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What Is the Difference Between Professional Values and Ethics?

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Values are subjective guidelines that people use to decide which things are good and which are bad. Something that lives up to a value is considered good while anything that fails to live up to that value is considered bad. Ethics, on the other hand, are guidelines for conduct. A group of professions will generally agree on a formal or informal set of ethical guidelines and take breaches of these guidelines very seriously.


Values and ethics come from different sources. A person's values come from his own experiences and reflections, whereas a person's ethics come from whatever group he belongs to. If John dislikes the fact that he had to wait 30 minutes at a restaurant for a meal, then the service at the restaurant did not live up to his value of speedy service. If John has to wait 30 minutes for a meal at a restaurant called "Andy's 15 minute service restaurant" and did not receive some compensation, then the restaurant staff or management violated the ethical principle of honesty.


Values and ethics are judged differently. A professional does not typically reprimand another professional for failing to adhere to a set of values. Ethics, on the other hand, are binding on everyone. Violations of an ethical code will not usually be tolerated in a professional working environment. A person who commits an ethical violation may be reprimanded or penalized.


Values are informal, whereas ethics may be formalized. A professional may write and even publish her values, but such a document would be of zero force outside of the professional's mind. An ethical code, on the other hand, may serve as a kind of "internal law" for a company, a document that prescribes rules, regulations and procedures that are binding on all employees.


Values are ideals, whereas ethics are practices. A professional's values are consistent when he is free from internal contradictions while a professional's ethics are consistent when he does not contradict his morals. For example, a person who claims to value honesty and deception at the same time has inconsistent values. On the other hand, employees of a business that has an ethical code prescribing complete honesty within the business but not with competing businesses are ethical as long as they are honest with colleagues.


Based in St. John's, Canada, Andrew Button has been writing since 2008, covering politics, business and finance. He has contributed to newspapers and online magazines, including "The Evening Telegram" and Button is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Memorial University in St. John's.

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