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Discuss the different factors influencing ethical behavior at the workplace

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Ethical behavior is that accepted as morally “good” and “right,” as opposed to “bad” or “wrong,” in a particular setting. Is it ethical to hide information that might discourage a job candidate from joining your organization? Is it ethical to ask someone to take a job you know will not be good for his or her career progress? Is it ethical to ask so much of someone that they continually have to choose between “having a ‘career’ and having a ‘life’?” The list of questions can go further more, but an important point remains: The public is increasingly demanding that people in organizations and the organizations themselves all act in accordance with high ethical and moral standards. The purpose of ethics in business is to direct business men and women to abide by a code of conduct that facilitates, if not encourages, public confidence in their products and services. But what is considered ethical behavior may depend on the factors that define and affect ethical behavior. These factors may be personal factors or organizational factors or environmental factors.

1) Personal factors

1.1) Family

Can ethics be taught? At some point in life, ethics must be taught. People are not born with innate desires to be ethical or to be concerned with the welfare of others. The role of the family includes teaching children a code of ethical behavior that includes respect for parents, siblings, and others. The family bears chief responsibility for ensuring that children will receive the necessary education and moral guidance to become productive members of society. The basic values such as honesty, self-control, concern for others, respect for legitimate authority, fidelity, and civility must be passed from one generation to the next, a fundamental process of the family. The breakdown of the family is associated with some terrible social problems.

1.2) Religion

People in our country probably associate ideas of right and wrong with religions more than anything else. This is understandable since one of the main functions of religion is to advise people how to live. For me personally I believe that you can’t be ethical unless you’re religious.

1.3) Personality and Personal Values

An individual’s values and morals will also influence his or her ethical standards. A person who stresses honesty will behave very differently from another who does not respect other people’s property. A key personality variable which may affect the ethical behavior of an individual is his/her locus of control. The locus of control of an individual affects the degree to which he perceives his behavior as influencing his life. An individual has an internal locus of control if he/she believes that he/she can control the events in his/her life. As a result, internals are likely to take responsibility for the outcomes of their behavior. Conversely, an individual with an external locus of control believes that fate or luck or other people affect his life. Such an individual is likely to believe that external forces cause him to behave either ethically or unethically. Overall, internals are more likely than externals to make ethical decisions, are less willing to cave in to pressure to behave unethically, and will resist hurting others, even when ordered to do so by a superior.

1.4) Situational Factors

People may behave unethically in certain situations because they may see no way out. For example, a manager may record ficti-tious sales in order to cover losses within his area of responsibility. As example, debt is a major reason why individuals behave unethically. Since indebtedness is likely to lead to unethical conduct, Muslim lenders are encouraged to show leniency to debtors. At the same time, debtors are urged to repay debts promptly.

1.5) Peer Influences

As children grow and are admitted to school, they are influenced by the peers with whom they interact daily. Thus, if a child’s friends engage in drawing graffiti, the child may imitate them. If the child’s peers avoid such behavior, the child is likely to behave accordingly.

1.6) Life Experiences

Whether positive or negative, key events affect the lives of individuals and determine their ethical beliefs and behavior. Malcolm X’s Hajj experience had a major impact on his later years as a Muslim: There were tens of thousands of pilgrims, from all over the world. They were of all colors, from blue-eyed blonds to black- skinned Africans. But we were all participating in the same ritual, displaying a spirit of unity and brotherhood that my experience in America had led me to believe never could exist between the white and the non-white. America needs to understand Islam, because this is the one religion that erases from its society the race problem. I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color. You may be shocked by these words coming from me. But on this pilgrimage, what I have seen, and experienced, has forced me to re-arrange much of thought-patterns previously held, and to toss aside some of my previous conclusions.

1.7) Notes about the Personal factors

For all practical purposes, making the individual the ultimate moral authority reduces ethical disagreements to something akin to disputes about taste, likes or dislikes. You may have heard the Latin expression, “Degustibus non est disputandum”–“There’s no arguing about taste.” If someone’s taste is different than yours, you simply have to accept it. Arguing won’t change it because taste isn’t a rational, intellectual matter. There are major problems, then, in giving the individual this much authority in ethics.

2) Organizational Factors

The organization too can affect influence participants’ behavior. One of the key sources of organizational influence is the degree of commitment of the organization’s leader to ethical conduct. This commitment can be communicated through a code of ethics, policy statements, speeches, publications, etc. For example, a Corporation may have an ethical code, containing section which states:

We’re honest with our customers. No deals, no bribes, no secrets, no fooling around with prices. A kickback in any form kicks anybody out. Anybody.

