Work Ethics Principles and Codes of Conduct

Today, the topic of ethics at the workplace is actively discussed by many researchers with the focus on such areas and aspects as the role of codes of conduct within the working environments and the importance of appropriate working behaviours. From this perspective, the concept of work ethics includes ethical norms, behaviours, and attitudes which should be followed by employees to perform in the organisation effectively. The discussion of the theme can be realised in relation to several perspectives which are the general aspects of work ethics and work commitment, the focus on associated basic principles, the discussion of codes of conduct, the examination of such negative effects as prejudice and discrimination, and the analysis of work ethics in the context of different cultures. Thus, work ethics is closely connected with the issues of morality, work commitment, and values which are shared globally, but this concept is also based on differences typical for various cultures and societies.

Work ethics within any organisation can be discussed as the set of moral norms and principles which are connected with the specifics of the personnel’s performance, behaviours, and interactions. From the general perspective used by Roth to discuss the notion of work ethics, employers are inclined to speak about work ethics when they think about the employees’ performance and work commitment (Roth 1998). Much attention is paid to the purpose of work which is influenced by the concept of work ethics. As a result, the idea of work ethics is closely associated with such processes typical for the working environments as ‘quality enhancement’ and ‘quality improvement’ which are necessary to contribute to the employees’ performance (Roth 1998). The strong connection of work ethics with the question of performance is also emphasised by Leemann who focuses on the question of weak work ethics as the problem for an employer. Thus, weak positions in relation to work ethics are reflected in employees’ wrong preferences and, as a result, in their weak performance (Leemann 2012). The idea of work ethics depends on the combination of working behaviours and attitudes used within the working environments and responding to the definite principles of morality. That is why, speaking about work ethics, employers concentrate not only on moral questions but also on the issues associated with the personnel’s commitment and performance.

However, work commitment and job performance cannot be discussed as the main notions to examine the aspects of work ethics in detail. Different moral and philosophical principles are still considered as the key components to form the concept of work ethics. The relations between employees are effective and ethical, while depending on the approaches used by managers to stimulate different working behaviours. Hobson states that those managers and employers who use anti-oppressive methods to promote ethical principles within the working environments are more successful in realising their managerial goals and intentions than those persons who prefer the utilitarian methods because they are oriented to the extreme use of power, and these techniques do not meet the interests of many employees (Hobson 2012). It is rather difficult for managers to make this choice, and Anastas and Videka concentrate on the question of the person’s competence to decide about social work aspects, work ethics, and practical value of these decisions (Anastas & Videka 2012). As a result, the ethics at the workplace is regulated with references to the managers’ anti-oppressive and utilitarian techniques and tools which effectiveness depends on the manager’s competence.

Nevertheless, ethics principles are based not only on philosophical and moral approaches but also on the social concepts. Thus, Moyo goes forth in the research, and the investigator connects the issues of ethics with the ideas of social justice because working environments are the segments of the society, and justice should be the prioritised value within this society (Moyo 2010). Social justice is closely associated with equality, thus, work ethics is also based on the key principles of justice and equality. From this point, the basic principles which are operated in relation to the effective use of work ethics at the workplace are anti-oppressive methods of communication, competence, equality, and justice.

To guarantee that the above-mentioned principles are followed effectively in any organisation, managers pay much attention to designing the codes of conduct which can reflect the general social and moral norms as well as the rules which are appropriate for the concrete organisation. In their research, Sercombe and Sercombe focus on the connection between the development and use of codes of conduct within the organisation and changes in the employees’ working behaviours. The employees’ consciousness related to work depends significantly on the level of the norms’ prescription. Thus, too prescriptive and non-prescriptive codes of conduct can affect the whole idea of work commitment negatively (Sercombe & Sercombe 2010). The importance of Sercombe and Sercombe’s research is in an attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of codes of conduct with references to their specific parameters. Codes of conduct are necessary to prevent and control possible deviances in the workers’ ethical behaviours.

The norms of work ethics and codes of conduct are traditionally worked out in order to avoid the negative or immoral behaviours and deviances demonstrated by employees and employers toward each other. These immoral behaviours are discussed as the violation of work ethics, and they are often realised in the form of prejudice and discrimination. The ethical behaviours at the workplace can be discussed as based on equal opportunities shared by all the participants of the working process. Work ethics as the developed concept is often considered as the regulation tool to prevent the development of discrimination within the working environments. However, Collins and Wray-Bliss state that work ethics principles are often weak to avoid or control discrimination, especially sex or gender discrimination (Collins & Wray-Bliss 2005). The adherents of the feminist theory pay attention to the fact that women suffer from sex discrimination because of the developed prejudice within the society (Collins & Wray-Bliss 2005). The notion of prejudice in relation to work ethics is rather controversial, and persons can discriminate each other with references to any factor influencing the working atmosphere in the organisation (Rosenthal, Levy, & Moyer 2011). Thus, following the researchers’ ideas, it is possible to state that the use of work ethics norms or codes of conduct cannot guarantee the decrease in prejudice and discrimination. The ethical issues of discrimination can also depend on cultural differences.

