Table of Contents
In the 21st century, ethics have gained a position of priority for most organisations. It is no longer seen as an option or luxury, since there are many people who have contributed to the selfish and irresponsible actions that are prevalent in the current society (Babiak and Hare, 2007). Due to these issues, impoverishment of the poor has become one of the major problems, while the already affluent people are becoming even richer. The current world is a highly competitive one, and organisational leaders have thus recognised the need for ethics. They have also understood the importance of keeping in touch with the latest advancements in technology, as it is essential to be aware of the developments and changes that are being undertaken by the rival companies for their products or services (Bakan, 2005). Organisations need to keep track of the extent to which their mission, vision, goals and values are being met (Brimmer, 2007). The list of things that are to be maintained is therefore a complex one, and it therefore becomes difficult to ascertain which one is to be prioritised. In the present era, it has become increasingly important to focus on ethics as one of the major parameters for maintaining a business organisation. Ethics also have a role to play on the individual level, and are thus an essential factor in the 21st century.
The demand for ethics
There is little or no doubt regarding the fact that the leadership and business outlook of organisations have changed vastly in the last few decades. This change has primarily been the result of developments in technology, and globalisation (Crane and Matten, 2016). These two factors have also largely influenced the way in which organisations operate and has led to the redefinition of the ethics that are to be followed. The most notable development has been in the perception towards leading organisations, that is, the manner of leadership.
Business leaders have always been chosen for their skills, experience and knowledge regarding marketing, finance and business strategies. Education has also played a vital role in influencing the choice of managers and leaders (Derr, 2012). The recent years have however seen a change in the requirements, and there has been a noticeable shift towards those aspects that are less tangible, such as the emotional, psychological and people skills of the individuals (Derr, 2012). The tendency for ethical behaviour is closely related to these qualities.
The current economic scenario is laden with financial crisis, and there are huge concerns regarding the standards and common ethical values. The laws and legislations alone are not always enough for maintaining global economic harmony. Thus, there are often situations where ethics do not drive the will that is needed to counter the negative effects and impacts of fraud, greed and corruption (Clegg, Kornberger and Rhodes, 2007). The laws that have no basis of morality cannot be implemented successfully due to the lack of consciousness that is based primarily on the standard ethical elements. The current condition of the failed markets and institutions gives rise to the demand for a framework that is ethical in nature (Bauman and Donskis, 2013). There is no concrete guarantee as far as the sustainability of the market economy is concerned.
Ethical issues and responsibilities
Business organisations in the 21st century face a horde of ethical issues, and are burdened with the responsibility of developing specific codes of conduct that are to abided by the employees of the organisation (Shaw and Barry, 2015). The fundamental ethical issues that can be mentioned here are that of trust and integrity, and there are even more complex aspects such as governance and accommodation of diversity that have gained importance in the recent years.
Fundamental issues: Integrity and trust are among the fundamental or essential issues that an organisation faces on the ethical front. Integrity has a very important role to play when it comes to the manner in which business operations are conducted. The work processes adopted by the organisation should exhibit the required commitment towards the customers (Ibarra-Colado, et al., 2006). When the consumers are able to perceive that there is a high level of commitment in the company towards ethical practices, the relationship of trust and understanding that develops is unwavering in its character, and is one of the key elements in determining the extent of success for the business (Hess and Story, 2005).
Diversity issues: The world is a place that is diverse in its people and their cultures, and a lot can be thus learnt from the different people who are present in the workplace (Zanoni, et al., 2010). Treating people with respect is one of the necessities for maintaining ethical behaviour in any business organisation. Recruiting a workforce that is diverse in nature, with equal opportunities for all in the learning and training programmes fulfils the ethical needs of the firm (Shaw and Barry, 2015). Ensuring the availability of a respectable work environment, where employees feel safe and can enjoy equal benefits is one of the key aspects for maintaining ethical behaviour. One of the most important factors that is important for the success of any business organisation is the maximisation of the individual contributions of the employees.
