The Harvard Business Review published a stat that’s been eating away at me. Here it is:
New MBAs Would Sacrifice Pay for Ethics
88.3% of graduating MBA students say they’d take a pay cut to work for firms that have ethical business practices, and the average amount they’d forgo is $8,087, according to a survey of 759 students in North America and Europe. The researchers, David B. Montgomery of Stanford University and Catherine A. Ramus of the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggest that the finding should be seen by the public as a hopeful sign for the management profession.
I haven’t dug further into this research but the last thing I felt in this paragraph was “hopeful.” My interpretation was ethics has a price tag…and it’s $8K. Sad. Sad.
Perhaps what bothers me most about the stat isn’t what was reported…but what wasn’t reported. For example:
- Students will take a $8K pay cut to work for an ethical company. But will they take a $9K pay cut?
- And if students will take a $8K pay cut, is the reverse true – will they stay at an unethical company for $10K?
We throw around the cliché “everyone has a price” – is the price really $8,087? This stat leads me to believe students would throw their credibility out the window for $8K. That’s less than the price of a car or a Rolex. Personally, my credibility is worth more than that. Much more. In fact, it’s absolutely priceless.
The stat raises some interesting questions for me in terms of defining ethical behavior. Wikipedia explains ethics addresses the concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, etc. This implies that ethics is subjective behavior. Granted some behaviors are deemed wrong by society (i.e. cannibalism) or some are declared illegal by government (as in murder). But if Susie is taking reams of copy paper home because the company cut her pay and her son needs it for a school project…is that unethical? I can see where some people might say yes and others will say no.
Possibly the key to defining ethics is consistency. Here’s another example – if a person calls out an organization for not following the bylaws and making stupid financial decisions, shouldn’t they also call out any organization that is doing the exact same thing? Otherwise, it looks inconsistent. One organization gets away with it, and another one doesn’t. It doesn’t look like the person is holding organizations accountable for ethical behavior. It looks like some sort of hidden agenda. And, it definitely looks hypocritical.
Another key to defining ethical behavior could be personal impact. Individuals can tolerate hearing about unethical behavior because they can say, “Oh – I didn’t know about that.” Or they can watch unethical behavior because it doesn’t directly impact them. The “I’m just doing my job” argument. It’s only when the behavior impacts them, they have to make an ethical decision.
And according to the stat above, it has to impact them more than $8K. I’m not sure I’ve bought into ethical behavior as a cost-benefit analysis formula. As much as I love numbers, there are some things that math – or money – can’t buy.
Image courtesy of Muffet