Business Ethics:

Why Do We Compromise Our Principles?

by Trish Overby

Most of us feel strongly about specific moral principles and standards which we apply to our every day lives. Most of us have a sense of right and wrong such as not killing another human being, not stealing or cheating, not telling lies about another person. We attempt to apply these to our business and professional lives. But have we ever found ourselves in a situation where we thought it would benefit ourselves or our company if we compromised these principles?

For example, the sales manager who under threat of losing his job quotes a fair price for a product but then quotes a delivery date which cannot be met by his company. Probably, we would agree this is dishonest even though he was attempting to get more business for his company and keep his job. We can easily see the consequences will give him this order but will not lead to further business for his company. All moral choices we make can have repercussions for ourselves, our colleagues or our employer. Under these tense circumstances, we may allow these ideals to change a little. Why do we allow this to happen?

Pressurized Decision

In the midst of a pressurized situation, we analyze the different choices we have to help us make a decision. We also, weigh up all the consequences and results for each choice. For instance, the Research & Development manager who is asked by his boss to falsify testing results and statistics so the new product can be launched. It is made clear to the employee that he would lose his job if he does not comply with the request. It seems clear to the R & D manager what is options are: 1) to do as he is told and send out a product not tested completely, or 2) to do as his conscience guides him with the result of losing his job or 3) telling those in authority over the R & D department about the request and threat.

In situations like the ones above, we would take the direction of least damage to ourselves first, then our company and then our colleague. Sometimes the pressure placed upon us makes us feel we do not have a choice. The tension between ourselves and our colleagues or customers regarding these issues becomes intense and we feel forced into a decision regardless of our morals. We feel we must compromise or change our ethics to the detriment of ourselves, our company or our colleagues.

Moral Choice

But we do have a choice to hold to those standards regardless of the consequences. These standards are what make up our moral being and are given to us to direct and order our lives. These are the standards that give dignity to our lives and respect to our fellow human being. They are valuable not because of the trouble they cause but because of the inner moral courage and strength they will provide. We are not forced to change them because of the circumstances and situations that surround us. We are not forced to uphold them either. We can choose to uphold them or not. The choice is ours and it is an important one for the future of our lives and our businesses.

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