Identification and Reduction of Unethical Behaviors in the Workplace

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Unethical Behavior in the Workplace:

Causes and Corrections

Lisa Witzel

University of Central Oklahoma

Ethics and Organizations

Ethics

As the lines between what is moral and ethical and what is not becomes more blurred, it is important more than ever to desire and maintain an ethical work culture. In the past few decades, the fast pace of technology, the moral disintegration of values in the general population and the blatant disregard for ethical behavior among CEO’s, public officials and celebrities further erodes an individual’s sense of right and wrong.

The recognition of unethical behavior in the workplace is often three-fold and consists of identifying exactly what unethical behavior consists of, why it occurs, and what can be done to correct it.

In business as in society, general unethical behavior is on the rise. This is evident in the myriad of news reports regarding unethical conduct by both large corporations and self- employed business owners that are a daily news occurrence. “In the last ten years, approximately two-thirds of America’s 500 largest corporations have been involved in illegal activity”. (Crossen, 1993 p.228) Unethical behavior can take down a company and the best way to cut down on unethical behavior is to manage unethical employees

The best way to know what unethical behavior entails, we first need to define what it is to be ethical. Webster’s dictionary defines ethics as: “The discipline dealing with what is good and bad, and with moral duty and obligation”.(Merriam-Websters 2008 p.429)

Unethical behavior isn’t just one action it takes many forms in the workplace. “The U.S. Industry loses about $400 billion annually to unethical or criminal behavior”.(McClenahen, 1999, p.13). There are many different types of unethical behavior.

The most prevalent is employee theft. A staggering amount of employee theft is found in a majority of businesses and causes a huge financial loss for both the business and consumers. “95% of businesses experience employee theft and employee theft accounts for 44% of all retail loss in the U.S. The amount stolen by the average employee is more than $1000 annually”. (Weber, 2003, p.36)

Even though theft accounts for the largest percentage of unethical behavior in American business; unethical behavior in business takes many forms. “An ethics survey was given to just over 300 students at a large university and 45% of the participants said they had encountered an unethical dilemma at work”. (Krene, 200, p.67).

Unethical behavior in business manifests in many forms such as:

• Disclosure of confidential information.

• On-the-job drug or alcohol use.

• Falsifying documents.

• Employee discrimination.

• Misuse of company funds.

• Misrepresentation of the company and its products. (Crossen, 1993, p.228)

A good example of a common everyday occurrence of unethical behavior can be illustrated by a certain Starbucks incident that occurred in New York City in 2003. “Starbucks’ employees were selling Starbucks gift cards to customers and then pocketing the cash. The gift card would also be a blank making it hard to track the transaction”.(Ruggles, 2005,p.24) Of course, by the time the damage had been done the reputation of that local Starbucks had been ruined.

With that incident brought to light, the mystery might well be is why does this unethical behavior occur? What promotes it?

“People who act in their own self-interest generally have no motivation to act on moral judgments”. (Gena, 2006, p.135) “Self-interest can be more prevalent in unethical work environments where workers are less satisfied with their jobs and then feel they must act unethically to remain competitive”. (Crossen, 1993, p.242)

In addition, studies have shown that…”the great majority of workers (70%) work in organizations without a formal written policy for suspected dishonest and...
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