Ethical issues in the workplace

Have you ever felt like something in the workplace isn’t quite right? That maybe that last business decision seems off, or the review of that last applicant in the hiring process didn’t sit well with you? Even when none of your coworkers express unease, you could be noticing an ethical issue in the workplace.

Within a business, there can be a multitude of pressures and incentives, coming from leadership, investors, the public, and more. These pressures and messages affect everyone at a company, from entry-level employees to CEOs. These factors often conflict, and how that conflict is perceived and acted upon can influence the ethics of a company or community.

And these ethical questions can arise across businesses—whether a new company should accept money from investors linked to human-rights violations in the Middle East, whether a restaurant should include a 20% tip in their bill or leave it up to customers, or whether tech companies should sell user data to advertising agencies.

If you find yourself with an ethical question at work, here’s what you can do:

Consider Your Values.

Consider the intersection of your values and those of the company. If there are major discrepancies, consider if this matters to you. Would you rather be at a place that aligns with your values? If you need some extra support grappling with these questions consider reaching out to a confidential resource like Empower Work. Listen to your gut, if you feel like what you’re working on is wrong, is something you don’t support, or do not feel comfortable with, you may be dealing with an ethical issue.

Examine Management Practices.

The practices a company puts into place directly affect how employees work and interact with each other. Was there a recent initiative that rewarded efficiency to the point that some may have sacrificed safety to achieve it? If you are in a leadership position, it’s important to ask, “How is the system we designed incentivizing bad or harmful behavior?” And if you seek to create an ethical work environment, ask, “What can we do to change it?”

Review Your Options.

This could mean escalating your issue through internal channels, creating a petition with other employees, or even changing teams or leaving your company. In this decision process, make sure to consider the broader implications. Will one course of action upset upper management, but could benefit front-of-the-line employees and customers? Does speaking up have the potential of losing you your job or getting a pay cut, and how would that affect your budget at home? These are tough questions to grapple with and Empower Work is here to help.

If you find that your values don’t align with your company’s, or you’ve had ethical concerns about your work, you’re not alone. Text 510-674-1414 to get in touch with a trained peer counselor immediately and anonymously. Talk through the situation and explore ways forward. Support is just a text away.

A few other resources to check out:

How to navigate an ethical dilemma in under 3 minutes from

A short video from Adam Grant on how to diagnosis an unethical company

A December 2018 article from Harvard Business Review about how competition between coworkers can lead to unethical behavior

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