Three Causes of Unethical Behavior at Work

by | Jul 29, 2016 | Sales Motiviation

By Jeff Beals

I remember sitting through a discussion session about a year ago at a real estate conference.  I presented earlier in the day and then stuck around to participate in the rest of the program.

The topic of business ethics came up and attendees all agreed that companies and individual professionals should always strive to behave ethically.  Then one of the participants made the argument that placing a major emphasis on ethics actually makes a company more profitable.

Several heads nodded in agreement, but a guy sitting near me rolled his eyes and spoke up: “That might be the case in the markets where some of you live, but that’s not the case in Chicago and New York.”  He went on to say that sophisticated real estate investors in those fast-moving markets are not receptive to talk about ethics, because it’s a “soft topic,” something that doesn’t resonate with serious real estate professionals.

This cynical fellow was well dressed, clear spoken and possessed of confidence, which caused some of the participants to nod in agreement, but to this day, his assertion remains one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard.  It was also an insult to the millions of ethical professionals working in Chicago and New York!

Regardless of how sharply you focus on hard results, putting an emphasis on ethical behavior and ethical decision-making always pays off in the long run. No doubt there are times when taking the ethical road causes a short-term loss. But over the course of many years, those professionals and companies that build an ethical reputation will be particularly adept at attracting and retaining clients (thereby increasing profits).  Nobody is perfect, and no organization does everything right every time, but a commitment to ethics positively changes culture in the end.

I think some “serious” business professionals don’t want to talk about ethics because they don’t want to contemplate their own unethical behavior. Contrary to what some hotshots might think, ethics-in-business is NOT a soft topic.

As researchers dig deeper into the effect of ethics on outcomes, we are learning that everything in a business (or any other organization) is interconnected.

The Business Ethics Alliance, a program affiliated with Creighton University, recently highlighted research from the Journal of Business Ethics, which suggested that stressful situations at work may lead decision makers to act unethically.

Researchers surveyed employees from a multinational engineering company. Participants completed questionnaires that asked about different sources of stress in the workplace. Participants also described how they would react to certain ethical dilemmas.

What was the end result? Out of multiple sources of stress, three were associated with stronger intentions to engage in unethical behavior:

  1. A Lack of Rewards – Regardless of the whether the lack of rewards is real or perceived, it may lead decision makers to compensate themselves in unethical ways.
  1. Poor Team Work – Frustration over poor team work may result in unethical actions toward other team members or the organization as a whole.
  1. Lack of Information – When employees don’t have adequate information, their ability to even perceive an ethical dilemma is impaired.

Interestingly, the other forms of stress studied but not particularly prone to impair ethical decision-making were powerlessness, ambiguity, overload, boredom, lack of feedback, punishment and alienation.

The Business Ethics Alliance recommends organizational leaders remember that rewards can be non-materialistic, such as positive feedback. Leaders should minimize these sources of stress in order to maximize ethical decision-making potential.

We may never see the day when each of us behaves ethically one-hundred percent of the time, but a conscientious commitment to ethics will eventually make a better world and a better place for us to live and work.

Jeff Beals shows you how to find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share.  Jeff is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.”

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Jeff Beals helps you find better prospects, close more deals and capture greater market share. He is an international award-winning author, sought-after keynote speaker, and accomplished sales consultant. He delivers compelling speeches and sales-training workshops worldwide. He has spoken in 5 countries and 41 states. A frequent media guest, Jeff has been featured in Investor’s Business Daily, USA Today, Men’s Health, Chicago Tribune and The New York Times.

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