Ethics is in the Eye of the Beholder [poll results]

by Sharlyn Lauby on October 31, 2013

A couple weeks ago, I shared with you a reader note about an internal interview process. You can read the original note here. The reader wanted to know if the situation was ethical. Here’s what you said:

ethics, ethical, job interview, panel interview, poll, poll results, graph

While the “questionable” category got the most votes, the “unethical” choice wasn’t far behind. And I wouldn’t totally discount the “ethical” numbers. This one-question, unscientific survey speaks volumes about ethics. My takeaway? Ethics isn’t always clear. Far from it. Different people can interpret a situation differently.

That’s why companies must develop an ethical standard. Each of us calibrates our moral compass differently. Every company defines ethics differently. Let’s use conflict of interest as an example. Some organizations have very strict rules about gifts; others don’t. It’s important to define for employees what is considered to be ethical in their profession, industry and company.

Now some people might say, “Aren’t there some situations that are obviously unethical?” And yes, I agree. Some situations should be obvious. Then I think about the standards of conduct companies create that include activities like “don’t steal from the company or your coworkers” or “don’t sleep on company time” and say to myself – shouldn’t that be obvious? But sadly it’s not, so we have to write rules about it.

I’ll put this in the category of better safe than sorry. Define your ethical standard. So no one can question it.

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Mark Willen October 31, 2013 at 4:58 pm

While it’s true that many ethical questions fall in in the gray area between black and white, I view the results of this survey as showing quite clearly that the company acted improperly. Whether it specifically violates an unstated company ethical policy seems less important than the fact that almost everybody had problems of some level with the idea of a candidate sitting on the interview panel.

Sharlyn Lauby November 1, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Hi Mark. Thanks for the comment. My thought process was a bit different. At first, I looked at only the numbers. And clearly, the perception is that something was not handled properly.

Then I looked at the numbers for ethical. And wondered if the situation would be different if this survey was done inside a company, where 99% of the employees thought it was improper and the 1% who thought the situation was ethical were senior leadership.

It may or may not make the situation proper but it does raise the question about companies telling employees the definition of ethical behavior. Companies can’t hold employees accountable for something they haven’t told them. And businesses can’t expect employees to understand if they don’t tell them their POV.

Once told, employees have to decide if they can work within the ethical guidelines of the organization.

Rachel December 16, 2013 at 5:09 am

Well, the interview process should be fair & equal assessment because its about comparing candidates using similar parameters. In this case something’s improper ; how does the interviewer become the interviewee (the candidate for the same job). Imagine a lion chasing after the gazelle and then all of a sudden the game changes the gazelle decides to chase the lion – un heard of, right?
My opinion, thanks

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