What Is So Ethical About Work Ethics?

By: Allan Wallace

Some consider it an old fashioned concept, that of giving value for value, and of preserving your personal honor and reputation by keeping your word and giving your best work to an employer. What surprises many new workers these days is the fact that your ethical behavior in the workplace is not conditional on what your employer or coworkers do, or does not do.

It is true that many unethical behaviors are supported in law, but many are not. Your employer may or may not be ethical in its treatment of you or its customers, but you agreed to do a certain job for a certain pay and benefits. Because of that commitment and assuming nothing illegal is going on, you should give your best to the work regardless of other conditions, as long as you work there. It is your honor and your reputation at risk if you do not.

The word, Ethics is defined as the moral principles that govern a person’s behavior. Work Ethics is a set of practical moral principles applied to one’s work and employment. A work ethic is also “a belief in the moral benefit and importance of work and its inherent ability to strengthen character.” So, your ethical behavior at work is as much for your own benefit, self-respect, and reputation as it is to help your employer meet its goals.

My parents were both hard working, low-pay workers in a time when it was common for there to be only one income per household because that was usually enough. And yet, when my parents had every reason to despair and disparage their employers for the low pay and poor benefits, they chose not to.  They made a commitment to their employers that involved doing the best work they could, loyalty to the employer’s brand and products, and they knew and agreed to the pay and benefits (or lack thereof) going into the job.

So, this is my effort to impart the work ethics my parents taught me, in the same form they gave it to me, that of advice. In each one, look for the underlying principles:

  • Be on time, and on the job every minute you are “on the clock” – Nothing says that you do not want to be at work or are lazy more than consistently arriving five minute, or even one minute, late to work or when coming back from breaks. If your employers pay you for 8 hours of work, then work or be at your station ready for work for each of the 480 minutes for which they pay you. Also, it is simply unethical to be walking out the door as the last of those minutes tick away.
  • Be dependable – Do not call in sick for minor health problems or for a “mental health day” unless you have a clinically diagnosed condition your employer already knows about. If you can still do your work, go into work. If a snowflake falls on your driveway, do not call in saying you cannot make it into work, unless conditions are truly hazardous. If you are unsure, start to work early and turn around if you don’t think you can make it. And, let your manager know you tried.
  • Abide by the rules – Employers make rules to set limits on employee behavior, to comply with government regulation, and for other business reasons important to them. Even if they are lenient with you, bending a rule on occasion, they still do not want rules broken without an acceptable reason (acceptable to the employer). When leniency occurs, it does NOT mean the rule no longer applies.
  • Accept personal responsibility for every task given to you – Accept responsibility for the completion of the task, the time-frame given and the quality of the work. Do not play the blame game or make excuses.
  • You are part of a team – Always respect the differences and varying talents of your coworkers, and find ways to encourage and empower them. Generously share credit for successes, and graciously accept your share of the blame when things go wrong.
  • Strive for Excellence and do more than they ask of you – The employee who wants only to keep their job says, “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.” The employee who wants to succeed in their work will attempt to do more:  excellent work and more than is expected. If you do this, you will earn the respect of your coworkers and supervisors, and will establish and increase your reputation in the company. Give your best work, the rewards will follow.
  • Do what is right, regardless of what others do – Chances are good that some of your coworkers will occasionally test the limits of rules and permissions of the job, do not follow their example. Your managers may be allowing them the opportunity to turn around their behavior, before they must separate them from their job.  If you believe that something is wrong or against the rules, do not do it. Herd mentality only leads to the slaughterhouse. Also, if you promise something, deliver it as promised. Being true to your word will help your reputation in the company.
  • Always tell the truth – Being truthful often gives your manager options on how to deal with a situation and she will be grateful for the flexibility your honesty granted. If you lie and the truth becomes known, it often leaves your Manager with only one option, to separate you from the job you do.
  • Always be conspicuously loyal to your company’s brand and product – It only makes sense that if you work for a company you should promote its brand and buy its products whenever you can. It helps the company’s bottom line and reputation, and therefore your paycheck and standing within the company. Promoting a competitor’s brand or buying their product makes YOU look insincere and disloyal.
  • Be Grateful – If you have ever been without work for more than a few weeks, you understand the gratitude for simply having work and for the health to perform in it. After all, your employer could have easily chosen someone else for the job, but it was given to you. And if you should ever find better employment, always offer a decent notice (at least one week) and be sure to Thank your Managers for the opportunity they gave to you. Do not burn your bridges behind you, you never know when you may need to come back that way again.

According to an article I read recently, the components of a strong work ethic are Integrity, Responsibility, Quality, Discipline, and Teamwork (see link below). The work-wisdom my parents imparted to me contains these. And their gift to me was not only in the form of advice, but they embodied ethical behavior in their daily lives, in all areas of their lives.

These principles have been around as long as there have been people willing to pay or trade for services rendered. Instead of being old-fashioned, they are timeless and ubiquitous.

NOTE:  This article was written originally for my workplace Sharepoint and was published 9/10/2015.

The Houston Chronicle  http://smallbusiness.chron.com/5-factors-demonstrate-strong-work-ethic-15976.html 

Dictionary.com  http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/work+ethic

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