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How to Improve Professional Ethics

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Trust is an essential element in business and personal interactions. According to research by academics G.L. Davis (2004) and J. Weber (2006), ethics and ethical behavior have become high priorities for modern businesses. Businesses, especially large enterprises, want to be perceived as net contributors to society rather than as exploitative. It is therefore essential that all employees represent the business with the highest possible ethical standards. Codes of ethics have been developed by businesses and professional societies to help members of various professions make ethical decisions.

Develop Improved Codes of Ethics

Developing comprehensive, well-thought out codes of ethics is an effective means of improving professional ethics, according to John C. Lere and Bruce R. Gaumnitz of St. Cloud State University. Codes of ethics that are industry and position specific, that use real-world examples and that avoid truisms like "be honest" result in greater adherence to the standards by employees. A code of ethics should also be clearly stated and easy to understand and have an appropriate level of detail. That said, an excessively long code of ethics should also be avoided.

Emphasizing Ethics

The best way to improve professional ethics is to make ethical behavior a core part of the organizational culture. Emphasizing ethics at all levels, from the hiring process to daily activities of employees, is the only way to truly inculcate ethical behavior as an integral part of organizational culture. Ethics can also be emphasized by requiring structured, collaborative decision-making on key issues.

Ethics Training

Professional ethics can also be improved by employee and contractor training focused on making ethical decisions in practice. Ethics training sessions should be as specific and focused as possible and should be developed working closely with a human resources professional, ethics consultant or industrial psychologist. A series of ethics training sessions over several months is likely to lead to the best results.

More Severe Consequences

Making the consequences for ethical violations, especially serious violations, more than just a slap on the wrist is another method to encourage consistent ethical behavior. The most effective codes of ethics not only include stiff consequences, including exclusion from a professional society or dismissal from a job, but also a high probability that ethical violators will be caught. This can be accomplished by implementing robust complaint-based and audit-based enforcement systems.


Clayton Browne has been writing professionally since 1994. He has written and edited everything from science fiction to semiconductor patents to dissertations in linguistics, having worked for Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Steck-Vaughn and The Psychological Corp. Browne has a Master of Science in linguistic anthropology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

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