In the past few years there have been a number of high profile instances of unethical behavior exposed in the media. In 2005, a South Korean researcher faked the cloning of a human embryo. He was first celebrated and eventually charged with fraud, embezzlement, and bioethics violations.1 Questions were raised about his techniques, including the dubious practice of removing eggs from his junior technicians.2 A postdoctoral student at a prestigious medical institution falsified data and published it; the article was retracted soon after publication, when other researchers in the same lab could not replicate the results. There are historical examples: Alfred Kinsey’s studies, known as the Kinsey Reports, have been questioned for the combination of bad science and fraud. Possibly the most famous fraud was the “discovery” of the Piltdown Man in the early 1900s, which was accepted as fact until 1953.3 High profile ethical lapses cause the public to distrust science.
Today, cheating is rampant in both high school and college. One study found high school students understood the concept of cheating, but were selective in application of the knowledge, cheating in some circumstances but not others.4 Schools teach to the test and there is a “win at all costs” mentality that has spawned “competitive cheating” i.e., “in order to compete with those who cheat, I need to cheat too.” In July, 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta school system were implicated in a cheating scandal that involved changing answers and helping students take standardized tests.5 And it’s not just students. Most recently, it has been reported that Mexican police are being trained not to take bribes.
Reality television and popular culture reinforce the “win at any cost” mentality. Sports cheating, including the use of performance enhancers is both accepted and widespread. The internet makes cheating and plagiarism easy, causing many schools to employ anti plagiarism software to check term papers. With such pervasive cultural influences, the ethical message, especially for millennials, can be muddied or lost. They often adopt situational ethics, instead of a clear vision of right and wrong.
The purpose of ethics training, above all else, is to provide an honest and fair business environment that complies with federal law and promotes equality amongst all peers.6 Almost every industry has some requirement for ethics training.
Ethics is a large umbrella topic, and training encompasses a wide variety of behaviors, processes, and attitudes. A partial list of subjects follows:
Ethics training starts with a clear set of expectations, and should be part of onboarding for the new employee. Training must be more than simply providing a handbook; spend some time to highlight the basic code of conduct for the organization.
For example, many institutions and most governmental agencies on the local, state, and federal level have prohibitions on accepting gifts. Gifts can be financial, meals, travel, or items of value. The dollar value of the gift may vary but the concept of accepting gifts and potential for influence is the underlying concern. Use examples and encourage questions about specific situations. Your new hire needs to have a “bright line” of acceptable vs. unacceptable behavior.
If the position includes access to secure areas, or secure information, the discussion should include guarding keys, use of ID badges, keeping areas secure,7 monitoring visitors, securing passwords, and the proper reporting of any incidents that might endanger the organization or workers.
Ethics training should not be confined to new hires, but be a part of ongoing organizational development.
Some of the most effective training in ethics involves role playing or case studies. According to several sources, solving ethical dilemmas in interactive settings produces positive impressions of the organization. Multiple methods are more effective than any single approach.8 These exercises allow the learner to see the situation and explore ethical concepts from multiple points of view, rather than just a singular, personal view. It allows empathy and exploration of the unintended consequences of behaviors and actions.
In order to make an ethical decision, learners first need to identify the moral issues involved. Some are obvious, common sense concepts, such as not abusing company property, stealing from the company, sexual harassment, insider trading, and falsifying expense reports;9 others are gray areas, such as conflict of interest, either actual or perceived. Identify the consequences of unacceptable behavior, both to the workers and to the organization.
In order to stress the importance of business ethics, all levels of the company should be involved. The rules must apply equally for all members of the organization and upper management can provide leadership by example.
Modeling expected behaviors is important. If you want an ethical workforce, you need to be ethical and not tolerate unethical behaviors.
- Nauert PhD, R. (2010). Is Cheating in High School Normal?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2011, from
Ann Marie Dinkel, RLATG, has over 20 years of facility management experience, and serves as adjunct faculty for SUNY Delhi and Delaware Technical Community College. For the past several years, she has been a consultant and trainer in Laboratory Animal Science. Ann is an account manager for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states for Alternative Design.