Professional ethics has become more important over the years. As we become more specialized in our occupation, the issues become that much more complex – and hard. Professional people and those working in acknowledged professions exercise specialist knowledge and skill. How the use of this knowledge should be governed when providing a service to the public can be considered a moral issue and is termed professional ethics. They must complete their job according to the moral values.
Professionals are capable of making judgments, applying their skills and reaching informed decisions in situations that the general public cannot, because they have not received the relevant training. One of the earliest examples of professional ethics is probably the Hippocratic oath to which medical still adhere to this day. Professional ethics is a set of standards adopted by a professional community. Professional ethics are regulated by standards, which are often referred to as codes of ethics. The code of ethics is very important because it gives us boundaries that we have to stay within in our professional careers.
The one problem with the code of ethics is that we can’t always have the answers. Professional bodies have increasingly been at work developing, revising and refining professional codes of ethics. Professionals themselves ask for more detailed codes so as to have greater guidance. There is no longer a deference to the authority of experts on the part of the public or of the client group. Professional ethics helps a professional choose what to do when faced with a problem at work that raises a moral issue.
One can certainly study what professionals do when faced with such problems, and confine the enquiry to the description. Our concern here, however, is to assist with making choices – an approach called prescriptive professional ethics. Obviously one can be unethical without behaving illegally. It is a common rationalization of unethical behaviour to say “ well, it wasn’t illegal, so who cares? ”. It is perhaps the major point of professional ethics, though, to deal with scenarios that do not involve illegality. Professional ethics covers far more issues than the law does.
Many of the issues are imbedded in messy and complex factual situations, so ethical issues tend to be harder to identify than legal issues. We should have more sympathy when someone says they were confused or ignorant or thoughtless about a moral issue, as opposed to a legal problem. How does one recognize a moral problem within professional ethics? Is the issue one of “ right” or “ wrong” action? Is the issue one of “ good” or “ bad” motives, methods orgoals? Is there a “ value” at stake? Is the terminology not descriptive, but prescriptive, involving words like “ should”, “ ought to”?
We do a much better job of identifying issues in professional ethics if we are sensitive to the principles and values set out in our professional codes of ethics (that is one of their benefits – an educational function). It helps to have lists of issues available to contemplate. It is a curse of the twentieth century to speak of ethics as being subjective or relative – “ it’s all a matter of personal opinion”. Moral relativism is ultimately futile and nihilistic. There can be no real debate, guidance, judgement or resolution.
Those claiming relativism are usually in a position of self-rationalization. Moral absolutism is not a tenable position either, as it leads to inflexibility and a harshness that creates its own injustices. Most major corporations, and many smaller companies, now have Codes of Ethics, along with a range of other, issue-specific ethics documents. Such a document embodies the ethical commitments of your organization; it tells the world who you are, what you stand for, and what to expect when conducting business with you. Therefore, there are 2 important processes in forming this law: ) Objective There has been a dramatic increase in the ethical expectations of businesses and professions over the past ten years. Increasingly, customers, clients and employees are deliberately seeking out those who define the basic ground rules of their operations on a day to day Why have a Code of Ethics? • To define accepted/acceptable behaviours; • To promote high standards of practice; • To provide a benchmark for members to use forself evaluation; • To establish a framework for professional behaviour and responsibilities; • As a vehicle for occupational identity; As a mark of occupational maturity;” Different kinds of documents serve different purposes. Is your new document intended to guide people or to set out requirements? Is it really a Code of Ethics that you need? You might consider creating a Statement of Values, a Policy, a Mission Statement or a Code of Conduct. Ideally, a code of ethics should be tailored to the needs and values of your organization. Ask yourself, what makes your Code specific to your organization? Is there anything that differentiates it from similar documents devised other firms in your field, or in other fields?
