In today’s world it is all too prevalent to see more and more people hungry to gain success at an ever-increasing rate. Modern culture can and indeed is labelled ‘greedy’ and ‘thoughtless’. Through my relatively short time spent in business, I have encountered many of these types of people. But who are they hungry for? Who benefits from their thoughtlessness, and why do they do what they do? More importantly, who is to blame when things don’t go according to plan?
These are all questions asked constantly in the business domain, questions that often seem to include the word ‘ethics’ in their answer. Whether we look to consequentialism and always consider the outcome of a particular action, or conform to a more deontological form of ethical thinking and focus on always acting in a manner that seems ‘right’, I believe that a person cannot always be ethical’, all of the time. If it were that easy, ethics would be a very small area of study.
So what does the word ethical mean? To me, it is to take into account every aspect involved in any given situation, peoples’ feelings, thoughts and well-being, both now and in the future, and act as best one can to achieve the most satisfactory outcome for all concerned. From my viewpoint, acting in an ethical manner comes from each and every individual, each having learned from the environment in which they have grown and developed. Should the judgement, therefore, always be left to the individual?
This is certainly not the case, as more and more organisations in the business world develop codes of ethics that they expect each member to follow. This definition and management of ethics can be seen as a control-oriented position. This control paradigm for organisational ethics is largely concerned with extracting the best possible results for the organisation as a whole. When acting within a certain environment, be it local, national or global, the organisation must be seen to be ‘socially acceptable’. I believe this idea of control of the organisation’s self-interest together with maintaining a good standing in the public eye to be the main factor for preparing these ethical codes. Both of these can only be achieved through clearly defined codes of ethics from which individuals’ roles can conform through a manner of standardisation. However, through the enforcement of ethical codes, people revoke to a basic level of thinking, judgement and acting as identified in Lawrence Kohlberg’s pre-conventional level. When put simply, it allows little room for individual thought or expression, only rewarding good actions and punishing those that are bad.
Can it be right to control tasks that involve ethical reasoning by individuals? This is certainly much different than, say, controlling how someone operates a particular machine.
Conversely, the autonomy paradigm, present in some organisations’ ethical policies, is put in place to promote individual critique through their moral thought and judgement. It emphasises a feeling of a ‘moral community’, seen before in Kant’s work, and from which Kohlberg developed his post-conventional level, that allows people to apply their own reasoning to daily situations. As Durkheim suggests and with which I agree, individuals submit to the environment in which they work and how others have previously cast out norms and values. This applies to general situations and therefore the majority. At other times, in more complex situations, an individual would then be left to choose their own actions.
McMahon identifies that the legitimacy of managerial authority lies within a contract or promise. An employee, therefore, willingly submits to the thoughts and ideals of the organisation when they sign the contract of employment. “That is, the exchange of labour for wages in which employment consists involves a promise on the part of employees to accept the directives of managers. To be sure, employees may be expected to use their own judgement in carrying out the tasks assigned to them. But if a managerial directive conflicts with an employee’s judgement, the directive must take precedence. Otherwise the employee is attempting to renege on a morally binding agreement” (McMahon, 1989). Whilst this in law is true, I feel that it should be left wholly to the individual’s own moral judgement. What is to say that those who have prepared the code of ethics for a particular organisation are better ‘ethically equipped’ to make the decisions for others? That is to say, why is a senior manager more ethically right than a lower employee? I don’t believe that as a rule he/she is, more they and others responsible for making the decisions would like to think they are. Yes they may have more experience in their particular industry or even technical and conceptual skills,