How Good Business Ethics Can Change Workplace Morale for Better or Worse
Society spends a lot of time pointing fingers and assessing blame when things go wrong. Whether it's a scandal on Wall Street, or an oil spill in Alaska, attention is often focused on negative issues when it comes to business and the environment and social responsibility. However, there are also plenty of scenarios and examples of the positive impact of ethics in the business world.
When it comes to employee rights, there have been huge advances made in the workplace since the early 20th century, with a positive impact for companies that provide employees with decent hours, wages and safe working conditions.

A Look Back

It really wasn't that long ago that employees had no rights. If a person wanted a job, they did what the boss wanted them to, right or wrong, safe or not. A number of advancements and improvements have been made to help protect employees, their safety, their families, and their wages and hours.

Since the early 20th century, the work environment has steadily improved in many fields, including finance, manufacturing, transportation, retail, food, and medicine. Child labor laws protect children, while unions protect workers, and employment laws protect the rights of millions of employees.

One of the greatest advancements of the 20th century was in the area of employee rights. Safety, health, and privacy in the workplace are taken for granted by many today. Employment issues have a great impact on society in general, from entry-level to management-level positions. Most of us don't have the luxury to control our work environment, and we must rely on others to make sure that our rights are protected.

Employee rights are common in business today, not only in the United States, but around the world. They are expected by many of us, from the 16-year-old filling out an application for his first job, to the retiree who has spent years working his way up the ladder. Legal rights are granted to most employees based on court rulings and legislation. Therefore, employees have basic rights that include being paid a minimum wage, enjoying equal opportunities in the workplace, and in many scenarios, the right to unionize.

Many employees today expect some form of health care benefits package as well as paid holidays, pension or retirement funds, and maybe even the token holiday bonus when they sign on to work for a particular employer.

Such issues are often discussed during the hiring process, and contracts are signed so that both sides understand rights and expectations. Employee rights protecting pregnant women, or those requesting a family medical leave, are guaranteed in most places of business.

While an employer typically offers an agreement that contains an explanation of wages and benefits, as well as working conditions, they also expect something in return. In this sense, legal and moral considerations bind the two together. The employer expects a certain amount of work to be completed during the course of a workday, and the employee expects to be adequately paid or reimbursed for said work. This forms the basis for most employer-employee relations.

Managers and employers are a key component to managing ethical conduct within the workplace. Most experts consider that in the business world, ethics is all about behavior and attitude. It's a concept that's based on respect, and upon the Golden Rule, or a universal version thereof which states, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Managers are often faced with difficult decisions of whom to hire, fire, promote and demote. Ethical behavior in the workplace often is based on how people behave in such situations.

When ethical standards of conduct expectations are promoted in an effective and proactive manner, business will run more smoothly, and hopefully, both employees and employers will create a comfortable place of business where theft, dishonesty, bribery, and other unsavory aspects of human behavior will be reduced or eradicated. The workplace is the responsibility of a manager, and it doesn't matter whether the organization is large or small. However, it should be noted that low-level managers hold an extreme amount of influence over subordinates and should take advantage of the situation by providing good examples and standards in such cases.

Basically, managers who are very clear as to what is expected and who demand integrity, loyalty, and honesty create a work environment that discourages unethical behavior. The benefits? Happy employees have been shown to be more productive than those who are dissatisfied with management in their places of business. Happy employees are less likely to be dishonest or deceitful.
In addition, happy employees are more than willing to spread the word about their place of business. Attracting positive community feedback is a great boost to many local companies and corporations who rely on community support in all fields of production, retail and manufacturing.

Integrity is officially defined as a quality or state of being that is complete or undivided. Ideally, ethical behavior in the business place also equates to ethical behavior in other aspects of society, including the home.

Employee Rights

Employee rights protect employees against harassment, discrimination, unfair termination and many other rights, including:

· Leaves of absence and vacations

· Rights regarding criminal records

· Defamation

· Employee negligence

· Union or other group activities

· Workers compensation

· Issues involving discipline

Whether protesting race or age discrimination, or against incidents in the workplace that result in emotional distress or injury, employees are protected by federal law from many unlawful employment practices that used to be commonplace.

Protesting unequal pay, pregnancy discrimination, disability, or wrongful job termination is a guaranteed right of most employees regardless of industry or job field.

The National Labor Relations Act enforces employees in private-sector jobs in their right to organize. Such employees are legally protected from Union or employer misconduct as well as having the right to form a union. Under the National Labor Relations Act, employees enjoy such rights as:

· Joining a union, whether the union is recognized by an employer or not

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· Forming, or attempting to form, a union among the employees

· Assisting a union in organizing fellow employees

· Engaging in protected concerted activities. This means activities that seek to improve or modify working conditions and wages

The National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from in any way restraining or coercing or dissuading an employee from joining in any of the above activities. Such regulations help to provide employees against unlawful and illegal behavior and practices.

