January 02, 2011
Common Reasons for Unethical Behavior

What drives employees to make unethical decisions or break from the norm and begin behaving in unethical ways? There may be many reasons that drive people to cross the line and act unethically. Some examples include:

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  • Pressure can drive people to do things they wouldn’t normally do. Pressure to succeed, pressure to get ahead, pressure to meet deadlines and expectations, pressure from co-workers, bosses, customers, or vendors to engage in unethical activities or at least look the other way.
  • Some people make unethical choices because they are not sure about what really is the right thing to do. Often, ethical problems are complicated, and the proper choice may be far from obvious.
  • Of course, some people do not just do something wrong in a weak moment or because they are not sure about what is the right thing to do. Some people know exactly what they are doing and why. Self-interest, personal gain, ambition, and downright greed are at the bottom of a lot of unethical activity in business.
  • Misguided loyalty is another reason for unethical conduct on the job. People sometimes lie because they think in doing so they are being loyal to the organization or to their bosses. Examples of this type of behavior are not hard to find. For example, managers at automobile companies who hide or falsify information about defects that later cause accidents and kill people or managers at pharmaceutical companies who hide information about dangerous side effects of their drugs. No doubt these managers believed they were protecting their employers. They may well have seen themselves as good, loyal employees.
  • Then there are those who simply never learned or do not care about ethical values. Since they have no personal ethical values, they do not have any basis for understanding or applying ethical standards in business. These people do not think about right and wrong. They only think, "What’s in it for me?" and "Can I get away with it?"

The above information comes from BLR’s presentation "Business Ethics: What Employees Need to Know." For more information on all the training courses BLR has to offer, go to our Employee and Manager Training page.

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