Ethix Forum – Issue 48

Should a company consider the personal ethics of an employee when making a promotion decision?

A company should not consider the personal ethics of employees when considering promotions unless they obviously threaten the company’s good name and reputation.
Carter Henderson
Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

I think personal ethics lead to business ethics and therefore I try and look at the total person. I think personal ethics are the filter that holds the individual together and then business ethics just follow the individual actions.
Barry Horn
Bellevue, Wash.

Is this employee something out of “The Office?” Or an admitted abuser of drugs, alcohol, women, men, or children? Perhaps someone who is known for ethnic or sexual slurs? Someone who quite casually takes something off grocery or retail shelves with no awareness that this might be unacceptable?

Yes. Personal ethics should be considered.

The more interesting question is this: How does a company discover that a candidate’s personal ethics are compromised? Surveys? Corporate spies? The National Security Agency? And then who in that company determines what personal ethics are required?
Iris M. Poliski
Fort Atkinson, Wis.

Two questions come to mind:

1. How much does a company care about its own public image?

The actions of their employee will reflect upon who they are as a company, especially the higher in the leadership level.

2. How much does the company care about the internal character of the organization?

Whether the superiors know anything about an employee’s ethics, his or her peers do. If that employee has acted unethically in order to be promoted and the company knowingly promotes that individual, it undermines the ethical integrity of other employees. If it is OK to be unethical in order to be promoted, then perhaps it is just as permissible to do inferior work, to steal from the workplace, and to gossip about superiors and other employees.

If you don’t believe ethics make a difference to the rank and file, grunt worker, then ask them what they think about unfair or underhanded practices.
Douglas J. Schoelles
Roanoke, Texas

I think it’s absolutely critical to consider personal ethics of employees within companies, and when you consider them for a promotion (assuming the promotion is putting them in a position of leadership over personnel, clients, products, etc.) What the vast majority of companies want are employees they can count on to be truthful, to represent their company in an ethical manner, and to conduct themselves with integrity. We want this in our roles as consumers, consultants, and other businesses as we enter into contracts, provide products and/or services that will do what we say they will do.

I believe when you consider putting a person into a position where their relationships and responsibilities require integrity, then those factors should play a significant role in who gets a job. In my business, I’ve seen many an individual fail more often due to their lack of ethics or integrity then for their lack of skill or talent.
Brad Smith
Bellevue, Wash.

A company should consider the whole character of a person when making a promotion decision, and not just the functional capabilities of the individual. A company should look at all factors that impact a person’s ability to discharge the professional duties in a fashion that is commensurate with the company’s values, culture and ethics. In discussing questions of values, culture, and ethics, you need end-to-end integrity.
David Miller
New Haven, CT

I’ve given this a bit of thought and I believe that yes, a company should consider the personal ethics of an employee when making a promotion decision. I believe that a person cannot separate their personal ethics from their professional ethics, because a person who is ‘strong’ (who has strong moral values, etc.) will be strong in all their approaches to life and a person who is ‘weak’ (ethically) cannot be selectively strong in the workplace and weak in their personal life. People who cheat at cards probably cheat on their time cards too. And I think it’s true for all levels in a company, even though more emphasis has been placed on ethics at the executive level in recent years.

The trouble is administratively, how does a company consider and examine an employee’s personal ethics? Based on their work performance? I would suggest that it’s difficult to judge ethics based on that. Perhaps some kind of test could be created, but it would not be foolproof and people would inevitably figure out how to cheat it. Based on their attendance at religious services? I don’t believe religion is a necessary component for a person to lead an upstanding existence. And besides that, how far should a company be allowed to delve into a person’s truly personal life without trampling on their right to privacy, etc.? So it’s easy to say yes, the company should consider personal ethics, but how to go about it? I don’t know the answer to that.
Suzanne Hansen
Bellevue, WA

Absolutely personal ethics should be considered. If someone is moving up in your organization it means that they will have more influence both inside and outside your organization. Therefore it is even more critical that they reflect the culture and values of the company. If their personal ethics are questionable it will reflect negatively on the company, could potentially put the company at risk (if the behavior is bad enough) and hurt morale within the company.

Strong business skills can not overcome poor personal ethics and if I were promoting someone in my company I would not feel comfortable with that trade-off.
Bob Wright
Seattle, WA

Yes — if those ethics will negatively impact the job and the employees of the company. Interestingly, Presidents of companies and of countries don’t seem to be held to the same standards of “ethics review.”
Jana Kemp
Boise, ID

Yes. While promotions reflect a person’s performance on the “measurable” factors, how a person produced results sends signals to all employees, especially those equal to or lower than the people being promoted, about how management truly values ethics. Does management really walk the talk when it comes to supporting the company’s stated values? Promotions, over time, provide important answers to that question.
Robert G. Nuber
Bellevue, Washington

Yes. A person in leadership sets the tone for the organization being led. With that understanding, the anticipated ethical tone of the organization will be influenced by the personal ethics of the employee under consideration. This must be taken into consideration.
Miller Adams
Seattle, Washington

My simple answer would be “yes of course”. I believe honesty and personal integrity should be the Hallmarks of any person in authority or responsibility. This past year I have been studying our American Revolution and was reminded of the impact of men of integrity. Where would we be without the likes Madison, Washington and Adams. Were they perfect — no, but they always tried to do what they knew in their heart to be right. Without a moral “center” every decision in life becomes situational.
Dave Kidney
Redmond, WA

Ethics are at the core of a person’s being. Ethics are what and how a person thinks, talks, and acts.

All of us come to a given job or opportunity with strengths and weakness, and part of the selection process in choosing the right person for a job is determining if a person can grow and overcome some of these weaknesses or deficiencies. A person was once described as the smartest, most innovative of business people, yet one who was without a moral compass. Even though this person grew to the top of industry leadership, his lack of moral compass caught up with him, causing financial and legal ruin to himself and his company. This was not only a problem with the individual person but also with the leadership structure that promoted and mentored this person without addressing one of the most important characteristics of leadership: ethics.

If ethics are important to the business, then ethics should be one of the key elements in an evaluation of that person’s development and appraisals, just as other leadership and technical capabilities required for a job are evaluated.

Ethic violations are sometimes kept quiet for legal, privacy, and cultural reasons; however this tends to hide overall trends and issues. Recently Boeing acknowledged over 15 serious ethic violations issues with their upper management. Why wasn’t the trumpet sounded after a few? Like any other leadership characteristic, the ethics violations of a business need to be evaluated and addressed, not tolerated or hidden.

Ethics and character are revealed at the forks in the road. The very times that you will most need ethics and good judgment will be those times when you are not with the people you are relying on. Therefore, if you cannot be sure that a person has integrity (or believe that a person’s ethics can improve), then you should remove that person as soon as possible.

Living with ambiguity of subjectively determining if a person has ethical issues is difficult for managers, but tolerating or overlooking ethical violations by your people creates a time bomb ready to blow and harm or destroy both the individual and the company.
Gary Spies
Des Moines, Wash