While the National Labor Relations Act offers employees many rights, it does not include coverage for all workers. For example, someone who is employed as an independent contractor is not covered under the rights guaranteed by this act. Those employed by federal, state, or local governments are also not covered. However, the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Merit Systems Protection Board addresses all issues involving federal government employees. Transportation employees are covered and protected by various regulations and rights defined by the National Mediation Board.

Employees should realize that many federal laws and rights are divided between the Department of Labor and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For example, the U.S. Department of Labor is involved in employment issues such as:

  • Occupational safety and health
  • Family medical leave
  • Employee retirement income
  • Immigration reform and control
  • Employee benefits security
  • Labor management reporting and disclosure
  • Fair labor standards
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission handles issues involving:
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Disability
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, under direction of the United States Department of Labor, passed workers' rights legislation in 1970 that guarantees employees a safe workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, more commonly known as OSHA, requires employers to "provide a workplace that is free of serious recognized hazards and in compliance with OSHA standards."
As you can see, ethics and behavior in any place of business have a large impact on how businesses develop and promote employee rights and the expectations of both employers and employees. Business ethics, when followed, help increase productivity as well as reputation for large and small businesses. Now that we have discussed some of the ways in which business ethics affect domestic corporations and organizations, how does this apply to international business ethics?  
Business has literally exploded beyond American borders. Because of the demand of such globalization, CEOs, managers, and employees are finding themselves working in countries like Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America. The international environment may not only induce culture shock for many globetrotting Americans, but also ethical dilemmas due to different standards and cultural behaviors in any given country. Laws, regulations, policies, and international business partners present American business men and women with many challenges to overcome.

International Business Ethics

Why is it necessary to follow international business ethics practices? Mainly because employees dealing with different cultures, different ways of doing business, and different standards involving work ethics, employee rights, fair wages and benefits - if any - are different than those that employees expect and demand in the United States.

Every international business or organization may face issues involving human rights, poor workplace conditions, environmental issues and corruption in foreign workplaces. Businesses that branch out into the international market must be prepared to face such conflicts due to culture differences, customs, and standards practiced by those in other countries.

Multinational corporations must provide their managers and employees with training and policies to provide them with a sense of direction when meeting and addressing difficulties in a foreign country. Unfortunately, many American business men and women who find themselves in a foreign country are often left with little guidance in what may be considered unethical there.

Business ethics in the international environment may include individual decisions about how to conduct business in a foreign country, or how best to represent American interests and ethics in a country that shows little concern for employee rights. International business ethics standards also offer guidance to employees who deal with local managers and workers in global environments. Such guidelines help to reduce difficulties and issues that must be dealt with in a way that won't offend the host country, but that will protect American interests and expectations and stockholders without causing a breakdown in communications between the two.
Global Competition

Global competition has created a huge influx of business travelers to foreign destinations. One of the fastest-growing areas of international business competition in the 21st century is between the Western world and Asia, most specifically China. Not only must businessmen and women deal with the language barrier, but also huge differences in expectations, behaviors, and cultural business practices.

Globalization has demanded communications and interactions between countries for hundreds of years, but never so much as it has occurred in the past decade. Such interactions may consist of occasional business trips or stays that last several months or years. When it comes to business ethics, people need to realize that another might not share one's idea of proper conduct.

Many people believe that doing business in New York or Los Angeles can't be that much different from doing business in Shanghai or New Delhi. Unfortunately, this isn't true. In order to achieve optimal standards and goals within the Western concept of business management, certain beliefs and standards are understood, which ultimately lead to:

· Improved international relationships

· Smoother adjustments to new cultures

· Increased performance

· Increased confidence

· Increased understanding of the host culture

Studies have shown that business managers and employees who are acclimated to the language, culture, and business practices of a foreign destination, not only get along better with their peers in there, but also help to promote interaction, cooperation, and increased work productivity among employees.

While many people may not consider proper business ethics as having anything to do with manners, they do -- especially in global business scenarios. For example, one of the major ways any business can improve international business cooperation is through foreign language training for managers and employees who venture to a foreign country. In many countries, a foreigner who at least attempts to learn the native language is offered more respect, as it shows a commitment and interest in communicating and understanding.

Relying on interpreters and translators is fine for brief trips, but interviews with both American and international business men and women have shown that those who make the extra effort to learn some basic language phrases often find that they have received more contracts, more interaction, and more cooperation from managers in their host countries.

In addition, being familiar with the language also helps to prevent behavior or gaffes that may damage negotiations and cooperation. In order to be successful on an international level, Western business men and women should never take language for granted, as it provides the necessary bridge between one culture and another.

For example, Western visitors to China often are startled by the vast differences in the way Chinese and Americans conduct negotiations. Remember that in business, ethics is not only about values and morals, but also about engaging cooperation, communication, and standards that improve human rights and working conditions. An American businessman wishing to open a branch office in Beijing needs to know what is considered proper or improper during many stages of development in such a relationship, including manners, expectations, and beliefs.