If not, what makes it your Code, other than the fact that your logo is at the top? Your Code should make clear who within your organization will be governed by it. Does it cover everyone from the mailroom through to the boardroom? Only senior managers? Who has to sign off on it? Keep in mind that lower-level employees may not take very seriously a document that senior managers either aren’t bound by, or take lightly Many ethics codes have two components. First, an aspirational section, often in the preamble, that outlines what the organization aspires to, or the ideals it hopes to live up to.
Second, an ethics code will typically list some rules or principles, which members of the organization will be expected to adhere to. In order to ensure the objective of the law will be reached, it is important to get the people who will be guided by the code be actively involved in writing it. If your organization is too large to get everyone involved, consider selecting representatives from various departments or various business units. The document is bound to be more meaningful, and find higher levels of acceptance, if employees are part of the process.
It’s a good idea to consult key stakeholders – including, for example, customers, suppliers, and local community groups – as to what they think should be in your Code. This will help reveal what important external constituencies see as your key obligations, and will help make sure that the Code you write deals with the full range of issues that might confront your organization. 2) Planning After you have reached the objective of the code, you must make proper planning so that the code can be formed and implemented on the time stipulated by your organization’s management. How will the Code be implemented?
Once it’s written, will it gather dust, or will it influence policy and practice? What procedures are in place to make sure that writing a Code is more than just organizational navel-gazing? An effective implementation scheme (perhaps as an appendix to the Code) will explain to all concerned how the values embodied in your Code will be put into practice. You must also plan foreducation. It is a key aspect of implementation has to be employee training and education. How will employees be educated about the Code? A Code can only be effective if your employees know about it.
Will new employees receive training regarding the Code’s requirements? Will current employees receive refresher courses? Especially for large organizations, the steps required to train employees on the requirements of a Code deserve special attention. Other than that, you must also be clear about enforcement. How, if at all, will the Code be enforced? Are there specific penalties for violating the Code, or is the Code merely there to provide guidance? Who will decide when an employee has violated the Code – will that be up to the employees’ immediate supervisor, or will that be the exclusive domain of senior managers?
Last but not least, you must specify a sunset date. When will the code be reviewed and updated? Times change, and new issues come to light, so consider specifying a date for revising and refreshing your Code. What is the role of a professional code of ethics? It helps clarify values and rules, it strengthens group identity and collegiality, it fosters public confidence, and it can be used as a framework for discipline. The “ audience” is the public, employers, clients, and fellow professionals. A code of ethics can be inspirational, educational, a tool for decision-making and a reference point.
One can also criticize over reliance on a code of ethics. It can instil complacency (“ we’re ethical because we have a code of ethics”). If it isn’t used or enforced, the suspicion may be it’s there simply to polish the group’s public image or to bolster a professional monopoly. It must be said that a code of ethics doesn’t create ethics and it is not really possible to completely codify ethics. Collateral education is necessary to bring a code of ethics alive. Most professional ethics cases have to do with conflicts. A moral dilemma is a conflict.
We may have a clash between risk to human life and property interests, or a clash between risk to human life and risk to theenvironment. However, a common type of conflict is a “ conflict of interest”. This usually refers to a conflict between one’s professional duties and one’s personal interests. As mentioned above, these case may not be true moral dilemmas, although they may be painful to resolve. A “ bad faith” decision by a professional can involve the use of one’s position or powers to obtain a personal benefit – the powers or position have been used for a purpose other than for which they were granted.
Sometimes there is an overlap with the law. It is a criminal offence to receive a “ secret commission”. The protection of property is often denigrated as a value. It compares poorly with “ human life”. We have already seen in the Burgess and Mullen study that “ economic pressure” was the most common reason for ethical misbehaviour. It is an issue that the professional must guard against in his her own decision making, as well as an issue to watch for in others. Others will not go along because of the cost (a property interest). When risk to life is high, there is little doubt which way we should go.
