The fact that we had to implement an act to protect whistle-blowers says a lot about our society. Additionally, it says a lot about the power, influence, and affect those unethical decisions have on the individuals that benefit from those decisions. Making ethical decisions in business requires strong moral character and the ability to resist the power and influence of what may be the corporate culture or office environment. While I personally believe most people are good, with good intentions, I also believe it is true that a few bad apples spoil the bucket (or something like that?!).
Not to get sidetracked here, but in this situation I like to refer to what I feel is one of the most important things I learned in a social psychology class- the Fundamental Attribution Theory. In the Fundamental Attribution Theory, we often blame the individual for their actions and overlook the power of the group and the influence the group has on the individual. Additionally, while I possess a strong internal locus of control (another great word from business school) and believe that we as individuals are greatly responsible for the fate we reap, as opposed to an external locus of control that asserts we are at the mercy of our environment; I too have been caught up in the power of the group and we all have, at one time or another, made decisions that disagree with our moral values as a result of the groups influence – which is referred to as, and causes, Cognitive Dissonance (doing or saying something that goes against what we may believe or feel… another great term from that social psychology class!).
Okay, I just used up all of my $5 words for the day in one paragraph, but they all tie together the importance of this topic; Ethics in Business.
There are a variety of situations in business that put us in between the boundaries of making an ethical and unethical decision. It could be something as simple as telling your boss you would have project X done by the deadline, when you hadn’t even started it and knew you would need an extension- to something greater, like fudging sales numbers in the ledger or justifying dinner as a business expense because you said your company name in conversation during dinner, and hey, “everyone does it, right?” This follows the good ole’ ideology of “when in Rome, do as the Romans.” I’d say wrong, but pending your position on the various moral philosophies and ethical theories, you may be able to justify your decision!
I personally tend to look at how society may perceive my actions and when all else fails, if grandma would disapprove, then I should consider a different alternative.
In analyzing scenario A above; lying to your boss about completing the project, there are different philosophies to justify, or not to justify, your position. If you take a Utilitarian approach, you may say the lie was okay because if you told your boss the truth then your group might have had to work serious overtime to get the job done. In this case, in looking at the greatest good for the greatest number (your group); your lie may be justified. However, if you were to take your position based on Virtue ethics, there is no way to justify your lie because honesty is a moral value that is achieved through practice and commitment as a result of personal growth. On the other extreme, maybe you are an Egoist, and you lied to your boss because you wanted to go out partying Thursday night and you knew your boss would mandate overtime if the project wasn’t complete. In this case, your decision was based on complete self-interest and the means (the lie) is unimportant, because you make decisions based on the end (your personal life and doing things you enjoy).