research has shown that an ethical organization is more likely to win financially because it has a better reputation, more dedicated employees, and higher profitability than unethical organizations.
An ethical decision may not increase profitability. It may even lead to additional costs. However, acting ethically benefits employees, companies, and society. Ethical behavior contributes to building trust, a factor in all relationships. Unethical behavior can harm the bad actors, the organization, the industry, and even entire countries. The organization may suffer because unethical behavior can create an unproductive work environment with low employee satisfaction.
Several factors contribute to individual ethics, including moral awareness, moral judgment, and moral disengagement. Moral awareness is a person's ability to recognize that their conduct could affect others in a way that may conflict with one or more ethical standards. For example, suppose Ben is faced with a dilemma in which he can choose between two options. Ben realizes that choosing one option over the other brings up ethical concerns. Ben's realization that ethical standards apply demonstrates his moral awareness. Moral judgment is the opinion that is formed when a person decides whether certain conduct is ethical or unethical. Using the same example, if Ben realizes that one option is ethical while the other is unethical, this is moral judgment because Ben has decided whether a certain behavior is ethical. However, not everyone has moral awareness. Moral disengagement is the separation of moral reactions from unethical behavior and removal of the process of self-condemnation. This happens when people convince themselves that ethical standards do not apply to the particular conduct at issue. For example, Ben may decide that his ethical standards do not apply because he feels the people his decision will affect deserve what they will receive because they are liars.
Moral disengagement comes in many varieties. Moral justification happens when a person who is examining potentially unethical conduct attempts to make it seem right. The person wants to view the potentially unethical conduct in a positive light in order to have a clear conscience. For example, John knows that the food in the office refrigerator belongs to Barry. However, John is certain that Barry ate John’s lunch last week. John decides to take Barry's food because Barry took his food last week. This is moral justification because John attempts to make his behavior right by referencing Barry's previous bad behavior.
Advantageous comparison is when a person tries to justify their conduct by comparing it to a more extreme alternative. For example, Dan attempts to park his car in a parallel spot and strikes the bumper of the car behind him. Dan decides not to inform the owner of the car that he hit it. Dan justifies this behavior by observing that the impact barely left a dent and that it is not as if he totaled the car. Dan engaged in advantageous comparison by comparing a small dent to a totaled car.
Displacement of responsibility is when a person contends that they were just following the orders of another person—usually a person with authority. Suppose Sarah throws away all of Lisa's old collectible dolls without her permission. When Lisa confronts Sarah about her actions, Sarah states that she was told to throw away the dolls by their roommate, Gary. This is an example of displacement of responsibility because Sarah is arguing that she was only following the orders of Gary, suggesting that she was not responsible.
Euphemistic labeling means sanitizing language to make the reality seem less harsh—for example, referring to jails as “correctional facilities.” Disregard of the consequences means a person ignores or minimizes the consequences of their conduct. Dehumanization means seeing people as less human and more deserving to be on the receiving end of unethical behavior. Perhaps the most notorious example is how the Nazis treated Jewish people during World War II. The Nazis treated them as if they were not people and thus deserving of the Nazis' unethical behavior.
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