The illusion of objectivity, the question of ethics, or give the right support

How can organizations provide the employees with the necessary support for ethical behaviour in companies?

Term Paper, 2004

13 Pages, Grade: 2, 85%


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Ethics
2.1 Ethics and Moral
2.2 Doing the right things
2.3 Fair behavior in business
2.4 Why it is so difficult to be an ethical person?
2.5 One way to solve the ethical dilemma in companies

3. Conclusion

4. Bibliography

5. Endnotes

1. Introduction

It is just a try to cover such an important subject like “Ethics” in few pages, but nevertheless it should be possible to give the reader an overview. The reader can find in the first part of the assignment an interpretation about the spirit of “ethics”. It is a topic, which is more than a current interest, since the media are full of scandalous news out of the economical and political live.

How does a person judge what is ethical? Sometimes it is clear, sometimes it is necessary to take a deeper look into value systems of persons, environments, and organizations. The questions are: “How can people survive with integrity in the business environment?”, and “How can organizations provide the employees with the necessary support for ethical behavior in companies?”.

In the introduction of the Starwood policies we can read: It is Starwood’s policy to conduct all operations in accordance with the highest business and ethical standards. Starwood intends to be a good corporate citizen, wherever it does business. Honesty, integrity and ethical climate are the responsibility of every associate. Consequently, every associate must accept the responsibility to ensure that dishonesty is neither condoned nor tolerated. All associates are responsible to ensure that their own actions are honest and that dishonesty or unethical conduct will be held in strict confidence and referred to the General Manager or Director of Human Resources at the hotel or the divisional Director of Human Resources for divisional office staff and Executive Committee members of hotels. Starwood hotels shall not be involved in the political affairs of any country, and no Starwood funds or assets shall be used for any partisan political purposes.[i]

The meanings, the borders, the difficulties and reasons for policies are explained in more detail in the second part of the assignment.

2. Ethics

2.1 Ethics and Moral

Corporate scandal pervades the news, whether it is Enron, Tyco or Martha Steward. When executives do bad things, who or what is to blame? The New York Times Magazine has since February 2004 a new section called “The Way We Live Now” to deal with all day-to-day living, work, family stuff that occupies most of our actual time. One of the new features was an advice column called “The Ethicist”. The idea was to support or help the reader in tricky moral problems of the social, professional and family lives. This shows that there seems to be a need for an “Ethical Guideline” or a code of ethics. But the question is: “Is it possible that such a code of ethics propose a foundation for morality or does it offer a comprehensive theory of social justice in life?”.

Ethics is the moral philosophy of the practice aspect of decision making, especially in professional life.

The word “unethical” refers to only some of the acts that are “immoral” or “wrong”, and ethics is not always the most important part of morality.

If we follow this concept, we typically need to know that the people with whom we do business will behave ethically even though we do not know their deeper views about morality. Sacrificing ethics to morality and justice entirely would mean that we would have to know someone’s entire set of moral commitments before deciding whether he was likely to cheat us. A common sense of ethics is part of what allows us to share a society with those, with whom we don’t share a complete moral vision.

The difficulty in ethical decision making, with all the gray areas between laws, moral, and values is shown in the following diagram. The gray areas emerge from influences like different cultures, countries, religion, and education. The impact from the differences in value systems by cultural, country, age, situation, expectations, character and education/religion (to name some of them) to our life, is extremely important in decision making. Because most of these attitudes are not fix, they change all the time in relation to the experience, the personal growing, and the environment in which we are. The difficulty in decision making can be that some decisions are illegal but not unethical and visa versa.

Ethics in the content of Moral, Values and Law:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Copyright by 2004 BMC Briefing Ltd. Zurich by Dr. Heinrich Bischoff

2.2 Doing the right things

According to many surveys, most managers think:

“I’m an ethical decision maker!”

But most of us are not the ethical persons, free of prejudice, how they think of themselves. We think that we are good decision makers, able to handle applications or business transaction in a fair, prejudice, objective, and balanced way which are good for us and for the company. But results of many researches out of more than 20 years come to the conclusion that most of us come to nothing in trying to fit the own exaggerated self-image.

We are blended of what Yale-Psychologist David Armor called the “Illusion of objectivity”. The way we imagine that we are free of all prejudices, which we find very easy in other persons behavior. We can be unrestricted sure that the color of one’s skin has no impact to our decision during an interview, without any conflict of interest.

The psychologist research shows that such behavior does not meet the daily business in a lot of situations. Due to this fact, we can take it that even the most benevolent person admits unconsciously that thoughts and feelings, seeming objective, decisions are influenced. If we know these facts and we realize that the recruitment process is one key for future success, we can imagine what a disadvantage for organizations can develop from such unconscious behavior. For the most people conflicts, discipline, loosing, and paying a high price for success, are very inconvenient, therefore they are endeavor to go the easy but not always right way.

