The Importance of Manager Ethics

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Employees, managers and executives should share a common goal: improve how the workplace operates. Improving operations doesn’t always mean by increasing sales or strategizing the organizations’ next business move. Sometimes, it can mean focusing on employee engagement and satisfaction, both of which depend on ethical topics and can lead to enhanced performance.

Many organizations understand the impact manager ethics has specifically. In FedEx’s code of business conduct and ethics, the company provides managers with an outline of what “special responsibilities” they have:

All FedEx managers must have a strong sense of integrity and are expected to behave in an exemplary and truthful manner. If you are in a management position, you have a special responsibility to conduct yourself in a manner that is consistent with the principles set forth in this Code. You serve as a role model for your employees, and your actions are both seen and emulated by those who report to you. The tone you set in your everyday actions is the single most important factor in fostering a culture where your employees act in compliance with the principles set forth in this Code.

Because leaders are some of the most visible examples and safeguards in building quality workplaces, manager ethics play a large role in topics like turnover, organizational performance and employee engagement.

Manager Ethics: An Overview


Retribution is a major issue in manager ethics. Without valuable insight from employees because they fear retaliation when reporting misconduct, it becomes difficult to monitor unethical behavior. In FedEx’s message to managers about their special responsibilities, the company added seven directives about adhering to the responsibilities – two out the seven concern protecting employees against retaliation.

Companies, however, are not doing an overall good job of protecting employees from retaliation. Twenty-one percent of workers who reported misconduct said they suffered from retribution, according to a 2013 survey from the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI); the rate was just 12 percent in 2007.

Despite the increase of retaliation after reported misconduct, the percentage of workers who observed misconduct on the job fell to an all-time low of 41 percent. Two years earlier, observed misconduct was at 45 percent, and six years prior it was at 55 percent. Perhaps the most striking figure in the survey was that 60 percent of workplace misconduct was at the hands of management – the people who are expected to act as role models or enforce discipline, as the ECI noted. The survey found that senior managers were more likely than lower-level managers to break rules.

How Ethics Build Organizational Integrity

A lot of managers think of ethics as a question of personal principles or a confidential matter between individuals and their consciences. In this line of thought, according to Harvard Business Review, wrongdoings can be explained as an isolated incident and the work of a rogue employee. As a result, the company could never bear responsibility for individual’s misdeeds.

Rarely do the character flaws of a lone actor fully explain corporate misconduct. More typically, unethical business practice involves the tacit, if not explicit, cooperation of others and reflects the values, attitudes, beliefs, language, and behavioral patterns that define an organization’s operating culture. Ethics, then, is as much an organizational as a personal issue. Managers who fail to provide proper leadership and to institute systems that facilitate ethical conduct share responsibility with those who conceive, execute, and knowingly benefit from corporate misdeeds.

Companies depend on the climate that is created by its leaders. Manager ethics are central to this end, because of how visible these leaders are and how often they interact with employees who form the backbone of an organization. Managers are responsible for displaying positive ethical choices, responding to good and bad ethical choices and supporting employees who, in good faith, report misconduct.

Some companies place too much focus on compliance-based ethics programs, which concentrate on the prevention, detection and punishment of legal violations. Yet organizational and manager ethics incorporates much more than merely avoiding illegal practice. An integrity-based approach to ethics management involves both a concern for the law with an emphasis on managerial responsibility to ethical behavior. When it’s integrated into day-to-day operations, the integrity-based model “can help prevent damaging ethical lapses while tapping into powerful human impulses for moral thought and action,” according to Harvard Business Review.

Enhance Your Ability to Guide Organizations

Boost your knowledge and marketability as a leader with Brescia University’s online Master of Science in Management. The program is designed to provide early- and mid-career professionals with enhance skills and abilities to prepare them for social and ethical responsibility. You’ll study with outstanding faculty members in a convenient online learning environment that allows you to maintain your personal and professional commitments.