27 July 2011 7 Comments

5 P’s that Undermine Ethics

In his book, There’s No Such Thing As “Business” Ethics,┬áJohn C. Maxwell describes 5 things that can undermine the ethics of people in the workplace. He says that he has, “unfortunately seen many people compromise their standards.” And for what? These five factors.


Often, businessmen feel a lot of pressure. They feel like they have to make their company look good — sometimes they even feel like they have to make it look better than it really is. Many times, lapses in ethical behavior stem from the pressure that management feels when they realize they won’t be able to meet their lofty financial forecasts. In the fast-paced business culture of modern America it’s nearly impossible not to feel pressured. Just about everyone from the CEO to the employees feel some degree of stress, and when the stress becomes too much to deal with — the urge to cut corners, bend rules, shroud the truth, cook the books, and “save time and money” can be too enticing to pass up. So how are you going to face the pressures in your life? You can choose to keep commitments, do the hard thing, stand by your word, avoid shortcuts, and keep a “big picture” view…or you can buckle and fold under the stress, throw values to the wind, and do the easy thing.


The American maxim has long been, “If it feels Good, Do it.” In fact, most of the slogans for products we buy have something to do with satisfying our desire for pleasure. We need a new, fast car. We need those sporty shoes. We need a 25-foot yacht. We need a vacation in the Caribbean. We need this ultra-high-definition television with surround sound and the latest movie player and gaming software. We need a double bacon cheeseburger. (Seriously — does anyone need a double bacon cheeseburger?) The result? A “legacy” of debt, divorce, and drug abuse. The sad truth is that pleasure is only temporary — and most of the pleasures that these things promise us don’t live up to the claim. John Maxwell shares part of a poem by Robert Browning Hamilton.

“I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.”

It’s incredible the things we can talk ourselves into doing when we think we’ll enjoy it. The key comes with discipline. It’s important to realize, however, that discipline isn’t the alcoholic who can sit in a bar all night without taking a drink. If he was really disciplined, he wouldn’t even be there. Part of discipline is resisting what you’re susceptible to — but another part is realizing that the easiest way to prevent giving into temptation is to avoid it! If you know that certain situations will cause you to violate your code of ethics; don’t let yourself be put in that situation!


The desire for power can be all-consuming. Wars have been waged in the conquest for dominion over other people since the beginning of time. Everyone likes to feel important, and for some people being important means having more power. Someone always has to be the boss, but you don’t have to be unethical to claim the position as your own. Stepping on people on your way up the ladder isn’t such a great idea, you’ll meet them again on your way down.


A sense of self-worth because of who you are is invaluable. So is doing work that you can be proud of. After all, don’t we extol things like patriotism (National Pride), school spirit (School Pride), and company loyalty (Company Pride)? The problem comes when those views are taken to the extreme. Ethical behavior seems to be pushed aside when it comes to “saving face”. Many professionals have been faced with taking the hit or trying to cover up their actions. These people have fragile egos and so instead of letting their pride get hurt, they pass the buck, ignore the problems, lie, or take some other unethical action in an attempt to “protect” themselves. Don’t let your perception of yourself become so bloated that you’ll do anything to save your public image. Be accountable!


It’s important to find the balance between all parts of your life. There are some things in life that you simply cannot replace. Family, trust relations, and your health are some of them. Think about why you would be tempted to breach your ethics. Is it to make more money? To look smart? To be popular with your co-workers? In fifty years, will any of that matter? Will it last? Define your values, and then make it a priority to live them. Never let the unimportant take over the areas of your life that should be most important.

Some ethical decisions are admittedly easier than others. Few people have to remind themselves not to murder their friends. Few people have to fight the urge of breaking into every car they pass by. Few people have ever tried to rob a home, mug a person, or rape somebody — in fact, few people ever even think about those things. Other decisions, like fudging company profits or taking supplies from the stockroom, may not even seem like a big deal to people. The trick is to view all unethical behaviors as unethical behaviors. There’s not a gray area, and there is no such thing as “business” ethics. Only ethics.

Until Next Time,


7 Responses

  1. Mcclarin 19 October 2011 2:05 pm #

    Your presentation has provided me with a lot to consider, but that’s the way ethics discussions usually go. Thanks for the post. I don’t know that I agree completely, but I value your point of view.

  2. Pantoja 25 October 2011 3:25 pm #

    Virtually all of what you point out happens to be surprisingly appropriate and it makes me wonder why I hadn’t looked at this in this light before. Your piece truly did turn the light on for me as far as ethical lapses go. I wait anxiously to see what other readers say. Nicely done.

  3. Inez 7 November 2011 3:24 pm #

    Thank you for your help in this regard. Ethics is so important!

  4. Jovel98 14 November 2011 8:47 pm #

    I’ll admit that I’ve fallen into lapses of ethics due to pressure. Everyone’s just expecting you to do so well and you feel like you have to fudge things a little bit so you don’t let people down.

  5. aff 15 November 2011 5:17 pm #

    Thanks for the post. I’m going to have to go with Pride or Power being the number one reason ethics are forgotten. Greatly appreciated.

  6. Valery 17 November 2011 6:58 pm #

    Pressure is a killer!

  7. ukMarkert 22 November 2011 1:26 am #

    Pride. My vote for #1 reason for ethical lapses in big companies.