2.3 Fair behavior in business

John C. Maxwell, who preaches principles and ethics to the people, has some ideas: “I believe the problem is that they had never made the decision to be an ethical person.” He says, successful people make decisions early in life, and manage those decisions the rest of their lives. “You cannot manage decisions you haven’t made.” Field pioneer Maxwell dismisses the term “business ethics”.

There are some questions to ask:

- How will I be treated in this situation?
- Is there an integrity guideline for each situation?
- How do we know what is right? How we can find a guide for our live?
- Why do we trust people?

He says, “There is just ethics. You either have them, or you don’t”. He prescribes the “Golden Rule” -- treat others as you would have them treat you. This principle crosses religious and cultural borders and, Maxwell says, it is the closest thing to a universal guideline for ethics. But if fair and moral behavior in business as well in live is so easy, why do we have all this cases of crime and accounting scandals?

In the 1970s social responsibility advocates create a brand-new managerial discipline: “business” ethics. One idea was to bring experts in moral philosophy into the business schools. Training in moral philosophy would give business ethicists the analytical frameworks and conceptual tools necessary for making fine-grained ethical distinctions in difficult ethical situations. But many business ethicists found the precepts of corporate social responsibility profoundly dissatisfying. As a result, they have spent a lot of energy tearing down the social responsibility position in order to support their own.

It seems that business ethics have two basic problems with the honest answer to the question why should manager be ethical. First, they disagree that ethical behavior is always in a company’s best interest. Second, they object that even when “doing good” is in the company’s best interest, acts motivated by such can’t be ethical. But what is the meaning of business ethics? Is the right answer that business ethics mean acting within business for non-business reasons? Each of all criticism has its kernel of truth.

Clearly, ethics and company’s interests can conflict. It seems that the field of business ethics is largely irrelevant or a gray area for most managers. The setting (ethical framework) between ethics of systems, organizations/company’s and persons make it so difficult. It is not that they are hostile to the idea of ethics.

Recent surveys suggest that managers would welcome concrete assistance with primarily two kinds of ethical challenges: First, identifying ethical courses of action in difficult gray-area situations (the kind that Harvard Business School Lecturer Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. has described as “not issues of right versus wrong,” but “conflicts of right versus right”); and, second, navigating those situations where the right course is clear.

But competition and pressures lead even well intentioned managers astray. Far too many business ethicists have occupied a rarified moral high ground, removed from the real concerns and real-world problems of the huge majority of managers.

To understand the gap between business ethics and the concerns of most managers, it pays to recall how managers and management academics thought about business ethics before it became a formal discipline. There is not only the ethical behavior of the persons, there is also an ethical set up in organizations, and ethics in systems, which influences the gray area between right and wrong.

2.4 Why it is so difficult to be an ethical person?

The Ethics Officers Association commissioned a survey of 1,300 associates at all levels in American companies. And what they found is startling: About half admitted to engaging in unethical business practices. For the most part, breaches of trust or codes of morality were relatively minor, such as calling in sick when they want time off, or taking home supplies from the company cabinet. But 9 percent admitted lying or deceiving a customer, 6 percent have falsified numbers in reports or documents, and 5 percent have lied to superiors on serious matters or withheld critical information. And 4 percent admitted to having taken credit for someone else’s work or idea. Some of the breaches are extremely serious: 3 percent have engaged in a copyright or software infringement, and 2 percent have forged someone’s name on a document. One percent has reported false information when filing government forms, such as tax returns.

By contrast, a study of outstanding accountants at one of America’s largest firms discovered that one distinction was a competence called “courage”: They were willing to stand up to their clients and against pressures at their own accounting firms, to risk loosing an account, to insist people do what was right. And the best accountants had the courage to speak up against even massive resistance to be sure the rules were followed – a stance requiring immense integrity and self-confidence. (There was a good news/bad news edge to this finding: The good news was that their best accountants had this kind of courage; the bad news was that most of their accountants did not.)[ii]

We can be sure that this kind of answers will be the same in all countries in which you do this survey, it is not the American way to survive in the business jungle. It is also important to recognize, that ethics is not only a topic of top management, it is a topic for all people, because it starts in details and not in big decisions. And this is the reason, why it becomes very difficult to be an ethical person.

Some of the most difficult dilemmas of business life occur when individuals become aware of questionable behavior by others or are pressured to engage in it themselves. In a survey of 30 recent Harvard University MBA graduates, many of the young managers reported that they had received “explicit instructions from their middle-manager bosses or felt strong organizational pressures to do things that they believed were sleazy, unethical, or sometimes illegal”. [iii]


[i] Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. Hotel Policies, EN

[ii] Daniel Goleman, Working with Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., Page 92,EN

[iii] John R. Boatright, Ethics in Finance, Blackwell Publishing, Page 24, EN

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The illusion of objectivity, the question of ethics, or give the right support
How can organizations provide the employees with the necessary support for ethical behaviour in companies?
University of Applied Sciences Chur  (SSTH Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality, Chur)
2, 85%
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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438 KB
Quote paper
Executive MBA Manuela Mühlbauer (Author), 2004, The illusion of objectivity, the question of ethics, or give the right support, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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