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Professional Values and Ethics
Values and ethics are the cornerstone for both personal and professional success. The way an individual or group interacts with others exposes their genuine character because actions speak louder than words. Those with a strong values system and ethical standards of the highest degree are easily recognizable by their deeds and are intrinsically motivated to do the right thing, even when no one is watching. Values and ethics generally originate and grow from the same sources, family, spiritual beliefs, and school; professional values and ethics are mere extensions of what one learns prior to joining the work force. Therefore, the things one learns early in life follow into the professional world and have a positive, or negative, impact on career success.
Values and Ethics Defined
Before delving into the world of professional, or personal for that matter, values, one must first know exactly what a value is or values are. A value is, according to Ozmete(2007),“an enduring belief that a specific mode of conduct or end-state of existence is personally or socially preferable to an opposite or converse mode of conduct or end-state of existence” (p. 1). Furthermore, a value system is all these beliefs placed and utilized in order of precedence, serving as a guide for everything from decision making to conflict resolution. What one values provides answers to questions like, if one was stranded on a deserted island, what three things would he or she want to have?
Professional values are basically the same as described above but in the context of a corporation, organization, or group and what they would like their desired end-state to be. The professional value system of group entities is revealed in their business practices; from their interaction with other companies to how well taken care of the employees are. Whether or not a business plays by the rules, win or lose, speaks volumes about the company and, more importantly, the people who work there.
Ethics are usually described in relation to values, as they are the moral philosophy and implementation of one's values. Personal or professional ethical codes give the ability to recognize what is right, fair, honorable and righteous. Corporations and businesses have published codes of ethics by which they conduct business. The code of ethics sets forth the standards to which employees are expected to abide and will be held accountable. Far too many companies have failed not because they did not have ethical standards, but because they did not enforce them. It is incumbent upon every employee to ensure they familiarize themselves with their employer's ethical code of conduct for the benefit of the employee and employer alike.
Sources of Values and Ethics
One source of professional values and ethics are parents or guardians. Ever since one can remember, one of the first places where values are taught is at home. Parents teach their children right from wrong, not to lie or steal, and may introduce them to a particular religion where values are reinforced. These are the values that stay with someone forever; not only does the individual use these values as guidelines in their lives, but they also teach their children the same values.Â Besides moral values, families teach their children work ethic. They give children small chores to do, such as cleaning their room, taking out the trash, and general helping around the house.Â If they complete the tasks in a timely fashion, they receive money for helping. These small jobs not only show children the value of earning money, but also show them that hard work is rewarded.
Another source of values and ethics is school. Children learn they must be on time, complete their homework, and study hard to earn good grades. Just as with chores and allowances at home, schoolwork teaches that by studying and working hard, one can achieve good grades and get into good high schools and universities. Being on time for school each day is the beginning of one's time management skills. Not only do they learn the importance of punctuality, but budgeting their after school activities, family time, and homework time teaches one to prioritize what he or she values. Conversely, one learns that there are consequences for not implementing his or her values, like detention or bad grades. The repercussions could be detrimental, with long-lasting effects such as limited college choices and in turn, limited professional choices.
No matter the career one chooses, the values and ethical standards instilled as a youth will guide one's professional decisions, good or bad. Most corporations, companies or associations have a written set of values or ethical guidelines by which all are held accountable. The American Psychological Association focuses on five principles of ethical behavior. The first principle is Beneficence and Nonmaleficence, which states, “In their professional actions, psychologists seek to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons, and the welfare of animal subjects of research” (American Psychological Association, 2002, p. 3). The next principle is Fidelity and Responsibility, which reads, “Psychologists uphold professional standards of conduct, clarify their professional roles and obligations, accept appropriate responsibility for their behavior, and seek to manage conflicts of interest that could lead to exploitation or harm” (American Psychological Association, 2002, p. 3). Integrity is the third principle stating, “Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology. In these activities psychologists do not steal, cheat, or engage in fraud, subterfuge, or intentional misrepresentation of fact” (American Psychological Association, 2002, p. 3). The fourth principle deals with Justice and reads, “Psychologists recognize that fairness and justice entitle all persons to access to and benefit from the contributions of psychology and to equal quality in the processes, procedures, and services being conducted by psychologists” (American Psychological Association, 2002, p. 3). The final principle is based on Respect for People's Rights and Dignity, and states, “Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination” (American Psychological Association, 2002, p. 4).
The preceding guidelines are what many were taught as children; do not harm others, take responsibility for your actions, be honest and trustworthy, impart fairness, equality, and respect to all. Each is applicable, and most useful, throughout life and all are qualities of a civil society.
Applying Professional Values and Ethics
Not everyone, however, was raised with the same values and ethical standards. While some were taught to value the “Golden Rule”, others learned to value money, possessions and status over all else. Bernie Madoff is an excellent example. He swindled investors out of an estimated fifty billion dollars in a Ponzi scheme that lasted for years. Unscrupulously, he promised clients massive returns on their investments, which for some was their entire life savings. A judge recently sentenced him to over 100 years in prison and deservedly so; but the money, and consequently, many retirement funds and livelihoods are gone (Henriques, 2009).
The Ponzi scheme mentioned above is named after its originator, Charles Ponzi. He was an Italian immigrant who, in the 1920s, deceived people to invest in mail coupons and promised returns eight times what banks were offering and in far less time. Even then, Ponzi received millions from investors looking to make quick, and large, sums of money. To establish legitimacy, Ponzi paid some of the earliest investors what he promised. Millions of dollars later, it turned out he was a conman and had only purchased less than fifty dollars worth of the investment he sold. He also went to prison (U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission,2001).
Clearly, what these men valued was personal gain and money. Neither had any ethical standards and both preyed on other people's value of getting rich quickly. Although these are extraordinary examples, the relative impact on one's career success from not applying good moral values and ethics could be just as damaging.
Professional values and ethics are mere extensions of the values and ethics learned from family, spiritual leaders and teachers. What one is taught to value growing up will carry over in the professional world. Professionals with upstanding values and ethical standards are easy to identify, as is the company that employs them. Values based business decisions and ethical guidelines adhered to by all are the benchmark for success. Those who accept less can have a detrimental impact on their company and maybe, the rest of society.