Organizations are composed of people. The average human being is a very good person. But he or she is not a saint. Everyone has his or her own set of moral challenges to manage, such as greed, anger, envy, lust, and pride. Moral perfection is a moving target, always a few grasps beyond our reach.
The managerial challenge is to coordinate the transformation of inputs into products and services in a way that respects the dignity of owners, employees, customers, suppliers, the host community, and the natural environment. It only takes one unethical or illegal behavior to ruin an organization's reputation or result in damaging litigation.
Researchers have documented that the average person lies twice a day. That's actually pretty good when one considers the thousands of statements the average person makes every day. But those two times a day an employee, customer, or supplier are dishonest can be very problematic for organizations.
The dishonesty could be a big lie (e.g., a manager falsely claims that the organization has surpassed revenue targets) or a small one (e.g., a salesperson falsely tells an aggravated customer that the boss is not in the office today). The dishonesty could be a lie of commission (e.g., falsely telling the boss that the work is complete) or one of omission (e.g., not telling the boss anything about the incomplete work).
Due to human nature and the potential negative ramifications of unethical work‐related activities on organizational performance, ethics must be managed.
Why Do Good People Behave Unethically?
Ethics would be easy to manage if simply a matter of detecting and dismissing evil people. But that is not the nature of organizational life.
Sometimes the unethical decision or outcome is not intentional. Unethical situations can arise when a good person has insufficient knowledge and awareness, inadequate job skills, or lacks prudence, judgment, or courage. Ethical problems also result from management and organizational design issues, such as a misaligned management system, inadequate flow of information, perceived management indifference, inadequate legal and regulatory framework, and pressures from unethical customers or competitors.
Sometimes good people will occasionally behave unethically because of contextual reasons. A survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Ethics Resource Center found that 24% of the respondents were pressured to compromise ethical standards either periodically, fairly often, or all the time. Of those feeling pressured, the top five organizational sources were:
1. Following the boss's directives (experienced by 49%)
2. Meeting overly aggressive business or financial objectives (48%)
3. Helping the organization to survive (40%)
4. Meeting schedule pressures (35%)
5. Wanting to be a team player (27%)