Where there is resistance, the professional has a duty to be honest and forceful and not to “ go along”. Someone else may have the authority to make the decision and they then assume the liability, ethically and legally. Where the person in authority is unreasonable and dishonest, the situation may cry out for “ whistleblowing” on the part of the professional. This should first take the form of “ internal whistleblowing” as in an obvious case, some other senior person will see the light. On occasion, the external authorities must be called. A professional has less job security than a non-professional, and it is self imposed.
The right thing to do is to withdraw services, but such cases should be very rare. Many codes of ethics refer to relations with colleagues. It is useful to distinguish between duties to the profession as an institution and duties to professional colleagues. They are not the same. What does it mean to say that the professional will not bring the profession into disrepute? If the efforts of colleagues will be undermined by a general loss of reputation and credibility resulting from personal misconduct of an individual, the wrong-doer may be doing far more harm indirectly than directly.
The issue is not, as some might believe, a loss of income, prestige or position of colleagues, it is a reduction in the protection to the client group or public that is the harm done. Professionals must be vigilant that they are not protecting their self-interest when the profession is attacked or its reputation impugned, but are protecting the interests of others. As for relations with colleagues on an individual basis, a professional is required to be cooperative, respectful, supportive, helpful, open-minded as well as open, and without blatant or crude competition. Competition is good, but it must be meritocratic and honest.
And it is of the essence ofprofessionalismthat discipline is maintained. It is an essential element of professionalism, and it is often referred to directly in codes of ethics, that one must engage in professional development throughout one’scareer. The idea of continuous improvement in professional knowledge and skills is actually implicit in the standard of the reasonable peer. There is a duty to take courses, read the literature, attend conferences, and so on. Many professional groups encourage (if not enforce) this through mandatory “ maintenance points” – you can lose your designation if you cannot show upgrading over time.
Many codes refer to “ integrity” as a value – “ maintain the highest standards of integrity”. It seems vague at first. Integrity means a consistency in commitment to moral commitments. Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one’s actions. Integrity can be regarded as the opposite of hypocrisy, in that integrity regards internal consistency as a virtue, and suggests that parties holding apparently conflicting values should account for the discrepancy or alter their beliefs.
The word ” integrity” stems from the Latin adjective integer (whole, complete). In this context, integrity is the inner sense of ” wholeness” deriving from qualities such as honesty and consistency of character. As such, one may judge that others ” have integrity” to the extent that they act according to the values, beliefs and principles they claim to hold. A value system’s abstraction depth and range of applicable interaction may also function as significant factors in identifying integrity due to their congruence or lack of congruence withobservation.
A value system may evolve over time while retaining integrity if those who espouse the values account for and resolve inconsistencies. Commitment to commitments means one’s moral character must be consistent, whole and integrated. You don’t have “ integrity” if you are committed to conflicting standards or values. Your behaviour would become erratic and inconsistent. Integrity is related to other values, such as honesty. To be true to a system of values, one must be honest. A person with integrity will admit errors, refrain from false pretences and advise clients truthfully.
Integrity is related to promise keeping – one must follow through on promises. A professional should be careful about what is promised. If you can’t deliver on your promises, your integrity is said to be jeopardized. Integrity is also related toloyalty– loyalty to one’s profession, the goals of the profession, loyalty to the employer’s goals. Loyalty should not be blind, however, and so other values may be in conflict with loyalty if the employer’s goals are not in themselves worthy in the circumstances. Do remember that a code of ethics will not solve all ethical problems.
But we must remember that good laws, if they are not obeyed, do not constitute good government. Hence there are two parts of good government; one is the actual obedience of citizens to the laws, the other part is the goodness of the laws which they obey. (2567 words) REFERENCES: 1) C. A. Brincat and V. S. Wike, Morality and the Professional Life: Values at Work. Prentice Hall Inc. , (2000). 2) Pamela S. Lewis, Stephen H. Goodman, Patricia M. Fandt, Management Challenges for Tomorrow’s Leaders, 4th Edition, Thomson, South Western. (2004) 3) Chris MacDonald, Ph. D. – Gene Marks, ed. , Streetwise Small Business Book of Lists, Adams Media 2006.