Ethics are a complex series of values that guide human actions. Many individuals are lead by ethics both in their personal lives and in the world of work. The ethical constraints that guide these individuals in each arena are not, however, necessarily the same. Though there is commonly some overlap, personal and professional ethics often differ from each, leading individuals to behave differently depending upon the setting.

Preexisting Values

When an individual first enters the world of work, he begins to develop his professional ethics. When doing so, he is generally guided by two influences. The first influence is the perceived ethical or unethical behavior of coworkers to whom he may turn as models. The second is his preexisting ethics. These personal ethics, likely developed long before the individual entered the world of work, serve as a framework upon which he can build his professional ethics.

Ethical Dilemmas

Though personal and professional ethics differ, it can be a challenge for employees if their professional ethics lead them to violate a rule of personal ethics. For example, if personally an individual is categorically opposed to lying, but she comes to learn that she must tell some fibs in the world of business, she may struggle as this behavior is the opposite of what she would exhibit when guided by her personal ethics.

Group Ethics

Though some individuals develop workplace ethics that differ from those of their coworkers, many are guided, at least in part, by the ways in which these coworkers behave. Because of this, during the development of professional ethics, an individual’s personal ethics may also slightly change. If, for example, he comes to see that many of his coworkers hold a value that he had not yet held, he may adopt it, integrating it into his personal life if he sees merit in the value. For example, if many of his workers appear eager to donate to charity, he may also add philanthropy to his personal ethics set.

Ethics Evolving

Commonly, the ethical constraints an individual operates within during her early years on the job are not the ones she will operate within in years to come. Just as with personal ethics, professional ethics are constantly evolving to meet the changing demands of the rapidly moving world. Employees should avoid seeing this ethics evolution as a failure to abide by previous rules of behavior, but instead as a normal and healthy part of the ethics development process.