Most readers give business passing grades in ethics
But majority says unethical behavior more common today
In a time of increased scrutiny of business ethics fueled by the U.S. financial crisis, the majority of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll gave passing grades to U.S. businesses for honesty and ethical conduct.
Just 9 percent gave a failing grade of F, while 14 percent gave the top grade of A. One-third said U.S. businesses deserve a middle-of-the-road C.
Nearly 60 percent of readers said unethical behavior in business is more common than it was 20 years ago. Two-thirds of those polled said their companies have formal ethics programs.
Readers were somewhat divided when asked whether people have different sets of ethical standards for business and their personal lives. Fifty-three percent answered yes, while 47 percent said no.
Since 2003, the Rochester Area Business Ethics Foundation has honored local companies that exemplify high standards of ethical behavior in their daily business practices and in response to challenges or crises. The 2009 awards will be given out at a luncheon on Tuesday at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. (During the event, attendees will be able to weigh in on additional questions with electronic polling devices.)
More than 425 readers participated in this week’s poll, conducted Sept. 14 and 15.
In general, what grade would you give business for honesty and ethical conduct?
In your view, is unethical behavior in business less common or more common than it was 20 years ago?
More common: 59%
Less common: 18%
Do you think people have a different set of ethical standards in business than they do in their personal lives?
Does your company have a compliance and ethics program?
I work in the IT industry and find unethical business dealings to be the exception. When unethical conduct happens, it is usually at an individual level and never in writing. Usually the unethical person gets found out and disappears. The trustworthy people tend to last.
-Dennis Ditch, Delta Square
I don’t think most companies deliberately let their ethics and honesty standards slip. The culture today is one of severe contention-survival of the fittest, if you will. Therefore companies are trying to operate in a much leaner atmosphere, and that means they may tend to take shortcuts. Those shortcuts lead to deterioration of ethics.
-Phil Turturici, Absolute Consulting
Compared with business in most other countries, I think U.S. business and government have considerably higher ethical standards. At the same time, I think too many U.S. businesses continue to think they can buy influence in government and other businesses rather than procure business on the merits.
-Nathan J. Robfogel
Although my opinion may be controversial, I believe the answer to the question depends on one’s definition of ethical. If ethical business behavior is defined as the fair treatment of employees, full disclosure of financials, environmentally friendly practices, etc., then yes, I believe companies have to be more ethical these days. However, if you define ethical as not sending manufacturing jobs overseas, not hiring offshore companies to provide business services and not contributing to the declining standard of living in the USA, then no, I feel companies are far less ethical on average today.
-Gary Stafford, Chili
I find it interesting that you would need an "ethics program" to have a moral compass. Modern society is filled with greed, selfishness, a sense of entitlement and a coarseness in basic human interaction. Bank failures, Ponzi schemes, car company failures and basically our current recession can all be traced to personal ethics (or lack of) and greed. We have become extremely competitive and materialistic. I am not a religious zealot, but following the Ten Commandments and the U.S. Constitution would not be bad basic advice for us all.
Lumping all "business" and asking about ethics doesn’t make any more sense than asking whether all people are nice. Most people are nice; some aren’t. Many businesses, including my own, certainly make an effort to do what is right. Obviously some business leaders have different (I’d say worse) ethical standards than most of us. Painting with such a broad brush isn’t useful.
-Steve Hooper, president, Health Economics Group Inc.
09/18/09 (C) Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303.