Personal Values and Ethics in the Workplace

by | Oct 4, 2022

Personal Values and Ethics in the Workplace

When you make decisions, there is always a basis. Your personal experiences and opinions or those of the people you respect could all influence the way you do things. Above all, the choices you make and the behaviors you exhibit are all a product of your personal values. When you get a job, it can be confusing. Instead of relying on your own judgment, you have to follow orders and do things for other people that may feel unaligned with your personal priorities. We all know that it is important to be true to yourself, but does that justify being a difficult worker? Is there a line to draw? 

How do we form personal values?

As young children, we follow directions from our parents. When we go to the grocery store, our choices and behaviors are predetermined by the wants and needs of our family. As we get older, schools reward us for obeying rules, but throw us into social situations that require emotional intelligence and decision making. At the same time, these values start to develop in us. What do we believe in? Where do we make a stand?

These questions are difficult for 13 year olds to answer, and many people struggle for their whole lives to establish beliefs and values to stand by. For some, kindness is a core value. No matter what, it is always better to be nice. Some people value honesty. Even if it is rude, they believe that the right thing to do is speak the truth. These values define us.

What is appropriate in the workplace . . .

Especially for beginning employees, starting a new role comes with confusions. What type of individuality is expected of me? What will make a bad impression? With this confusion between our personal values and the responsibility to maintain a professional air, work can become challenging. When a company hires you, they expect you to follow company standards of behavior, which rarely stray far from the standard etiquette of day to day life. This sentiment is reflected in meetings, email, and most other forms of communication. In this case, the most appropriate thing to do is follow instructions. Things like not swearing in the office and avoiding taboo subjects in conversation with coworkers do not require us to stifle our spirits. Instead, they open the door for employees to make a good impression universally, and stand out as a valuable leader.

. . . and what is not

Beyond basic streamlining of behavior, some companies extend the ask. Where “business casual” dress does not offend, encouraging employees to practice a certain type of religion may cause tension. Employers could require you to speak a certain way, parroting ethics or values that may differ from what you agree with. In cases like these, it is best to have your own framework. Ask yourself what values matter the most to you. Will you prioritize taking a stand on one issue, but not another? If your boss or colleague brings up something sensitive, will you make a scene, or speak to them in private later? In the moment, when emotions are high, you may not make a choice that aligns with your real desires, so being prepared is always best. Learning how to address discomfort and conflict and resolve it peacefully is a key trait in a leader, so demonstrating that you can handle situations like that will serve you well in the workplace.

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