Living with Ethics in the World of Business

~Professor Mike Quaintance, MBA / Business and Hospitality Department Chair at Keiser University, Fort Myers Campus

Recently, there was a news story where a recreational vehicle (RV) was being serviced by an auto repair shop.  The auto repair shop needed to stow the vehicle in a vacant lot adjacent to its place of business, and the employee who moved the vehicle to the vacant lot neglected to lock the RV door.  A homeless person moved into the RV through the open door, passed away, and was not discovered for several days.  There were about $6,000 of damage to the vehicle due to the decomposition of the corpse.  The shop owner’s insurance refused to compensate the RV owner, saying the repair shop’s insurance did not cover an incident like this.  The shop owner did not offer to compensate the RV owner for the damages, even though the repair shop was negligent for not locking the RV door.

If you were the auto repair shop owner, what would you do?  If you were the RV customer, what would you expect?  What do the numerous and highly visible ethical lapses by large businesses over the last twenty years suggest to society in regard to business ethics?

Ethics have to do with one’s behavior, specifically one’s ethical and moral behavior in respect to society.  Society measures ethicality by comparing specific actions with generally accepted social standards.  Ethics is a top-down behavior in an organization, suggesting that leadership sets the bar.  Ethics within the organization are often aligned; if not, employees through a separation process find their ethical alignment elsewhere.  When stakeholders perceive a lack of ethical behavior in a business, it often signals a decline in business success because stakeholders lose trust in the business.

Business ethics are contagious in an organization, and they can assist employees in distinguishing right from wrong at work.  Employee ethics reflect overall on the business as employees interact daily with stakeholders such as customers and vendors.  What academics believe is that society perceives there is an absence of business ethics, leading to a tremendous focus on ethics in all subjects across the academic front.

Our ethics are established early in life and reinforced by our life’s experience, which are internalized standards that are often based on personal religious and/or philosophical understandings of ethics and morality.  Some academics suggest that storytelling can help change or better align employees’ ethical and moral compasses because stories illustrate desired behaviors and examine the unintended consequences of unethical behaviors.

Some of us who are more seasoned human-beings might remember early television programs like Aesop’s Fables, David and Goliath, or Lassie, which infused our youth with ethical and moral principles.  Some of us may have read religious stories like “God Made Light,” “A Wolf at the Gate,” or “Donkeys and Kings: And Other Tails of the Bible.”  Regardless of your early life experiences, the concept of storytelling can be an effective way to help improve the levels of moral and ethical thinking and behaviors at any age.  The moral of the story is as business leaders it might behoove us to review Dr. Seuss in order to learn the art and science of telling the story.