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What Are Ethics and Social Responsibility?

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What are ethics and social responsibility?

What is ethical behaviour? What does it mean if a person is ethical? And importantly, what does it mean if a person is not ethical?

In management, ethical behaviour is not just desirable, it is essential if an organisation is to succeed in today's competitive environment. This chapter will look at ethics, discuss the influences on a person's ethical behaviour, and try to determine what types of behaviour could be considered ethical. Later on we will consider the concept of social responsibility: the way an organisation behaves in relation to the people who are affected by it.

Ethical behaviour is behaviour that is considered 'right' by society. John Schermerhorn, a management expert, describes ethical behaviour as more than just the behaviour required by law: it includes 'something else'. He uses the following equation:

Ethical behaviour = legal behaviour + 'something else'

The 'something else' refers to the extra distance you would go to help others, or to do what you believe to be right. However, it is important to remember that what I consider right and what you consider right may be two different things. The way you perceive what is right will depend on the environment in which you were raised. Each society, for example, has different expectations, values and norms which govern or influence the behaviour of the people within that society.

Norms are those rules which a group - a family, team or society - uses to guide its behaviour. Norms are developed over time, and include both formal and informal rules about what is appropriate in certain situations. If we are ethical, we have values and norms which are accepted as right by the society in which we live.

We all have an understanding of what is ethical or unethical. Think about the following situation:

You arrive home from work one day to find your neighbour's front door wide open, even though their car is not in the garage. You have always been curious about their home and furniture, and would like to see inside. What do you do?

Most people would decide that it was wrong, or 'unethical', to look inside a neighbour's house without their permission. On the other hand, you might consider that it would be ethical to close the front door to prevent others - such as burglars - from entering the house and stealing your neighbour's property.

Quiz: Are you ethical?

Generally speaking; most people are honest and law-abiding ... well, at least most of the time. Even though we obey the law and do what is right 99 per cent of the time, we occasionally slip up. Look at the following situations and tick those that apply.

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