RSM South Africa

Ethics - a way of Life

Ethics is a topic that has become more and more discussed and focused on by business in general and also by professions at large.  Ethics committees, departments of ethics and other structures are put in place to make sure that good ethical norms are applied in the workplace and in the conduct of business.

This article addresses the simple view that ethics is a way of life rather than a set of rules and standards.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: "There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics."  This still rings true today.     

We’ve all heard these rules to live by: “Don’t hurt, don’t steal, don’t lie”, and the more famous “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  I believe in our personal lives most of us try to follow these rules. However ethics in the workplace seem to be put into a separate compartment, only to be followed when one can gain from it. In some businesses ethics is totally unheard of and often it is rather a case of overlooking what is right to improve the bottom line.

Ethics is important to everyone, in every activity and in aspect of your live – whether you are a partner, a manager, still busy with your training contract or just sitting at home. It is my view that there is no difference between ethics at your work and ethics in your personal life; the definition of ethics stays the same. Think about the bribe paid to the traffic officer or the rugby shirt bought on the street corner.

According to Wikipedia ethics is described as the following:  “Moral principles that govern a person's behaviour and the moral correctness of specified conduct.” 

In any profession but especially professions like auditing and accounting, the mistake can easily be made to think that ethics begins and ends with a code of ethics. This may not be always the case because codes of ethics do not give guidelines for all situations, and the code of ethics generally focuses on what sorts of behaviour one should avoid to escape misconduct.

One should rather promote good, positive ethics in the workplace and in your personal life and not just look at the rules set by the code of ethics.                       

The following ethical values are important:        

  • Be honest and upfront no matter what the outcome may be                                     
  • Stand up for what you believe is right                                    
  • Always take responsibility for your actions  
  • Care about the welfare of others
  • Own up to your mistakes and failures

To conclude, when making ethical choices it is not always going to feel good or be easy.  One must always be inspired to make the right ethical choices and not to compromise in any means.                                                          

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