Decision-making issues: A useful method to explore the ethical dilemmas and identify the ethical manner of conducting work is to recognise the issues, get the facts straight, evaluate the options available and test the final decision to get the outcome (Shaw and Barry, 2015). A decision-making system that is ethical in nature should revolve around safeguarding the rights of both the employees and customers, while ensuring that the business operations are conducted in a fair manner. The actions should be so taken as to protect the people while conforming to the beliefs and values of the individual workers.
Governance issues: Any business organisation is expected to conform to the federal laws, state regulations and environmental safety measures. It should also comply with the civil rights of the people as well as the monetary regulations that are applicable in that country or region (Jones, Parker and Bos, 2005). An organisation has no right to ask or force its employees to break the law or take an action that would otherwise be seen as against the company regulations, under any circumstances. A business’s commitment towards this compliance with the corporate values is indicative of the approach it has towards the governance of the organisation as well as the workers, and it is expected that all employees, officers and directors would work in accordance with the company’s policies (Shaw and Barry, 2015).
Ethics and knowledge
The economy that is being faced by the individuals and organisations is a knowledge-based one, and intellectual capital is an important asset in such a situation. It is also essential to effectively manage the knowledge in order to enable the business to gain a competitive advantage (Akhavan, et al., 2014). It is necessary to have an appropriate knowledge management strategy for the success of the organisations. Thus, the managers as well as the stakeholders need to be convinced regarding the advantages of a knowledge-based system of management that would help in the ethical functioning of the company.
The lifestyle as well as the work processes of individuals are rapidly changing with time, and it has thus become important to consider the ethical dimensions that come along with these changes. The ultimate aim of business ethics is to ensure that the decision-making and functioning processes of an organisation have improved to enhance performance at all possible levels. Ethics have gained a lot of emphasis as far as principles are concerned, and therefore, sustainable and successful organisational practices are an embodiment of the amalgamation of all the ethical knowledge management practices (Ten Bos, 1997). One of the most important factors in this aspect is that of human capital, which could promote the performance and functioning of an organisation, and help in better implementation of the knowledge management practices. All the possible dimensions of ethics are to be taken into account when organisational performance is considered.
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Ethics in institutions
Awareness regarding ethical issues is one of the major concerns that have been undertaken by the organisations that currently function in the 21st century. The primary perception towards ethics has been on individuals, since the questions and the answers to them are essentially concerned with individual actions. However, institutions are also faced with ethical problems, and the solution to those issues are, in the organisational context, expressed in the form of rules, regulations and codes of conduct (Marangos and Astroulakis, 2009). The manner in which ethics can be conceived is numerous, and the usual question that arises is that of the way an organisation should operate. This is primarily because an institution is composed of individuals and social cooperation is one of the fundamental aspects that is pursued by any organisation.
However, the manner of response, in this case the answers, are different from what would be applicable for an individual. The individuals working with an organisation should live their lives in a way that would be ethical when the functioning of the institution is concerned. The challenges and opportunities that an institution is faced with may or may not have an ethical dimension to it. However, the current scenario demands that ethics are important for enabling social cooperation, as humans are social beings that have to interact with each other for a harmonious co-existence (Gilbert and Rasche, 2007). Institutions were made to serve individuals, not the other way round, and this ought to be maintained in order to justify the ethical functioning of the organisations. This matter of ethics is not superficial, as it is at the core of any institution. Ethical thinking should be incorporated into the functioning and governance of an institution and the manner in which the individuals work should be less instrumental and more ethical. This is to avoid any sort of cognitive dissonance, and to do away with the risk of disagreements.
A blend of ethical standardisation with legal regulations and institutional reforms is often the key to improve the performance and manner of conduct of the public sector agencies. These aspects are inter-linked, and the exclusion of any of them will lead to its overall failure, as the success is equally dependent on each factor. They are mutually supportive and are not meant to contradict each other in any way. Ethics also form the basis for the judgement of the managers or administrators, and serves to outline those actions that are deemed unethical (Marangos and Astroulakis, 2009). It aims for the efficient functioning of the institutions and for meeting the challenges of the public sector.
