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Ethics and professionalism in the workplace

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If you look up the word ethics in the dictionary, you’ll find this definition: “rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad.”

We first learn about what is right and wrong from our parents or those who raised us.

My parents were the greatest — but sometimes they did lie to my brothers and me. There are two particular instances that come to mind. They said, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” This was their first lie — as we all know, words may not hurt physically, but they certainly hurt mentally and emotionally. Their second lie came when we were spanked: “This is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you,” they said. I don’t believe spanking me hurt them one bit!  Fortunately, these are the only two lies from my parents I recall. They were always truthful, even if it hurt.

My brothers and I learned about right and wrong from them, which eventually led us to strive to always act in an ethical way, especially as we got older and entered the workplace. Ethics consists of acceptable standards of behavior and maintaining integrity in the workplace (especially when no one is looking). Our values drive our behavior and influence our attitudes. As such, our attitudes influence our behavior. Ethical behavior is good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights.

The full definition of “professionalism” is the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or professional person. It implies there is a quality of workmanship or service. But in reality, it’s more about ethical behavior in the workplace. Every organization knows that a professional and ethical reputation is the difference between success and failure, and they seek to keep those staff who are the most professional. Professionalism is all about ethical success and influence; having a reputation for excellence and being thought of as someone who exhibits professionalism under any circumstance can open doors for you either in the workplace or in your personal ambition.

According to a LinkedIn post from Leandro Valente, MBA, there are “10 Golden Rules to Professional Ethics in the Workplace”:

● Always strive for excellence. This is the first rule to achieving greatness in whatever endeavor you undertake; this is the quality that makes you and your work stand out.

● Be trustworthy. In today’s society, trust is an issue, and any employee who exhibits trustworthiness is on a fast track to professionalism.

● Be accountable. To be accountable is to stand tall and to be counted for what actions you have undertaken; this is the blameworthiness and responsibility for your actions and its consequences — good or bad.

● Be courteous and respectful. Courteousness is being friendly, polite, and well mannered with a gracious consideration toward others.

● Be honest, open and transparent. Honesty is a facet of moral character that connotes positive and virtuous attributes such as truthfulness, straightforwardness of conduct, loyalty, fairness, sincerity, openness in communication, and generally operating in a way for others to see what actions are being performed.

● Be competent and improve continually. Competence is the ability of an individual to do a job properly; it is a combination of knowledge, skills and behavior used to improve performance.

● Always be ethical. Ethical behavior is acting within certain moral codes in accordance with the generally accepted code of conduct or rules.

● Always be honorable and act with integrity. Honorable action is behaving in a way that portrays “nobility of soul, magnanimity and a scorn of meanness” which is derived from virtuous conduct and personal integrity.

● Be respectful of confidentiality. Confidentiality is respecting the set of rules or promises that restrict you from further and unauthorized dissemination of information.

● Set good examples. Applying the foregoing rules helps you improve your professionalism within your organization, but it is not complete until you impart knowledge on those around and below you.

Both professionalism and ethical behavior are highly valued by every organization today, and professionals are hardly out of work. Apply the 10 golden rules of professionalism and ethical behavior, and you’ll enjoy a wonderful and prosperous career.

Darrell Brown, Ph.D., is a clinical associate professor of management and director of diversity at Indiana University Kelley School of Business Indianapolis.

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