Dr. Christopher Bauer

Article Summary:

In the workplace your ethics are reflecting your personal values.

Workplace Ethics: Your Values Are Showing

Like it or not, your values are showing. How's that? Whatever we do is what we believe to be the most important thing to do at that moment. In other words, our behavior is simply a reflection of what we happen to value most at that moment. It's pretty simple.

In fact, it is not an overstatement to say that our behavior is governed entirely by our values. Yet, few of us can say with clarity what our values actually are. That speaks volumes about how little most of us are actually in conscious control of our behavior, no matter how much we like to claim otherwise. Perhaps needless to say, that has huge implications for the development and maintenance of appropriate workplace ethics.

Since the development of appropriate workplace behavior is the goal if you want to reduce the risk of costly legal and ethical problems, a good place to start is with a close examination of your values. After all, those values are what's actually driving what you do.

Have you taken the time to be completely clear with yourself about what your values are? Have you done that at both a personal and corporate level? Most of us haven't because we are never directed by others to do so and we don't do it on our own because we think we know what our values are.

But do we really?

Most of us are pretty good at identifying the values we believe we are supposed to have (i.e. working hard, being honest, etc.) but are those values truly what matter most to you? For many of us, our actual values have more to do with things like staying out of financial trouble, avoiding conflicts, and so on. This latter group of values obviously can direct us towards some very different kinds of behavior (i.e. lying to avoid conflict, messing with the books to avoid financial issues, and so on) than do the more virtuous-sounding former group of values. Consequently, if you and your company are going to avoid unintended ethics problems, you need to be fully aware of what your actual values are as opposed to those you merely know that you are supposed to embrace. Without that clarity, you have no possible way to determine when those 'real-world', less virtuous-sounding values of yours might lead you to do things contrary to what you know to be the right thing to do.

It is, of course, also critically important to clearly identify the more virtuous-sounding values to which you wish to aspire. Once you have done so, then it is up to you to be sure that your actions match those values as persistently as possible. In a nutshell, of course, that matching or aligning of stated values with one's actions is the very definition of integrity, something we all say that we strive to achieve.

What might stand between you and complete integrity, then? More than you have perhaps considered. The fact is that we all face challenges to our integrity every single day because we all face temptations every day - it's simply a normal part of life. The measure of our success, however, has nothing to do with the nature and degree of those challenges and everything to do with how we respond to them. Can you stay true to your positive values, both on the job and off, though? The first step towards finding out is simply to be a whole lot more clear on what those values actually are.

Make a constant and conscious effort to look for thoughts or actions that don't feel aligned with the positive ("virtuous") values you say you have. This needs to be done at both a personal and corporate level. When you spot discrepancies, which you will from time to time, make every reasonable effort to resolve them. To do otherwise is, in itself, a violation of your values (hopefully!) and - like it or not - since our behavior is always governed by our values, consciously or not, your true values are always showing.

Christopher Bauer is a licensed psychologist with over twenty-five years of experience as an author, trainer, speaker, and consultant in the field of ethics. He helps companies and associations of all sizes build and maintain top-notch workplace ethics through dynamic keynotes and seminars. Dr. Bauer's latest top-selling book is titled "Better Ethics NOW: How To Avoid The Ethics Disaster You Never Saw Coming (Second Edition)". He also publishes a free "Weekly Ethics Thought" available on his website at Bauer Ethics Seminars.

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