Ethics and Values in the Private and Public Business Arenas

Ethics and values structure the guiding principals of ones’ life. From these, our attitudes and perceptions are formed; they are what we use to determine what decisions are good or right. A variety of schools of thought exist about what makes up ones code of ethics and how universal those codes are, however every person, every culture, every society has them. Ethics come from one’s own life experiences and those of the people around one; values shape the picture of how one believes the world should be (Covey, 1989), and how one should behave in that world. Without a strong grounding ethic, a person would be difficult for others to trust or rely upon (Fotis, 1996) in both personal and in business life. Therefore, a strong ethic, and the ability to convey that belief is essential in a business professional. Those beliefs should form a cohesive whole that informs how a person behaves in every aspect of their life (Covey, 1989).

Ethics and values in one’s personal and business life must intersect. What one believes and practices at work, in their professional life must align with their beliefs and practices in their personal life, otherwise there will be dissonance between one’s private and one’s business life. However, one should be more than simply ethical in a reflexive fashion, as David Peters discusses in National Jeweler magazine (2003) For example, Johnson and Johnson Corporation follows a page-long document known as The Credo. This document details societal and personal responsibilities the company strives to uphold; everything from the responsibilities to families and their employees to environmental concerns. One would expect to find these values extended into the private life of Robert Wood Johnson, the man who originally crafted The Credo for his company (McClenahen, 2005). If one did not, it would be difficult to give credibility to the leader, Robert Wood Johnson, or to his company. This document, Fotis would contend, and the living up to The Credo, is part and parcel of what makes Johnson and Johnson one of the most respected companies in business today (McClenahen, 2005).

As a business-person, a mother, a wife and an employee (as well as innumerable other roles), I find I need a strong sense of what I believe in order to navigate the waters of modern society. I am predominantly guided by the following broad values: respect for individual rights: freedom, liberty, justice, parity; social responsibility: cooperation, acceptance, striving for excellence, creative thinking, environmentalism, activism; family, and belonging to something larger than myself. I can find these beliefs informing my daily living, as well as how I function in my business and in my “pay-the-bills” employment. If I act outside of those core areas of belief, I find myself in a great deal of turmoil and stress. I share the outward cultural values of most Americans (my cultural peers), but often find myself slightly out of step with many other cultural values or defining them in alternative ways. For these reasons it is not only important that I understand what my beliefs are, but analyze them to ensure they are relevant to my life and that they are compatible with each other (Peters, 2003). For ethics to truly work, a person must analyze them and make themselves accountable for them (Benjamin, 2005).

I own a coffee shop with my husband and a friend. It was important in the planning stages that my coffee shop purchase only fair trade, organic coffees and teas whenever possible. This falls in line with my value of individual rights as well as social responsibility. I also felt that it feeds into the strength and health of my family. However, as our business grew, this value needed to be counter-balanced by the shop’s need to remain financially viable. For example, fair trade, organic is significantly more expensive for some varieties of tea and coffee, so we have limited our suppliers and our number of orders to maintain a low shipping cost. We also provide non-organic teas, as this supplier, who has a better coffee product, does not have a strong organic tea selection. This value follows into my personal life where I avoid shopping at Wal*Mart, but can no afford to purchase only organic foods as our region has exceptionally high produce costs for a significantly limited selection. I could elect to drive an hour or more to a better vendor, but the environmental cost of the fuel outweighs, for me, the value of the organic produce.

At various points we have found ourselves re-assessing our ability to sustain an environmental stance as well as a profitable business. We elected to move to using Styrofoam cups; a move that appeared less ecologically sound and out of line with our environmental stance. However, using the cups allowed us to bring down our supply costs, thus enabling us to continue purchasing organic, fair-trade stock. We also found a recycler willing to take the cups, providing we washed them. We also learned more expensive, wax-coated paper cups can not be recycled due to contamination from food waste as well as the coating on the cup. Through examining our value, and not responding with an immediate, instinctive action, we found a more viable solution that ultimately allowed us to more fully follow our belief.

Values and ethics are an important part of what makes up any person. They are the code by which we live, and that which we use to balance cold, clear reason. These powerful tools for choice and decision-making should never go unquestioned, or unexamined because to do so could lead to unsound, unwise and, ultimately, contrary actions on the part of an individual or a company.

Benjamin, Ben E., Shonen-Moe, Cherie (2005, March/April). Untitled Massage Magazine, 114 (96) p.1. Retrieved April 18, 2005 from Alt. Healthwatch/University of Phoenix library.
Covey, Stephen R. (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Fotis, George W. (1996, December). Interactive Personal Ethics Management Review, 85 (12), p46. Retrieved April 16, 2005 from University of Phoenix library reserve readings.
McClenahen, John S. (2005, March). Defining Social Responsibility Industry Week, 253 (3), p64. Retrieved April 19, 2005 from Academic search premier/University of Phoenix library.
Peters, David. (2003, April). Your Personal Ethics – is it Time for a Check-up National Jeweler 97 (7), p. 30. Retrieved April 15, 2005 from University of Phoenix library reserve readings.

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