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The fall of business ethics a mark against society today

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

Leanne Hoagland-Smith. | Provided photo~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 5, 2013 1:04AM



Back in the dark ages of the 1800s to 1900s, ethics training was not very popular and was perceived as unnecessary. For the most part, people in business usually knew to do the right thing and understood the consequences of their actions if they were engaged in unethical behaviors.

At this time, your word was considered your bound. Within smaller communities, many of them rural, word quickly spread about unethical businesses to even government officials.

Today the landscape has dramatically changed. Read any local to national newspaper on a daily basis and discover this CEO, CFO, elected public official (both sides of the aisle from local to national) to even public school teachers being indicted, arrested, tried and convicted for unethical behaviors.

What has happened to our marketplace, our culture and our society?

Maybe it is time to review the word ethics before proceeding further.

Ethics traces its origins back to the Greek word “ethnos” meaning character. To understand ethics requires us to know that “character” is also a Greek word that means to “scratch.” Over time the word character evolved to mean a “person marked by notable or conspicuous traits.”

Unfortunately, many young people in the process of their education from high school to post graduate degrees appear to have embraced a convoluted definition and application of this word when we look at ethics relative to cheating. Most older business professionals will agree that cheating is unethical and is not a notable trait.

Nationally, it is estimated that 75 percent of all students cheat at the high school level. Then examining cheating at the collegiate level the rationalization for this unethical behavior is best summed up by this anonymous student:

“There’s so much pressure to get a good job, and to get a good job you have to get into a good school, and to get into a good school, you have to get good grades, and to get good grades you have to cheat.”

What is even more revealing that even though more businesses are looking to hire college graduates with sports experience because there is an understanding of basic leadership skills, the most likely students to cheat are athletes with varsity athletes more likely to cheat than non-varsity students, according to the Josephson Institute of Ethics in Los Angeles.

When we look at the small business marketplace, one of the largest buyers of goods and services is the government (local, county, state and national). As a major buyer, there exists a potential for the violation of business ethics because of weak or poor ethical decision-making.

Here in Northwest Indiana, for profit business, education and government leaders recognized the need for training in ethical decision-making. The result of this recognition was the establishment of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission. Through the efforts of these community leaders, including Calvin Bellamy, there is now formal ethics training in these three key areas:

• Municipal Employee Training

• Department Head Training

• Board and Membership Training

Additionally, each year this commission has an open breakfast for the general public with a keynote speaker who discusses an aspect of ethics. In 2013, the speaker was former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald from Chicago. Currently there are 10 members from Lake County and no members from Porter County or any other Northwest Indiana counties.

How do we solve the gap between what is good business ethics and the demonstrated behaviors of the workforce? Next week’s column will provide one answer to that question.

P.S. Shout Out: Krieg DeVault LLP in Merrillville and Martz & Lucas LLC in Valparaiso are law firms with expertise in a variety of legal areas.



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