Writer - Business Ethics Phase 3 | Andreski Solutions Ltd
Share this content

The ethical employee: a look at moral behaviour

In part 4.3 of this nine-part series on ethics in the workplace, Luke Andreski looks at the key traits of the ethical colleague and how these might impact on career progression and personal success.

24th Sep 2019
Writer - Business Ethics Phase 3 | Andreski Solutions Ltd
Share this content
Businessman in the middle of the maze
iStock/NiseriN

In parts 4.1 and 4.2 of this discussion we looked at how our actions cascade outward through the organisations we work in, and how even our smallest actions can generate dramatic effects.

We saw the importance of ‘the whole of us’ to the workplace, and that each of us is far more than just a work delivery unit (WDU).

We are all unique, and our full personalities contribute to the overall human capital of the businesses that employ us.

No matter what our role within an organisation, be it CEO or production line, we should walk with our heads held high.

This perception of individual significance is no small thing. No matter what our role within an organisation, be it CEO, front office or production line, we should walk with our heads held high.

Noteworthy implications arise from this, however. A key theme in ethics is that power brings with it responsibility.

If we are able to impact our workplace in dramatic and unpredictable ways then we are responsible for this impact, from our smallest actions to our most significant decisions.

The direct and indirect effects of our power and significance are effects we must own.

Our moral measure

In a previous article I suggested three core moral objectives on which to base our actions. One of these was a duty to nurture others.

If we are to own our contribution to the workplace, we can use this core moral objective to take the measure of our own behaviour.

We can say, ‘if this small action has the potential to affect the organisation in which I work, generating lasting and possibly dramatic impacts – is it an action I should take?’

We can also ask, ‘if this characteristic of my personality can affect all those around me, then is it a characteristic I want to encourage in myself?’

If we are to treat colleagues with compassion and kindness then consistency of compassion and kindness is entailed.

The building blocks that make up the persona we bring to the workplace are complex. They can be combined in numerous interesting ways. This is a key source of our individuality.

These building blocks – our emotions, instincts and character traits – also derive from millions of years of evolution, and, more recently, from aeons as hunter-gatherers out in the wilderness.

Hunter-gatherer instincts are useful success factors in a hunter-gather existence – but are less well suited to the modern world. Only some lend themselves to moral outcomes.

I’ll hazard a list of those traits we might wish to encourage in ourselves in the ethical workplace:

  • Empathy
  • Cooperativeness
  • Creativity
  • Kindness and consideration
  • A sense of fairness
  • Compassion
  • Generosity
  • Friendship

The desirability of these evolved human traits in enabling cooperation and sustaining cohesion is self-evident, but they also have wider implications of particular importance. I’ll mention just three.

Honesty

If you are thoughtful, empathic and considerate, then you will also be a person who strives not to lie to others.

Honesty is both a moral imperative and has tangible benefits for the workplace (see here).

Consistency

Our natural instincts towards cooperation, compassion and kindness also demand of us something further: consistency.

If we are to treat colleagues with compassion and kindness then consistency of compassion and kindness is entailed.

Inconsistent kindness is likely to be manipulative or false. Consistency is also central to moral logic.

For morality to work, you cannot cherry-pick when you want to be moral. (I discuss the logic of morality in greater detail in my book, Intelligent Ethics).

Commitment

A commitment to our work and our workplace derives from the core moral objective to ‘nurture others’, and is sustained by our evolved traits of honesty, consideration and a sense of fairness.

It means that the contractual bond you form with an employer, both tacit and explicit, is one that you will commit yourself to, to the best of your ability. After all, it is only fair, considerate and honest to do so.

Furthermore, in agreeing your contract of employment, you also commit yourself, indirectly, to your colleagues: to seek to further the objectives of the business and thus to benefit not only yourself but also those with whom and for whom you work.

Who we are

I hope, with the above characteristics in mind, that you are beginning to see the ethical colleague within yourself.

The instincts and emotions I describe above are present in all of us. They are the building blocks of human nature. If we wish to be ethical, then these are qualities we will want to reinforce in ourselves and encourage in others.

There are, however, less useful hunter-gatherer traits we will wish to discourage.

The successful psychopath

Here’s a disturbing fact: one in five CEOs is likely to be a psychopath. This contrasts vividly with roughly 1% psychopathy in the general population.

Psychopathic behaviour is diametrically opposed to the morally positive traits outlined above, and far more likely to align with negative traits such as:

  • Lack of conscience, guilt or empathy
  • Superficial emotions
  • Impulsivity/lack of self-control
  • Manipulative (though sometimes charming) behaviour
  • Inability to accept responsibility for the consequences of your actions

At first glance, however, CEOs appear to epitomise business success.

Should we conclude, then, that psychopathy is better at delivering success in the modern workplace than morality?

I’ll answer this important challenge in two parts. Firstly, being a CEO or any other rapid ascender of organisational hierarchies is a narrow definition of success.

Most people apply a much broader range of success criteria when thinking about their jobs. For example:

  • Being liked
  • Having friends
  • Feeling your work counts
  • Being appreciated
  • Being good at your work and feeling ‘job satisfaction’
  • Being proud of what you do

In fact, if you take financial reward out of the equation, then if we had the choice, most of us would much rather put a tick against all the above than against the single line:

  • Got to the top

Ethical behaviour sustains happy and collaborative environments, while the success generated through psychopathy is often short-lived and conducive to dysfunctional workplaces (see here).

So, the pragmatic case for seeking to develop and act upon our moral traits is that it makes us happier and earns the liking and respect of those around us.

In progressive ethical workplaces these are traits you’ll see promoted and rewarded – with the immoral traits of ruthless ambition and self-interest now recognised as detrimental to a business’s long-term wellbeing.

(We should note, of course, that being a CEO could also be the wonderful achievement of a moral colleague!)

Our final answer to the challenge of ‘successful psychopathy’ is of course based on ethics.

Morality versus success is a false dichotomy – but if you have a choice between being moral or being successful we all know there is really only one option: the moral one.

Coming soon

In my next article I discuss the important question, ‘how do I manage unethical behaviour in the workplace?’

In the meantime, please use the comments section below to join in our conversation about ethics. I will respond as promptly as I can.

Replies (2)

Please login or register to join the discussion.

Luke Andreski - Author - Ethical Intelligence
By Luke Andreski
08th Oct 2019 12:42

For a longer version of this article please visit the Phase 3 Insights hub:

Moral Behaviour
https://phase3.co.uk/the-ethical-colleague-part-3-moral-behaviour/

Thanks (0)
Luke Andreski - Author - Ethical Intelligence
By Luke Andreski
08th Oct 2019 12:56

If you are interested in the wider issues of ethics and the applicability of moral intelligence to the modern world, please take a look at my recent book on this important topic:

www.amazon.co.uk/Ethical-Intelligence-Luke-Andreski/dp/179580579X

Thanks (0)