• Write a 4–page reflective essay in which you assess a professional association's code of conduct and apply it to your current or future workplace experience.
Applying a profession's code of ethics to potential real-world situations prepares a person for the workplace.
By successfully completing this assessment, you will demonstrate your proficiency in the following course competencies and assessment criteria:
• Competency 1. Explain the nature of ethical issues.
o Summarize an appropriate professional code of ethics.
• Competency 3: Engage in ethical debate.
o Assess the advantages and disadvantages of a professional code of ethics.
o Explain methods for discussing ethical disagreements productively.
• Competency 4: Develop a position on a contemporary ethical issue.
o Express own areas of disagreement with professional standards.
• Competency 5: Communicate effectively in the context of personal and professional moral discourse.
o Communicate in a manner that is scholarly, professional, and consistent with expectations for professional communities.
We all have lives outside of work; we are not defined only by what we do for a living. Relationships with our family and friends carry ethical obligations, too, and these may sometimes conflict with our occupational duties. In particular, each of us has to decide how best to divide our time and attention between personal and professional responsibilities. Although the satisfactory work/life balance may differ for people in varying circumstances, we all have to sort through the possibilities for ourselves. Since moral decisions often have to be made quickly, it makes sense to have a plan for resolving conflicts in advance. How will you choose when the demands of your job challenge your personal values?
A lot of people define themselves by what they do for a living, and all of us take seriously our choice of vocation in life. We maintain our careers—or prepare ourselves for new ones—based on a fundamental desire to contribute productively to our personal and professional lives. Ethical principles are not left behind at the door of the workplace. So, how do we assess our conduct appropriately in that context?
Perhaps it is most natural to begin with our employer—the company, institution, or organization for which we work. In many cases, we enter into our employment with a formal contract, making a promise to abide by the rules and regulations of the institution that are spelled out in an employee handbook. This promise creates at least a prima facie obligation to follow the direction provided by our leaders. Without strong evidence to the contrary, we should presume that the organization aims for worthwhile goals, to which we, as employees, can contribute.
In addition, our work is likely to involve personal relationships with other people in the workplace—professional colleagues whose welfare and happiness are legitimate objects of our own moral concern. There will probably be some people at work we do not like very much, but we can still manage to develop and maintain effective relationships with them. Treating everyone with respect, even in difficult circumstances, is clearly an expression of ethical conduct.
A second important set of relationships entailed by our professional activities is with the people we serve—our clients or customers. Here again there may be both contractual agreements and personal relationships to be conducted with dignity. In this instance, however, there is often an additional layer of complication. Consumers engage the services of professionals who possess knowledge and skills that they are unable to provide for themselves. In effect, they hire us to serve their interests better than they could on their own. So, we are obliged to act on their behalf even if it does not make them happy in the short term. It is important, of course, to be honest about what we are doing, especially when explaining the potential costs and benefits of the actions we propose to take.
A third group toward which our ethical responsibility may extend is the professional community itself. Our work takes place within the larger context of fellow practitioners, who are themselves organized into associations that police their membership to ensure appropriate practices. In some cases, these professional associations may be empowered by civil authorities to certify the preparation of practitioners and to oversee their continuing activities in accordance with explicit rules. Thus, many organizations publish a formal code of ethics and select members for service on committees whose function is to consider alleged violations and impose sanctions, including severe limits on engagement or even decertification of professionals whose conduct does not live up to the required standards.
Commitments to one's professional organization may counterbalance excessive or inappropriate demands from an unscrupulous employer. But, in the absence of legal protections for whistleblowers, choices between professional standards and business practices are often difficult and fraught with danger for isolated employees. In less drastic circumstances, however, the guidance provided by professional colleagues can be an important source of motivation for ethical conduct. For those among us who serve clients in a more private setting, these rules help to make sure that we do not abuse our authority or omit vital precautions.
Now, it may seem as if all of these overlapping obligations restrict our activities too strictly, leaving little room within which to exercise our own judgment. However, that is not true. As individual moral agents, we are responsible for the choices we make and the actions we take, no matter what the larger vocational context. In the workplace itself, we decide whether or not to go along with shady practices or bending the rules. Our own integrity is on the line; even at work, each of us is morally accountable for what we do.
Questions to Consider
To deepen your understanding, you are encouraged to consider the questions below and discuss them with a fellow learner, a work associate, an interested friend, or a member of the business community.
• What ethical issues are most likely to arise in your current or future workplace? Have you ever faced a conflict between what is expected of you at work and your own ethical convictions? How did you resolve that conflict? Under what conditions do you believe that an employee would be justified in disobeying legitimate orders from her or his superiors? How should the legal system protect the rights of individual workers?