Business Ethics: What is a Successful Employee?

Business Policies and Practices

Not Truly Successful

From a moral perspective, it is certainly right for employees to do their job well, following the financial interests, policies and procedures of a business or corporation. After all, there is a “chain” of command or hierarchy of authority to be followed in working for any organization. Similarly, good employees comply with the supervisor’s directives. In doing so, an organization or business functions orderly, with the supervisor and employees respecting each other.

However, if a business or corporation were always right by virtue of creating its own policies and procedures, then, of course, it could never be wrong. If that were the case, then an employee would always be wrong, if he or she disagrees, on moral grounds, with the policies and procedures of an organization and its treatment of employees.

Thus, although employees, including supervisors or managers, should successfully accomplish their work, they are not successful; indeed, they are morally wrong, if they do any one or all of the following:

1. Harm the good reputation of other employees, making them lose their jobs.

2. Use authority to “lord it over” others, treating them rudely or harshly and, thereby, not recognizing and respecting them as persons.

3. Treat employees as merely instruments of an organization, as only a means to the end of advancing its financial profits.

4. Not recognize the basic human rights of all employees, such as the need to provide food, clothing, and shelter for themselves and their families and an income, a “living wage,” which is befitting of human dignity.

Not Remaining Silent

In such instances, it is right for an employee to call into question, if not outrightly disagree with, an institution’s policies and their enforcement by its managers. Of course, one must be willing to accept the consequences for disagreeing with or even protesting a business’ practices, which is usually termination from employment.

But is that the worst thing that can happen to an employee? Absolutely not! It is far worse to go along with or remain silent to policies and practices that are morally objectionable for the purpose of receiving a pay check, having fringe benefits and, thus, being financially secure and “successful.” In such instances, an employee is not really successful, regardless of how high his or her position is in a business. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.,

“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be, and one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause, and you refuse to do it, because you are afraid. You refuse to do it, because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house and so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90 but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90 and the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You died when you refused to stand up for justice.”

Not a Good Employee

Therefore, if a person harms others, say, their reputation or chance for advancement in a business, then he or she is not successful, regardless of how wealthy that person becomes. Similarly, if a manager or supervisor will not allow employees to advance economically, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to move forward in their careers, because he or she is jealous of them, then that manger is not successful, regardless of high his or her earnings are. Likewise, if an employee remains silent to an employer’s injustices and treatment of employees, then that employee is not successful, even if he or she becomes the company’s C.E.O.

When an employee, then, “turns a blind eye” to unethical business practices, at precisely that moment, he or she is betraying other employees and himself or herself, for such acts are not worthy of being a good person. Thus, it is actually possible for an employee to become “successful,” when, in fact, he or she is not. Ethically, the end, which is success, does not justify the means, which are unethical business practices.

Therefore, when an employee uses the right means to achieve a good end, even if the means involve calling into question unethical business practices with the hope of changing them, then he or she is truly successful, regardless of his or her earnings or being terminated from employment.