Strategy on Maintaining Ethical Behavior

With 22 years of management and program management experience while working for the Federal government it appears maintaining ethical behavior at work is not as easy as one may expect. Yes, it is simple to walk into an interview and disguise yourself as being ethical and morally just and impress others. However, when it is time to do the work can you, or better yet; will you conduct yourself ethically and do your job as required?

During my extensive years working for the US Federal Government many of my employees worked diligently toward the end goal of ensuring their duties were conducted properly and within regulations as dictated by operational manuals. This requires a high level of ethical behavior and dedication because the duties entrusted to these employees was conducting aircraft maintenance.

There is a difference between ethical work and unethical work habits. Sometimes there is just a slight difference and it depends on the interpreter if it is ethical or not. How one sees the action may not always be the same as to how another sees the same action. Is it ethical or unethical then? Now that is the question.

An example; is it ethical to perform maintenance on an aircraft when you are required to have the operations manual with you at all times but you don't because you have performed the same maintenance many times over. You have it engraved in your mind and could teach it to anyone without the manual. You are the resident expert and the one everyone goes to for advice and assistance. This is the one person a manager wants on their team because of his knowledge and technological skills. Let's look at what has really happened here.

As a manager, I see details that are not acceptable. The end game is acceptable because the performance required is complete and within regulations as to how it should be done except for one major incident. If the individual is such a sound worker and is showing others his ability and skills why did he take a short cut? Precisely, why is it he has failed to have the required manual with him as dictated by regulations? Ethical or unethical? He has given us all an example of unethical behavior. He is not above the rules and must follow them just as an apprentice with less than six months on the job.

Taking short cuts no matter how the end game becomes does not override the required tasks and requirements just because of the abilities of the individual. Most will say, "he got the job done". As true as that is, does this set him up for taking other short cuts later on? Let keep in mind; in the example provided, we are talking about aircraft maintenance. Do you want to fly in an aircraft that was worked on by a top professional that takes shortcuts?

There are many ways to counter unethical behavior such as stated by Darley, Messick, and Tyler (2001), "create "incentive systems" to reward workers for achieving actions that bring about organizationally desired outcomes" (pg. 4). Incentives and training on ethical behavior is vital more so for employees with many years of experience than those just starting out in the work force. As we all know, extra pay and benefits are very desirable and is a great resource to use to ensure even the most experienced employees follow the required rules and regulations.

It is plausible that ethical behavior can be lost over time. Not necessarily on purpose but because of the skill set the individual gets after many years of experience. Some see it as a good way to speed up the process but regulations and rules are in place for reasons. Wonder how many of you have flown in an aircraft by a top notch maintenance technician that took short cuts in order to get you to your destination on time.


Darley, J. M., Messick, D. M., & Tyler, T. R. (2001). Social influences on ethical behavior in organizations. Mahwah, N.J.: Psychology Press.

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