The matter of ethics need to be preconceived, and it cannot be a mere afterthought. It should be built deep into the core functioning of an institution. In other words, ethics should be institutionalised, since it is not an act of sophistication but of integrity. Ethics need to be a major part of the decision-making processes, not a side constraint that can be considered when felt like. However, the major issues that are rampant in most organisations are that the decisions are made first, and the ethical considerations are taken into account much later during the actual execution of the tasks.
Ethical responsibility and individual behaviour
Individuals, and ultimately organisations, have the responsibility of following a path that is morally correct and justified. The greatest sense of responsibility is usually felt towards family and friends, but business owners also have the duty of being ethical in the treatment of their workers and colleagues.
A business organisation has the responsibility of being ethical when the employees, consumers and the society are taken into account. Small business owners have the duty of being honest with their workers in order to ensure that the decisions that are taken are done so with the consent of all the individuals involved (Rossouw, et al., 2010). The consumers are entitled to respect, and they deserve to get what they have paid for. Business owners are therefore responsible for making a justified investment in the community on which the well-being of their company is dependent.
It is easy to maintain ethical behaviour when the working conditions for an organisation are favourable. When the number of consumers is high, the income also increases, which in turn is a reason for employee satisfaction. This also leaves little room for temptation pertaining to ethical misconduct. However, when the business is running in an unsatisfactory manner, this temptation often increases, and the tendency to neglect the ethical responsibilities also comes up (Rossouw, et al., 2010). Employees may want to utilise company funds for covering their personal debts, which is unethical and therefore not among the practices that are deemed as fair.
Even the biggest and the most successful of organisations can be brought to its knees due to ethical mishaps. Misconduct from even a single person is enough to destroy the reputation and functioning of an institution. Unethical practices that encourage the utilisation of fraudulent measures to hide shady transactions and thefts from the employees or stakeholders are among the most commonly occurring issues. Violation of the policies can also lead to the pressing of criminal charges, and can lead to employee outrage and loss of consumer trust, among a horde of various negative outcomes (Rossouw, et al., 2010). It is therefore important to have a clear set of guidelines from the very beginning, such that the company can be ethically responsible and have moral standards for its business processes. There should be a strict code of conduct for the fair treatment of the consumers, and transparency should be maintained to ensure that the dealings between the suppliers and the buyers are fair and justified.
The recent increase in the awareness regarding environmentally sustainable practices have made consumers build high expectations regarding the business organisations. For instance, the individuals who are highly concerned about sustainability often avoid transactions with institutions that are reliant on practices that are deemed as unsustainable or harmful towards the environment. It is thus important for an organisation to consider the effect which its ethical practices and morality could have on its ability to achieve profitability and consumer support.
It is essential to have a system of ethical enforcement that is consistent in nature, as it sets an example of behaviour that is deemed as unacceptable or punishable, and also acts as a deterrent for actions that are unethical or morally wrong. Enforcement, however, is not always possible, and there could be decisions that do not affect the individual or the organisation but benefit the external stakeholders. In such a situation, it becomes increasingly difficult to determine the ethical dimensions of the actions, as there are no policies or laws that are being exclusively violated.
Ethics are important for the successful functioning of both individuals and organisations. Businesses have started to recognise the need for ethical functioning, and it is therefore one of the priorities of the 21st century organisations. It has become necessary to maintain a positive relationship with the consumers, and thus, transparency in the business proceedings has acquired the limelight. It is important to have a sense of being able to distinguish right from wrong in order to function in a way that is morally correct and acceptable. When the level of commitment towards the customers is high, it automatically leads to the generation of increased consumer loyalty. Ethics is therefore fundamental for the successful functioning of any institution, and is an aspect that cannot be neglected. The governance of an organisation is proof of whether the practices are fair or not, and gives an insight into the ethical dimensions that may or may not be considered by it.
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