Ethics commonly refers to the rules or principles that define right and wrong conduct. In the United States, many believe we are currently suffering from an ethics crisis (Ricklets, Robbins & Coulter, 1996). Behaviors that were once thought unacceptable -- lying, cheating, misrepresenting, covering up mistakes -- have become in many people's eyes acceptable or necessary practices. Managers profit from illegal use of insider stock information and members of Congress write hundreds of bad checks. Even college students seem to have become caught up in the wave where studies show significant increases in cheating on tests (Robbins et al.). Concern over this perceived decline in ethical standards is being addressed by organizations, and companies are relying on Human Resource (HR) to build an ethical culture. Human Resource departments are creating codes of ethics, introducing ethics training programs and hiring ethics officers. .
Why is ethics important to Human Resources? When employees in organizations make decisions to act unethically, they affect not only the company itself, but also its shareholders, employees and customers. Employees make a myriad of choices every day in businesses -- if unethical, they can damage a company's productivity, profits and reputation. Unethical decisions can come in many forms: the employee who conducts personal business on company time to the line worker who fails to report a product flaw just to meet a deadline, and even more serious, the manager who profits from illegal use of insider stock information. All these incidents lack ethics. .
In most companies today, the competitive advantage rests on the shoulders of it's employees. These employees must be trusted to do the right thing, especially when no one is looking. It is up to HR to train, educate and communicate with employees on rights and wrongs in the workplace. After all, ethics is one topic that begins and ends with people and you cannot separate standards of behavior from HR.