After a two-year string of corporate scandals, the term "business ethics" has become reliable fodder for late-night talk-show hosts in search of easy laughs. Some people wonder if being ethical these days simply means not getting caught doing something illegal. The only question seems to become "Is it legal?" A society gets itself in trouble when it perceives legality and ethics to be the same. Although following the law is an important first step, ethical behavior requires more than that. Ethics reflects people's proper relations with one another: How should people treat others? What responsibility should they feel for others? Legality is more limiting. It refers to laws in which have been written to protect ourselves from fraud, violence, and theft. Many immoral and unethical acts fall well within the laws.
Ethics is defined as the standard of moral behavior, that is, behavior that is accepted by society as right versus wrong.
The idea that ethics is of an individual concern is outdated. Ethics is caught more than it is taught. That is, people learn their standards and values from observing what others do, not what others say. Organizational ethics begin at the top, and that's where they must be corrected in order to make a difference. Recent studies show that pressures from above create most ethical dilemmas. Fifty-six percent of workers feel some pressure to act unethically or illegally on the job, twenty percent of mid-level managers feel that same pressure, and more often than not those high levels of pressure were reported more often by those with a high school diploma or less.
A study performed in the United States and Great Britain resulted in a ranking of perceived values, where business executives scored the highest on economic and political values and lowest on social and...