Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

The Benefits Of Working For an Ethical Company

Chapter 6: The Invisible Hand Of the Company part 10

Throughout much of the chapter, I have argued that it is extremely difficult to change company culture.  It’s so hard in fact, that I don’t think it’s worth trying if you aren’t the CEO, and even then it may not be possible.

But the good news is that there is a wide range of company cultures.  One of the greatest myths about the workplace is that “everyplace is like this.”  That isn’t true.  It is true that no place is perfect, but there is a dramatic difference in the ethical climate between companies.

The business ethics literature describes an ethical culture as a company with a focus on the “wellbeing of multiple stakeholders such as employees, customers and community,” whereas a culture that encourages unethical decisions has an “everyone for herself” mentality.[i]

And how can you tell which type of company you work for.  To state what is probably obvious, one place not to look is the written code of conduct.  According to a large statistical meta-analysis of the business ethics literature, the presence of a code of conduct is not correlated with actual behavior in the company.  What matters is that the code is enforced uniformly across the organization.[ii]

So how are people treated in your company?

Are bullies tolerated?  Are vendors treated fairly?  Are the leaders held to different standards?  Are certain people allowed to get away with swearing while others will get talked to by their manager?

The small things matter, because they are clues to what will happen when the big things come up.

For a happier, more balanced life, the long term solution is to separate your identity from the company.  More on that in the next chapter.  But in the short run, the best answer may be to change companies.  In my opinion, all things being equal, it is better to work for a company that treats people well because you will be treated well.

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[i] Bad Apples, Bad Cases, and Bad Barrels: Meta-Analytic Evidence About Sources of Unethical Decisions at Work.  Kish-Gephart JJ, Harrison DA, Treviño LK. . J Appl Psychol. 2010 Jan;95(1):21

[ii] Ibid