Is an act or decision ethical or unethical? Let us start off with a general definition of ethics before we delve into ethical implications in the business community. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, ethics are “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.” This definition provides a jumping off point, but also raises a major question. How do we define moral principles? Moral standards can range dependent on geographic location, culture, religious group, age and many other demographic differences. The key is to establish an ethics policy for your business. In order to do this, it is important to learn a little more about the different theories of ethics and how they would apply to your organization.
Ethics can be described and explained from three major philosophical perspectives: virtues, duty and utilitarianism. Ethical decision-making based on virtues provides the best decisions for both the individual and the community. Basically, all parties involved must be analyzed in order to come to a decision utilizing the philosophy of virtue. Secondly, ethical decisions based on duty only focus on the decision and not on the consequences. In this perspective, individuals only consider if the decision in question is right or wrong. The third major approach is utilitarianism, which indicates that the decision which creates a greater good for the largest number of individuals should be chosen.
What does all this mean and how does it apply to my business? Utilizing this information, there are multiple ways in which ethical decisions can be made from both the personal (employee) perspective and the business perspective. How does a manager take a diverse group of individuals and enforce a company ethics policy? First of all, there should be a written policy in place and it should be communicated and available to all employees. By having a formal written policy, employees have a point of reference they can go to when something is in question. In addition, companies with written policies are looked at more favorably by the courts when an ethical dilemma turns into a legal matter.
Simply having a written policy in place is not enough in the current business climate. Employees need a designated person to go to when an ethical question arises. Whether this is someone on staff, such as a human resources professional, or a designated hotline, employees need a safe place to vet ethical questions. In addition, if concerns are brought forth, then they need to be taken seriously and addressed in a professional manner with formal procedures. Some of the topics that are addressed with employees the most include: justice/fairness issues, policy breaches, job descriptions, responsibilities, abusive coworkers/bosses and romantic relationships.
For further information on making ethical decisions or developing an ethics policy, contact the HFTP Americas Research Center and/or attend the Ethics session at HITEC in Austin this June.
Tanya Venegas is the director at the HFTP Americas Research Center at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston. Please contact Tanya firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions regarding these resources or other industry related research.