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Ethics in Difficult Times When Survival May be at Stake
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By Barry Lehman, LADC, D. Min.; Chair, MARRCH Ethics Committee

In times of financial and cultural stress, pressures to cut corners and make other adjustments in business and personal practices can increase significantly. The result may end up also cutting ethical corners or making less ethically sound decisions. What is the role of ethics in business and personal decisions so as to maintain integrity in uncertain times?

This interplay between business and personal ethics is often difficult to unwind. Pressures can be subtle and lead to uncertainty on the part of staff. Leaders and supervisors may be unaware of how their concerns might be interpreted by the workers.

First, a quick definition of business ethics:

Business ethics (also corporate ethics) is a form of applied ethics or professional ethics that examines ethical principles and moral or ethical problems that arise in a business environment. It applies to all aspects of business conduct and is relevant to the conduct of individuals and entire organizations. (Wikipedia)

A brief description of the connection with individual ethics:

Ethics are the principles and values an individual uses to govern his activities and decisions. In an organization, a code of ethics is a set of principles that guide the organization in its programs, policies and decisions for the business. The ethical philosophy an organization uses to conduct business can affect the reputation, productivity and bottom line of the business. (Luanne Kelchner)

As such, business or corporate ethics cover a wide range of issues- sales and marketing, resource management, human resources, conflict of interest and dual business relationships. In the treatment and health care field sources of stress include:

  • Low census
  • Insurance coverage limitations
  • Staff shortage
  • State rules and regulations
  • Cash flow concerns
  • Sales and marketing strategies
  • Dealing with questionable ethical behaviors of staff

There are times when these can lead us to questionable or unethical actions. We might cut corners, make general statements that are too broad in describing our services, overlook behaviors of staff if they are being successful, make decisions on a client based on economics rather than need.

We would all agree that in these situations we must find ways as individuals and organizations to maintain our ethics. We do this not just because it is mandated, but because it is the right thing to do. In the long run, the right thing is also the best thing. Otherwise we may lose our ethical understandings. Slippery slope is an ethical description of what happens when we start to bend the ethics rules and guidelines. That is what we find ourselves on when we begin to take ethical shortcuts.

Some might argue, “Yes, but... If we maintain a 100% ethical stance at all times, we may not survive in a difficult environment. Then what will happen to our clients, patients, and staff? Sometimes we have to just look the other way.”

Actually, very few say that out loud. Yet many think it.

I have no answers here. All I am doing is setting out the questions. The Ethics Committee will be leading a workshop at the Spring Conference in April dealing with these questions. We will talk about things we are often afraid to say. We have to talk about ethics in honest dialogue. We will explore some of these issues of survival in difficult times while also describing ways for us as individuals and professionals to maintain and strengthen our ethical behaviors. What are ways that the agencies we work for can support and encourage ethical actions when the temptations are great.

The integrity of our field may be at risk if we don’t.

  • Honesty, openness, and willingness are the cornerstones of recovery for many;
  • Practicing these principles in all our affairs is the summation of the Twelve Steps;
  • Yes, it may seem like too big an order, but we must do it.

Note also that on Thursday at the Spring Conference Kristin Williams and Rashida Fisher will be presenting the supervision and ethics workshop that was well received at the Fall Conference. The smaller venue will offer a good opportunity for in-depth dialogue on both these ethical concerns. Hope to see you at the Spring Conference, April 27 and 28.

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