Your coworker asks you to cover up an oversight they made on a project that could potentially harm a client’s reputation. A friend urges you to hire them over other contractors. You catch a well-liked colleague bullying their assistant.
When you think about moral problems, you might have an idealized view of how you’d respond. But upholding ethical values in the workplace involves more than taking the high road in difficult situations.
Your sense of values plays an integral role in guiding your most important decisions, from hiring staff to announcing layoffs and all the decision-making, policy-building, and goal setting in-between.
When an organization places ethics at the core of the business, it creates a culture of respect and transparency in the workplace. And when everyone commits to these high standards and holds themselves accountable for their actions, it positively impacts the organization and the ecosystem surrounding it.
What are ethical values, and why are they important?
Ethical values are an individual’s moral compass, guiding their actions and behaviors. The ethics one’s drawn toward are typically affected by their community, upbringing, and culture. In some cultures, it’s disrespectful to put your elbows on the table, and some societies are individualistic while others are community-oriented.
For a company, work ethics are guiding principles designed to serve the well-being of others over self-interest. You use these workplace ethics to inform your response to difficult, stressful, or potentially damaging situations.
A company’s ethical standards help leaders answer important questions like:
What sort of products and services can I sell?
What information must I reveal about my business?
Whose interests should my organization serve, and who should manage them?
What does an organization owe its workforce, and what do employees owe their employers?
Do businesses have a social responsibility to consumers and communities?
How can I best support my employees?
Ethical principles weren’t always a part of the business equation. Traditionally, most businesses cared about hitting profits and considered themselves outside moral high grounds. But business ethics principles entered the conversation as a field of academic study, originating from moral philosophy in the 1970–80s, and slowly merged into more traditional business studies.
A code of ethics is foundational to running a successful company in today’s business world. According to a 2022 survey by Deloitte, ethical issues like climate change, inequality, and work-life balance are among the top concerns of millennial and Gen Z workers.
According to the same study, 37% of Gen Z and 36% of millennial workers rejected a job or assignment because it didn’t align with their personal values.
As both generations take up a larger share of the workforce, businesses and their employees must express their values to potential hires to showcase a company culture that respects workers’ ethical behavior standards.
8 ethical value examples all professionals should adopt
Whether you want to self-reflect on your personal code of conduct, develop your skills as an ethical leader and lead by example, or audit your team’s ethical business practices, here are eight ethical values to consider.
When you’re honest, you actively work to not deceive or mislead people — whether it’s your coworkers, clients, or consumers. You avoid making promises you can’t keep, don’t misrepresent your capabilities, and are sincere about your shortcomings.
Honesty is a core value of great leaders and team members, as it’s foundational to how you communicate with others. You can use honest and transparent communication to provide constructive feedback that helps your coworkers grow, build rapport with colleagues and clients, and make ethical decisions that align with consumer values.
Expressing integrity means you’re committed to doing what’s right, even if nobody credits you for it or people dislike it. This might mean avoiding a conflict of interest that could personally benefit you, complying with policies and regulations, and being consistent in your behavior and decision-making.
Imagine a company that bases all its decisions on its sustainability and environmental health commitments. Acting with integrity might include a business leader accepting higher operational costs for recyclable materials despite a lower bottom line or an employee biking to work as often as possible.
Companies and employees can express their commitment to ethical issues and core values by donating their money or time to charity. This shows kindness and support for a local community or global cause and that the organization cares about more than itself.
Charity also encourages employees to practice self-reflection, hold themselves accountable, and stimulate collaborative action. And giving back to the community pays it forward in happiness. People who volunteer their time report increased happiness levels, which can have a snowball effect on the organization.
Accountability reflects self-awareness that your decisions and behaviors carry weight. Being accountable isn’t just about accepting fault for adverse consequences. It also encourages you to contemplate how a potential decision affects others to guide you toward more ethical decision-making.
Being accountable also means taking ownership of your work and understanding where you fit into your team and employer’s overall success. When you hold yourself accountable, you strive to meet commitments, deliver on promises, and remain transparent about your progress and results.
Acting responsibly lets people know they can rely on you and your word, creating more powerful human connections based on mutual trust.
Mutual respect means showing coworkers you value and appreciate their work and including employees in decisions that impact them.
Respectfulness also means treating people with kindness and compassion, understanding that everyone comes from distinct backgrounds and perspectives, and being willing to learn from others’ knowledge and experience.
Healthy workplaces promote level playing fields for everyone, regardless of their background or place in the company hierarchy. When fairness is a central pillar, you treat everyone with respect and offer them equal opportunities to succeed and advance in their career.
A few ways to stimulate fairness at work are clearly communicating decision-making processes like internal hiring or performance evaluations, developing objective conflict resolution policies, and encouraging your teammates to voice their opinions.
Standing up for what’s right isn’t always easy, even when the correct answer is clear. It takes great courage to prioritize ethics when a decision is unpopular or backlash is strong.
This might include admitting you were wrong about something (even if it could result in disciplinary action), prioritizing ethical best practices over profits, or speaking up against discrimination, gender inequality, and hostile work environments.
Even if the decisions are tough, when you take a stand for what’s right, you build a strong reputation for your ethical leadership values and encourage others to stand up for their principles, in turn promoting positive changes throughout your team.
A couple of ways to create a culture of excellence in your workplace are hosting workshops to break down cognitive dissonance and learning about different types of innovation you can foster to help your company succeed.
8 benefits of ethical values in the workplace
Embracing high ethical values requires work and sacrifice, but it pays off. Here are eight benefits of implementing ethical values in the workplace:
Better decision-making: When you clearly understand your ethical code, making challenging decisions is easier. Knowing what you believe is right and wrong will help you depend on yourself rather than following others.
A greater sense of community: Workers want to feel a sense of belonging and connection to their work and coworkers. You can create this by expressing values concurrent with theirs so they feel connected to a shared vision.
Stronger self-esteem: Acting with integrity even when your decision is unpopular or unnoticed shows confidence and self-esteem. You’re expressing confidence in your ability to persevere on your own terms, even if ethical decisions don’t benefit you.
Fewer worries: When you make ethically-right decisions, you can rest easy knowing you have nothing to hide and that your work is positively impacting your community and setting the right example for other companies.
Increased trustworthiness: When you express high moral standards, your clients and colleagues respect you. This helps you connect with loyal consumers or collaborators who share your values and strive toward the same goals.
Sets the right tone: If you’re a manager, your attitude, moral principles, and decision-making style show your workers how to operate. And if you’re an employee, your devotion to your moral values inspires others to stand up for what’s right and positively impact the organization.
Increased talent retention: Satisfied employees feel respected, included, and cared about. Expressing values that show you treat their well-being with the same importance as your bottom line makes workers more likely to stick around.
More purpose and meaning: It’s not always easy to live an ethical life, especially in a conflicted world where many cultures encourage individualism and bad behavior.
But sticking to your values gives you a sense of meaning and purpose that can increase your mental and physical health and stimulate continuous learning. Sticking to your ethical principles makes you feel you’re a part of something bigger and contributing to the good of the whole.
Embrace your ethics
Behind every great person is a guiding light that allows them to move through their decisions with clarity and intention. Finding your ethical values helps you move toward your goals with purpose.
Upholding your principles won’t always be easy. Challenges that test your values are inevitable. But moving through the world with intention and meaning is worth it. You’ll feel more confident, develop a stronger sense of self, and act for the greater good.
And you’ll rest assured that your decisions positively impact you, your community, and the world at large.