Many Westerners are startled to find that nepotism is widely practiced throughout Southeast Asia. This is because the Asian culture in general is considered a collective one. This means that the group, as a whole, is more important than the individual. American culture is just the opposite. In America, individual achievements and advancements are respected and recognized as the epitome of success. Therefore, it is not uncommon in Chinese business environments to find fathers, sons, daughters, cousins and other extended family members working in one business. In the United States, such practices are frowned upon, because it is believed that favoritism will lead to discord in the workplace.

Does this mean that the Chinese culture doesn't believe in business ethics in the workplace? No, it just means that they do business a different way. While in American societies, this approach to hiring is considered biased and discriminatory, it is one of the highest standards of qualification for an employee in Asia. In Chinese society, being qualified by a family member is taken in the highest regard, and is considered one of the main criteria for employment when applying for a job.

Consider gift-giving behavior in Japan. It is common in the Japanese culture to build business relationships by giving gifts. In Western cultures, such gift-giving is often considered to be bribery meant to sway business decisions.

A business man or woman who finds him or herself in such an environment may face quite a bit of stress and uncertainty when dealing with such situations. Should you, the new manager of a company in Japan refuse gifts because your Western standards, as well as your stockholders, consider such behavior a payoff? Or do you graciously accept the gift and just hope that your Western counterparts understand? It can be a dilemma for many.
Corporate Integrity

International business relations are challenging beyond the concept of personality and behavior. While many business men and women around the world adapt the style of their negotiations to the practices of their host country, studies have shown that Americans lag way behind in that department. In many cases, American views on ethics in business stand in the way of positive relationships because they are considered arrogant by many other nations. American negotiators were found to make fewer adjustments to a host country's cultural behavior and standards than negotiators from other countries.

Learning about another culture is not enough to guarantee success when developing an international business relationship. Many foreign companies think they know how you will react based on their understanding of the American culture. Maintaining corporate integrity, loyalty, and honesty may be challenging in training individuals how to negotiate in various cultures. Teaching them how to handle the concept of gift-giving, either through money or material objects in order to facilitate smooth discussions is an integral part of such training.

Recognizing ethical issues and learning how to negotiate across borders, as well as dealing with difficulties that involve payoffs or bribes is also an essential part of the training that all international business men and women should learn.

Corporate ethics are generally defined as those behaviors and mannerisms that are acceptable in any given society. However, what may be considered acceptable in China may not be considered acceptable in the United States. Behavior that is condoned in Hungary may be frowned upon in Australia. Understanding these behaviors is an essential part of contract negotiations and expectations between international business partners.

Training in business ethics policies and practices is a vital part of a successful international relationship. Ethical issues such as child labor, worker safety, work hours and pay, may cause problems, as do issues of disposing of waste products and other environmental concerns.

Foreign trade ventures and agreements may be affected by cultural differences. For example, American business men and women are more than familiar with the work environment and ethics expected by American employees. In many cases, they expect and encourage communication with employees on a regular basis. In Asia, however, it is very rare for an employee to complain about anything a boss asks them to do.

Negotiating in Brazil can be daunting and quite different from negotiations that may be engaged in Eastern Europe. Various tactics employed by businessmen from other countries may be even considered threatening or deceitful. Something as simple as looking someone in the eye may cause a negotiation to fall apart. Understanding cultural manners and expectations, as well is understanding how a foreign country typically conducts business is an essential aspect of advancing business ethics in the global community.
Ethical Standards In Different Countries

You've all heard the saying, "When in Rome do as the Romans do." In essence, the Golden Rule is also understood by many different cultures around the world, though it is known in different forms. For example, most cultures value the concept of honesty. However, that doesn't mean that an American's definition of honesty is the same as an Arab's definition of honesty.

In this way, values that are honored and respected in one country may not be considered very important in another. Americans place more importance on business ethics than other countries. These include and are based on:

· Laws and regulations

· Consumer rights and expectations

· Business values and work ethic

· Morality, and protection for dissenters.

Therefore, it is necessary for businessmen traveling abroad to help initiate and encourage policies and guidelines to ensure ethical conduct for corporate behavior when negotiating. For example, such ethical expectations may include respect for human rights and dignity.

American businessmen in charge of international branches in companies can show by example by treating employees correctly, offering them a safe work environment and protecting their rights, just as they are expected to in the United States. Banning child labor, limiting work hours, and following environmental protection guidelines is the best place to start when showing and leading by example.

Small business communications are on the rise in the global marketplace, though large corporations still lead in international business negotiations and development. However, size doesn't matter. It is important for managers of both large and small businesses to encourage communication and development of basic international standards in order to create a fair platform for the continuation and negotiation of international business markets.

Remember, while concepts may be similar, definitions of various concepts of what may be considered proper business behavior is different from one country to the next. Honesty and transparency are the best way to close the gap of misunderstandings, and to encourage universal standards of safety and fairness in all work environments.