Accounting for Coronavirus Risk
AI in the Workplace: Ethical and Responsible Use

Why Good People Do Bad Things in the Workplace

Being Good By Doing Good

Good people strive to do the right thing. They recognize that their actions have consequences. They are aware of the rights of others and act in ways that are consistent with the way they would like to be treated. This is the essence of The Golden Rule.

Good people think with their head and act in concert with their heart, and they apply the knowledge and wisdom gained through a lifetime of experiences. Good people are honest, trustworthy, fair-minded, and empathetic towards others. Good people accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions and strive to improve their behavior throughout their lifetime.

Being a good person, whether in your personal relationships and/or in the workplace, is an ongoing effort. It requires an attitude of wanting to help others. It means to be kind to others. Just consider how important this is during a health emergency such as the coronavirus.

Good people sometimes do bad things in the workplace. That does not mean they are bad people. Instead, circumstances may arise where they feel pressured by superiors to deviate from ethical standards.

The culture of a workplace creates the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable conduct. Managers should set high standards and hold employees to them. Consistency breeds acceptance and personal responsibility establishes ethical obligations in the workplace.

In my experience, the most frequent case of being good but not doing good is when an employee feels he/she has been unfairly singled out by a superior. In some cases, it may be warranted but in others a kind of bias develops in the relationship between the two. Moreover, sometimes what seems right to do is questionable because of pressures in an organization so the line between right and wrong gets blurred. Pressure in workplace

Whistleblowing creates an environment where an employee may feel pressured to go along with wrongdoing out of loyalty to one’s employer. Even though an employee may believe the action is wrong, he/she is afraid to speak out for fear of retaliation. It is up to top management to set an ethical tone and promote speaking out when an employee believes wrongful behavior (i.e., fraud) has occurred.

The ethical challenges come not from one’s own ethics but from the ethics of people around you and the organization of which you are a part. At work, a person may be called upon to do things that turn out to be unethical or even illegal.

My advice to those who want to avoid involvement in wrongdoing in the workplace is to be true to your personal values, moral beliefs, and commit to doing the right thing regardless of the personal consequences. This is easier said than done, I know, but consider what might happen if you go along with wrongdoing and it becomes public knowledge. Would you be proud if others (i.e., family member) find out about it?

Ethical issues arise because of conflicts in the workplace (i.e., who gets credit for work) unfair treatment (i.e., bias in performance evaluation), and being forced to act out of expedience rather than what is right to do. In all cases, the issue at hand deals with core workplace values such as honesty, integrity, and transparency.

It is important to understand that most ethics scandals typically involve a number of people who are included in the decision-making process at each stage. As a result, responsibility becomes diffused among these individuals, making it difficult to attribute blame to or impose accountability on any particular person.

Although people may feel uncomfortable with what is happening as they move down the “ethical slippery slope,” they convince themselves that “so long as it is legal, it is ethical” or that they are doing what is expected of them.

Rationalization — the ability to justify our behavior — is one of our greatest moral failings. Behavior that would clearly be considered unethical by an outsider becomes acceptable to those involved because “that is the way it has always been done” or “it doesn’t really hurt anyone” or “that’s the way they do it at Firm X.”

So, ethics can be dangerous to your career if you have not been trained to identify and analyze ethical problems and to resolve them effectively. Ethics can also be dangerous to your career if you work in an organization that does not support ethical behavior or, worse, encourages misconduct.

Finally, we should recognize that anyone can get caught up in unethical conduct under the right circumstances. Organizational forces are strong and people have psychological weaknesses that make them vulnerable to wrongdoing. Steps can be taken to improve both organizations and the individuals in them, and we should take those steps. But the dangers cannot be eliminated entirely.

Good people can largely avoid doing bad things by clarifying their own values and acting on them whenever possible. We become ethical people by practicing ethical actions. We become kind by practicing kindness; fair-minded by seeing all sides of an issue; and trustworthy by keeping our word. Honest people do not exaggerate the truth for their own benefit, nor do they deceive others by omitting important information another party has a right to know.

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. This is the challenge to ethical behavior in life and the workplace.

Posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on April 30, 2020. Dr. Mintz recently published a book Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior that is available on Amazon. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: Follow him on Facebook at: