Ethics at Work Definition and Examples (What You Need To Know)

Updated November 29, 2022

Every company upholds certain ethics at work to ensure their business is running smoothly and employees are happy. Your ethics need to align with the company's to ensure you have job satisfaction and that you're working towards a common goal. In this article, we look at ethics at work definitions and examples, why they're important and show you how you can apply them in your own workplace.

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What are ethics at work?

Also known as workplace ethics, ethics at work are the moral principles businesses implement to determine what actions are appropriate or inappropriate at work. Workplace ethics impact everything from how the business is run to how employees should act at work to uphold the company's image.

To ensure businesses successfully integrate workplace ethics into their company's culture, every employee must follow them. This includes managers and even CEOs, who set an example for their employees to act appropriately. Employees at every level are motivated to work harder and uphold workplace ethics, as they feel equal to one another.

As an individual, you can also have your own set of ethics to follow at work, but they should align with the company. This ensures you can set personal goals that are attainable while still working towards common goals.

Related: What Is Ethical Behaviour? (Importance and Examples)

Why are ethics important in the workplace?

Having set ethics for every employee to follow, regardless of the size of the business, is crucial. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Improved employee retention: Ethics that focus on improving employee morale encourage managers to show appreciation to their team. This leads to higher employee retention, as team members feel more loyal to the company and their managers. Having clear ethics at work in place also ensures employees are more likely to act ethically.

  • Stronger teamwork: Workplace ethics typically encourage employees to respect one another and listen to each other's ideas. This is the foundation of good teamwork, so ethics at work can increase camaraderie and collaboration. Employees are then more productive and motivated to do their best.

  • Better leadership: Ensuring managers follow workplace ethics means they're more likely to treat their team respectfully. This encourages team members to follow their manager's lead which builds mutual trust and respect. It also improves collaboration and makes leading a team easier.

Ethics at Work Definition Examples

Ethics at work are diverse and vary depending on the industry. So, to ensure every employee is aware of the unique ethics in place, companies typically create a code of conduct and distribute it to new employees. Here are some examples of ethics in the workplace you may find in your organization's code of conduct:

1. Keep sensitive information private

If the company works with sensitive information, such as a customer's financial information, it must stay private. Not only is it an ethical code the business should enforce, but many laws exist to ensure personal information remains confidential. So, workplace ethics typically outline Canada's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA). This ensures every employee is aware of federal laws and can adhere to them.

Related: What Is a Non-disclosure Agreement? (With Tips and FAQs)

2. Respect company property

Many jobs require employees to use their property, equipment, tools, and supplies. The company usually provides the equipment to ensure employees can work efficiently. Company property could be as small as a stapler or as big as a crane. Either way, workplace ethics include clauses about respecting this property. Taking care of company property ensures everyone can continue to use the equipment, avoiding the need to replace or repair it frequently.

3. Adhere to the law

Workplace ethics typically include the legal regulations and obligations employees must follow. These ethics will vary depending on the industry but usually include labour laws, taxes or worker safety clauses. Including the legal regulations in a code of conduct ensures employees are well-versed, so the company cannot be held liable for unlawfulness.

4. Create an open line of communication

Open and honest communication is vital to the success of any workplace, so many codes of conduct feature it. To foster healthy, professional relationships, businesses should encourage their employees to be honest, even when discussing mistakes. Likewise, management needs to be honest with employees to ensure everyone agrees and can work towards solving problems or suggesting ideas together.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

5. Prioritize customers' needs

If a business works with clients or customers, workplace ethics will emphasize prioritizing customers' needs. Companies typically offer customer service training to ensure every employee can provide excellent service to their organization's standard. However, workplace ethics should also emphasize that employees don't put customers' needs over their well-being or the company's. This ensures that customers are happy, but employees are as well.

Related: Why Is Exceptional Customer Service Important? (Plus Tips)

6. Follow the dress code

Most industries and roles require a dress code. For example, office roles have a more formal dress code than a fast-food restaurant. Whatever the dress code is, companies include it in their code of conduct. A set dress code ensures every employee knows how to present themselves professionally at work as they are representing the company. Organizations that provide uniforms include guidelines on how to wear them.

Related: Various Types of Dress Code (With Factors That Affect It)

7. Discuss issues directly with management

A code of conduct is great for outlining general rules, but it may not provide adequate guidance for ethical dilemmas. So, it's best to approach your manager with concerns. Talking through issues with coworkers is tempting, but it can lead to second-hand information and misunderstandings. Discuss any problems you may have with management and work towards a solution together.

Related: A Guide to Promoting Effective Workplace Communications

8. Workplace diversity

Diversity in the workplace is essential. It ensures we learn more about different perspectives and backgrounds, improving our working knowledge and way of thinking. The Canadian Human Rights Act outlines many laws companies must follow regarding diversity, and many companies emphasize these laws in their ethics at work. So, every race, gender, ethnicity and social group will have equal opportunity.

Related: What Is Diversity in the Workplace? (With Benefits)

9. Take advantage of ethics training

Many companies offer ongoing training opportunities, including ones surrounding ethics. If your company offers it, it's a great opportunity to learn more about ethics in general and your company values. This teaches you how to act appropriately and professionally at work and to encourage others to do the same.

Related: The Difference Between Personal Ethics and Business Ethics

10. Respect colleagues and clients

One of the most significant ways to act ethically is to respect everyone around you. This applies both to your personal and professional life. You don't have to agree with everything your colleagues say or do, but you do need to respect their ideologies and perspective. It is everyone's moral and legal responsibility to treat each other with respect as per the Canada Labour Code. This creates a welcoming and productive workplace environment, which is why most codes of conduct emphasize respect.

Related: 5 Steps to Become a Better Ally at Work

11. Report conflicts of interest

Many businesses discuss conflicts of interest in their code of conduct. This could include accepting gifts from clients or working for the competitor simultaneously. Conflicts of interest can hurt the business' image and other employees, so it's important you note your company's description of conflicts of interest to avoid them.

Related: Job Search Guide: Finding Companies That Value Diversity & Inclusion

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Examples of unethical behaviour in the workplace

To fully understand ethics at work, it's important to look at what unethical behaviour can look like. Here are some examples:

  • Lying: Managers and team members must be able to trust each other to work well together. Lying breaches trust and can demotivate employees.

  • Misusing company time: Coming to work late, taking longer breaks, using your phone and talking with coworkers too much are all examples of misusing company time. This is unethical behaviour as they still pay the employee for the same amount of time.

  • Contributing to a hostile workplace: Everyone wants to feel welcome at work, but gossip, competitiveness, micro-managing or excluding coworkers creates an uncomfortable environment. Avoid this by offering everyone the same respect you desire.

  • Ignoring conflicts of interest: If you notice another employee acting in a self-serving way and ignoring regulations about conflicts of interest, report it. Similarly, you should adhere to these regulations, too. Ignoring them can lead to other employees feeling they are treated unfairly.

  • Taking sides in a disagreement: Ethically, management needs to remain neutral when employees have a disagreement. Instead, they need to listen to both parties and come to a solution that benefits everyone. This ensures team members feel heard and respected. This doesn't just apply to managers, but to team members too. When helping your colleagues solve a conflict, ensure you stay neutral and mediate the discussion fairly.

  • Stealing company property: Companies trust employees with the tools and equipment to do their job. Stealing or misusing it breaks trust and can often lead to legal action.

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