Teaching Business Ethics: Does It Work?

Business and ethics continue to be a hit and miss across all industries. It doesn’t fall on managers or CEOs or those in procurement. Everyone in the company structure has been faced with an ethical dilemma at one point or another. A cross border accountant Toronto expat moving back to their country could be tempted to inflate the cost of shipping their items. An administrator might notice they made an error on a document and bury it to avoid getting into trouble.

While these are lesser versions of wrong choices, it still speaks to the culture in doing business. The typical comment made is “everyone is doing it” when someone gets questioned. That is what people who mainly get away with it say. However, there are those whose unethical practices land them on the news. It involves CEOs and CFOs doctoring numbers to keep investors happy, only to get caught on the lie after an audit. It becomes a blame game, the former stating they were unaware and the latter saying they were merely bowing down to pressure.

Does teaching ethics work?

There are questions about whether business ethics can indeed be taught. There are lessons dedicated to best practices and theories on ethics, but that is still not enough. People aware of business ethics, upon graduating, can choose to do the exact opposite of what is expected of them. They can even site being a ‘team player’ as the reason behind their wrong actions.

The emphasis, therefore, ought to be on personal character and not theories taught in class. Overall, the moral choice stands with individuals, not institutions. Unless one has been in the business setting, they assume they will always do the right thing. One, however, has to recognize that taking the moral high ground in business is not easy. In some instances, the right thing can lead to a person being jobless or getting bullied in the workplace.

Encouraging moral courage

As implied, doing the right thing is not always easy or a straightforward choice. Therefore, teachers in school can help students develop moral courage, even when it is unpopular. It should also go deeper than that. Making an ethical decision is not solely based on our perception of the situation. It involves looking at the problem from all angles and finding solutions that bring more good than harm, all while remaining ethical.

Professionals in the field suggest that human psychology ought to feature when teaching business ethics. It will help shed light on the limited reasoning business students have with regards to their own and those of others. Doing so will cement the understanding that not every unethical decision requires a crusade. The focus should be on mending the relationship and shifting behavior, not casting someone out for making the wrong choice.

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