In spite of the fact that the human community shares moral and ethical values and visions which are in many cases similar, it is possible to observe the cultural and religious differences in assessing this or that type of behaviour. This diverse approach is also relevant in relation to the discussion of working environments. Barnett claims that globally accepted rules and norms associated with the work ethics are based on the concepts of justice and responsibility. Thus, the geographical location of the organisation and the cultural differences of employees do not matter till all the participants act responsibly and according to the principles of justice (Barnett 2011). This idea is important to be discussed today in the context of globalisation and spreading the principles of international working market and global work ethics.

Moreover, the opinions of people belonging to different cultures on the problem of work ethics and right behaviours are various. Barnett discusses the principles of the Continental Philosophy to explain the particular features of the Westerners’ approach to ethics and work (Barnett 2011). The ideas of the Continental Philosophy are correlated with the norms of the Protestant work ethic shared in many Western countries. From this perspective, these ideas determine the principles according to which the Westerners build their ethical relations at the workplace. The Protestant work ethic is regulated by the idea that only hard work can lead to the great success and gaining more profits (Rosenthal, Levy, & Moyer 2011). In this case, the Protestant work ethic is associated with the concepts of work performance and work commitment. The idea of hard work is also supported with references to the visions of Confucians. Workers in China and Japan are inclined to respect the hierarchy, instructions of the leaders, and strict orders. These principles are discussed as traditional and opposing to the modern global approaches based on the idea of conflict and competition (Mathias 2011; Yeh & Xu, 2010). Although the Westerners and Easterners are inclined to rely on hard work as the path to the success, their visions of work ethics appropriate for achieving the career goals are rather different.

Today, Confucianism is not discussed as the philosophy or ethical tradition which is effective enough to guarantee the organisation’s success within the highly competitive industry. Yeh and Xu state that modern Chinese organisations experience the changes in the approaches to work ethics, and these changes depend on the increased role of Westernisation in the region. It is impossible to refer only to the traditional Chinese approaches to work ethics or only to the Western patterns which are unfamiliar for Confucians. That is why, the best variant is to combine the methods used by two cultures in order to enforce work ethics and build the effective and strong corporate culture (Yeh & Xu, 2010). Furthermore, discussing the differences in cultures and approaches to work ethics, it is important to refer to the idea that the local features which influence the moral norms and work ethics are necessary for the effective development of the certain society.

The discussed researches on the topic of work ethics are appropriate to focus on the complete understanding of the notion in relation to the global context, local features, and differences in cultures. The current literature on the issue provides the diverse facts and opinions on the effectiveness of using work ethics principles within the working environments, on the role of codes of conduct, on the association of work ethics and work commitment, and on differences between the Protestant work ethic and Confucianism. Nevertheless, the field for the further investigation is broad, and it is necessary to focus more on such questions as the nature of the Protestant work ethic, effectiveness of utilitarian principles to regulate the work, and the needs of individuals in relation to the situations when codes of conduct are followed inappropriately.

Reference List

Anastas, J & Videka, L 2012, ‘Does Social Work Need a ‘Practice Doctorate’?’, Clinical Social Work Journal, vol. 40. no. 2, pp. 268-276.

Barnett, C 2011, ‘Geography and ethics: placing life in the space of reasons’, Progress in Human Geography, vol. 36. no. 3, pp. 379–388.

Collins, H & Wray-Bliss, E 2005, ‘Discriminating ethics’, Human Relations, vol. 58. no. 6, pp. 799-824.

Hobson, L 2012, ‘Critical reflections on ethical practice’, Ethics and Social Welfare, vol. 6. no. 1, pp. 80-87.

Leemann, J 2012, ‘The jobs are out there’, Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 18-21.

Mathias, R 2011, ‘Japan in the seventeenth century: labour relations and work ethics’, International Review of Social History, vol. 56. no. 19, pp. 217-243.

Moyo, O 2010, ‘A commitment to social justice in a capitalist democracy: are we being critical citizens or just moving along cliches?’, Journal of Progressive Human Services, vol. 21. no. 1, pp. 3–7.

Rosenthal, L, Levy, S & Moyer, A 2011, ‘Protestant work ethic’s relation to intergroup and policy attitudes: A meta-analytic review’, European Journal of Social Psychology, vol. 41. no. 1, pp. 874–885.

Roth, W 1998, ‘Work ethics’, National Productivity Review, vol. 17. no.4, pp. 1-4.

Sercombe, J & Sercombe, H 2010, ‘Working the document: using ethics cards to operationalise the youth work code of ethics’, Ethics and Social Welfare, vol. 4. no. 3, pp. 300-305.

Yeh, Q & Xu, X 2010, ‘The effect of Confucian work ethics on learning about science and technology knowledge and morality’, Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 95. no. 1, pp. 111–128.