Every now and then I encounter an ethics article that covers a topic in a both thorough and refreshingly easily-digested manner – too many are either or neither of those… Just read a great piece by Vadim Liberman in the Conference Board Review called "Workers Behaving Badly". It falls squarely into the if-you-just-read-one-piece-on-business-ethics-this-month-make-it-this-one category.
As a 'teaser', here's a part of the lead-in to the article:
"The executive who expenses a few kinda-sorta-but-probably-not-really work-related dinners or cab rides, the colleague who comes in a bit late every morning, the employee who charges a hotel-room movie to the company, the worker who expenses a new stapler and takes it home, the manager who knows he needs a receipt for a reimbursement of $25 but since he doesn’t have one decides to submit two requests for $12.50 . . . the question isn’t whether these individuals are acting unethically. They probably are. The question is: Should a company care? Should organizations concern themselves with of their workers’ ethical infractions? Or just specific bad behavior? Or just specific workers? Or just at specific times? Where do you draw the line?"
Liberman, along with a number of guest contributors, do a better job than most in then trying to answer those questions. Can it actually be done? Of course not! That's why these simple-sounding illustrations are so vexing – they sound easy and obvious when, of course, they really aren't. BUT, this piece does a terrific job of talking through how you might go about deciding how you want to answer them for yourself and your company.
Among other things, it's great to hear/see someone dare say out loud that where one draws the line on ethics issues, especially those not affecting anyone outside the company, is often really a matter of choice and not something iron-clad. Though I happen to be a proponent of drawing a fairly conservative line – for exactly the range of reasons given in the article – I'm certainly conscious of the fact that one can reasonably argue for drawing the line in any number of places. As I say so often in my programs, what frequently matters most has less to do with the decision you make (about where you draw the ethical line) and more to do with your rationale, the message your decision sends, and the degree to which your decision will be both sensible and enforceable for everyone in the organization.
Agree or not, it's a very nicely done article and highly recommended.
And, er, where do you and your company draw the line?