Article of the Week

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January 16th

The Basis of Business Ethics

by Matt Zupon

In the business world, many different approaches to ethical standards exist. As with many business practices, no clear-cut ethical standard exists for businesspeople. Industries all over the globe share different core values yet still manage to succeed, generating enormous profits for themselves, their employees, and their shareholders. Yet some do not succeed whatsoever. Every ethical ideology in business presents a positive and a negative side to it. In this, we will take an interrogative look at the different forms of ethics that businesspeople hold close to their business acumen.

The three main approaches to business ethics appear as utilitarian, principle-based, and virtue-based. Each presents a unique way of handling workplace quandaries and appropriately tying up the loose ends of an argument. While a utilitarian initiative may satisfy employees at one company, it may open up a Pandora’s Box of dilemmas at another. The same applies to the other two incarnations of ethics.  Ethics serve as the very baseline of a company, as interactions between customers, employees, executives, and shareholders exists in daily life. Therefore, anyone working in any sector at any position must understand which ethical league they hail to.

The first ethics base to discuss represents the most purely altruistic side of man; utilitarianism. Utilitarian ethics reside within those wishing to do the most good for the most people. Within this subclass of ethics exists two methods of achieving pure utilitarian methods: a hands-on effort and a hands-off effort. Many following the hands-on effort believe in dominating the way processes occur and trying to establish a positive outcome for the better good of all people. For a good way to visualize the hands-on utilitarian view, think of a well-intended government policy (even though it almost always does the opposite). The other form of utilitarian ethics involves letting the markets sort themselves out. This form of utilitarian ethics believes that people will determine their own solutions to their problems and that an agency, such as Human Resources, stepping in will only further provoke the complication. For this once, imagine Adam Smith’s “laissez-faire” economic principle.

The positives of utilitarian economics come from the fact that they, in theory, please the masses. Since the focus sets upon society at large, it will please many temporarily and quickly. The downsides to utilitarian economics derive from their results. The final results will leave the individual behind, creating tension and leading to a movement against the policy if carried out for too long.

Principle-based ethics focus on the good of the individual rather than the good of the collective. Many in the utilitarian group would agree that everyone deserves happiness, however, the utilitarian expresses care for the tribe over care for the member. For example, they believe that child labor remains unethical. A utilitarian may view such practice as beneficial to family and society, yet a principle-based thinker will argue against this. They look out for interests rather than benefits at large.

The positives of this ethical reasoning almost inversely mirror those of utilitarian. This methodology will lead to a greater feeling of appreciation and a sense of inclusion from those benefiting from this. However, society at large will dislike anything promoting this ideology at first due to the fact that it can only serve as a micromanaging tool then spread slowly.

Finally, virtue ethics play a large role in the everyday lives of many. While the other two forms of ethics focus on others, virtue-based ethics hone in on personal values. This focuses more on if people will take a selfless or egoist route. It delves into a deeper meaning than rather if someone acts merely “good” or “bad”. It looks at the full picture and draws conclusions over whether or not a person truly meets the capabilities of completing a task or not. This idea offers some incentives. It makes people view the world in a more analytical sense and opens up room for debate. However, this may also distract others from their goals while they suffer from internal conflict.

As apparent, many ethical dynamics exist in the business place. While no “one-size-fits-all” approach appears present, every person will maximize one of these and use it to their advantage. After they discover their ethical strength, they will use it to propel their industry, store, or product to new heights. Everyone possesses their own talent, so let that talent flow!

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