The above statement is clear and relates specific unethical behavior to negative consequences. Codes of ethics are gaining in popularity in many organizations, and often vary from one industry to another. Although such codes may enhance ethical behavior among organizational participants, their use is sometimes inappropriate. Some organizations may be trading in or selling in khamr or other haram products or services; hence, the conduct of the whole organization is unethical. Developing and enforcing a code of ethics in this type of organization is clearly erroneous. A well-used axiom in organizational behavior thought asserts that values ultimately drive our behavior. In a nutshell, values exert influence over our attitudes, and attitudes influence our behavior. Values are integral to attitude formation and to how we respond to people and situations. Extensive literature exists dealing with how values relate to effective managerial leadership. A review of this body of work leaves us with the clear picture that values are a key component of effective managerial leadership. There seems to be a subset of virtuous values that align with ethical behavior. As follows:

* Wisdom and Knowledge: The capacity to take information and convert it to something useful. Wisdom comes from capitalizing on one’s experience to interpret information in a knowledgeable manner to produce wise decisions. A prerequisite to doing the right thing when facing an ethical dilemma is knowing what to do, knowing the difference between right and wrong.

* Self Control: The ability to avoid unethical temptations. The capacity to take the ethical path requires a commitment to the value of acting with temperance. Ethical people say “no” to individual gain if it is inconsistent with institutional benefit and goodwill.

* Justice and Fair Guidance: The fair treatment of people. Justice is served when individuals perceive that they receive a fair return for the energy and effort expended. For example, a leader’s commitment to justice is tested continually with the allocation of organizational resources. Are certain individuals and groups given special treatment without regard to objective criteria by which to judge fairness? Ethical leaders value and embrace fair advice and guidance.

* Transcendence: The recognition that there is something beyond oneself more permanent and powerful than the individual. Without this value, one may tend toward self-absorption. Leaders who are motivated predominately by self-interest and the exercise of personal power have restricted effectiveness and authenticity.

* Love and Kindness: The expression through words and deeds of love and kindness. Researchers have documented that there appear to be different types of “love.” In an organizational context, love refers to an intense positive reaction to another co-worker, group and/or situation. An organization “with heart” allows for the expression of love, compassion and kindness among and between people, the goodwill which can be drawn upon when one faces ethical challenges.

* Courage and Integrity: The courage to act ethically and with integrity. These values involve discerning right from wrong and acting accordingly. They impel one to consistently do what is right without concern for personal consequences, even when it is not easy.

3) External Environment factors

Government regulations and laws are also affecting one’s ethical behavior. Many people think that something is “wrong” only if the law prohibits it; conversely, if the law allows it, it’s o.k. However, this is an attitude we should reject because the “legal” and the “moral” are two different things. One of the best illustrations I know of the difference between “legal” and “moral” is in Egypt’s parliament election when many defectors from the National Democratic Party (NDP) ran as independents, won seats and then rejoined the ruling party. It’s totally legal although it’s not ethical behavior. There’s good reason why people confuse the legal and the moral. Law gives us a yardstick to measure our actions against and it punishes people whose behavior falls short. And law does punish many actions that are morally wrong: murder, rape, theft, blackmail …etc. But there are problems with making the law an ultimate standard of right and wrong.

The law allows many actions that are morally offensive (manipulating people or lying to your friends). It prohibits things that might be morally neutral or even positively good. And it is changeable and contradictory. The coercive power of the law or of majority opinion may be able to tell us what we can or can’t do with impunity. But it cannot serve as a reliable guide to morality. When societal values are deteriorating, maintaining high ethical standards in accounting and business grows increasingly difficult. People will undoubtedly ask, If everyone else is cheating, then how can an ethical person possibly succeed? Nevertheless, the real question is, how does one measure success? Exhibit 1 provides a poignant essay on the foolishness of measuring success by the accumulation of wealth or power.


Why should we do the right thing? The question is simple; answering it probably the most difficult task in ethics. Legal systems and religious traditions have an easy time giving us answers, of course. We should do what’s right in order to avoid punishment for doing wrong–either in this life or the next. Think about it for a minute. What reasons would you give someone for why they should try to do what’s right? Most of you will be parents; some of you already are. How will you explain to your children, particularly as they get older and can argue with you, why they should act according to the values you hold? Perhaps you’ll say that unethical actions hurt people and that since your children wouldn’t want others to hurt them they shouldn’t hurt others. Or perhaps you’ll claim that other people won’t like them if they do this or do that. But what if your children say they don’t care about any of these things? What would you say then?

One more note about the question CAN ONE PERSON MAKE A DIFFERENCE? Never underestimate the power of one person. If you occupy a position of leadership then your actions profoundly influence those who follow your example. Considering the many qualities that are necessary for successful leadership.


1. Dr. Rafik Issa Beekun, “Islamic Business Ethics” University of Nevada.

2. Dr. Katherine T. Smith, “Business and Accounting Ethics”

3. Charles D. Kerns, Ph.D., MBA, “Creating and Sustaining an Ethical Workplace Culture”

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