We all live by some set of personally defined rules that guide, shape, and direct our thoughts, words, and actions. Sometimes we identify this as our “moral compass” or the “voice in your head.” In our personal lives, the choice between right and wrong may be more clearly cut than it is in our professional lives.
As the program manager for BN360, the young professional development and engagement program of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, young professionals have indicated that navigating ethics and morals in their professional lives is a topic they’d like to explore. How can you use your moral compass at work? When should you, as a professional, listen to the “voice in your head”?
At a recent BN360 event, we had the pleasure of working with Harris Beach PLLC to explore and answer these questions. We were joined by panelists Teresa Bair, the Senior Vice President of Administration & Legal Affairs at Athenex; Tristan Hujer, a partner at Harris Beach PLLC; and Michael Hardy, a Vice President at Mollot & Hardy.
They began a great conversation on three grey areas that young professionals may face at work.
Ethics vs. Morals
One grey area is the difference between “ethics” and “morals.” While each person likely has their own interpretation of these words, our panelists gave these broad guidelines:
- Ethics are external. They are the overarching set of rules that governs the actions of society at large. Ethics can and do vary across cultures.
- Morals are internal. Morals are that little voice in your head or feeling in your stomach that guides you between “right” and “wrong.”
Email is eternal. This also includes messenger applications that you might use in the workplace like Slack or Skype. Our panelists provided us with three important guidelines you can use at work:
- Mind the messenger. Even though messenger applications seem like a much more informal means of communication, consider them a more convenient form of email. If you would not send that meme, GIF, word, or opinion via email, don’t send it on a messenger app.
- Be aware of buttons. It’s easy (too easy) to simply hit “reply all” or “forward.” Be aware of the recipients and double check to make sure the email goes to those who should receive it.
- Consider how you’re communicating. Best rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t say it directly to your CEO, parent, friend, or co-worker, you should think long and hard about whether it belongs in an email.
We’re all guided by our own morals. But many professionals are also obligated to follow a strict set of ethical standards that are set by various professional groups that may certify them. These groups can include:
- Governing and regulatory bodies: Know and understand the regulations. Is your industry governed by a regulatory body or set of defined ethics? For example, people and companies operating in the United States in the food or drug industries must abide by the rules, regulations, and ethical principals set by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.
- Professional groups: Some professions also dictate a code of ethics for professionals to follow, like the Hypocritic Oath for Doctors or the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys.
- Cultural consideration: Ethical standards can and do vary between countries and cultures. If you are operating on an international capacity, be aware of potential differences and conflicts of ethics that could arise.
Using your morals and an ethics code to do what’s right both personally and professionally is a diverse topic with a wide landscape. As our panelists acknowledged, grey areas exist and it is important to educate yourself on how best to navigate them. Even with the right information and tools, we can all find ourselves feeling uncertain from time to time. When that happens, draw on your resources: your own moral compass, your gut, any regulatory bodies you might be part of, or a mentor.