8 Lapses in Workplace Ethics

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It’s no secret that violations of workplace ethics happen throughout the business world all the time. Instances of embezzling, bribery, sexual harassment, and conflicts of interest are exposed almost every day. While I doubt very much I need to go into detail about why those examples are unethical, other lapses in workplace ethics happen all the time but go unnoticed or are overlooked because they simply don’t make headlines. However, that doesn’t make the following actions any less wrong.

1. Mixing Business with Pleasure

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Whether you’ve recently started up an affair with a coworker or have spent an entire Monday morning planning a “classic” prank on your colleagues, you’re acting inappropriately. This isn’t high school, or even college. This is the real world, and your actions have real consequences. While it’s certainly acceptable, even suggested, that you get along well with your colleagues, you should make every effort to keep your relationships professional while you’re on the clock.

Pulling childish pranks might lighten the mood once in a while, but it also detracts from the overall productivity of the office; obviously, while you’re putting your plan into motion, you’re not focused on your responsibilities. You also distract everyone else around you—even if it is in an entertaining fashion.

Office romances are simply sitcom fodder. Unless you’re absolutely serious about marrying the person you’re taking an interest in, you should completely rethink making any advances. First of all, you’ll both be distracted throughout your entire workday. Secondly, if things go sour, neither of you will ever be able to function to your full capacity ever again. Lastly, any PDA from either of you can be misconstrued by colleagues as sexual harassment, and may land you in front of HR.

2. Misusing Company Time

Even if you keep to yourself, you can still misuse company time in a variety of ways. It’s becoming increasingly easier to shirk your work-related responsibilities while on the clock—especially now that pretty much everyone has a personal cellphone with Internet access. Whether it’s an incoming text message or an invite to some cheesy Facebook game, distractions can happen at almost any time throughout your day. You might not think much of taking a break from your work to reply to a friend’s text, but it takes much more effort to get back to the task at hand than it would if you were to just get it done without checking your phone.

Of course, then there are those who use company time to pay their bills, browse the Internet, read, or basically do anything at all other than what they’re being paid for. Again, you might not think much of it, but if you’re on the clock and not doing any work, you’re literally stealing from your company. Save it for your lunch break; it’ll give you something to look forward to.

3. Misleading Clients

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The old stereotype of the salesman trying to make a quick buck by swindling his clients may make for good fiction, but misrepresentation of yourself or your business can end up completely sinking a company. Lying about the safety of a product, referring to yourself as a title which you currently are not, or squeezing a client for more money than they owe are all dishonest actions which can lead to lawsuits that won’t go away easily.

Even if an incident doesn’t get to the point where lawyers get involved, misrepresentation can still be detrimental to a business. All it takes is one client to become distrustful for word to get around. A company’s reputation is everything when it comes to profits and keeping a solid customer base, and being unethical is a surefire way to put it all in jeopardy.

4. Taking Credit or Placing Blame

Nobody likes a showboat—especially if that person really has nothing to boast about. Taking credit for a job well done is fine when you complete a task on your own, but one person should never take credit when an entire team worked hard on a specific project. There’s nothing wrong with telling the boss exactly what you did to assist the group, but you should also let him know what role everyone else played while working on a task. You’ll get your fair share of credit, and you’ll also show that you’re a team player.

On the other hand, if things go sour, you absolutely should not deflect the blame onto your teammates. Even if you really weren’t at fault, you should at least share the blame with everyone else—surely there’s something you could have done to at least soften the blow. Don’t throw the rest of your group under the bus when things go wrong; your boss will see right through you, and see you as a person who never takes responsibility for his own shortcomings.

5. Accepting or Giving Gifts

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I’m not saying that small tokens of appreciation here and there are bad for business or your career, but when gifts become extravagant, or start being given too frequently, it could open up a major case for bribery—which will lead to a whole new set of problems. When debating whether or not to give a present to anyone from your work life, be prudent. Stick to holidays, birthdays, and major accomplishments—any occasion in which other people may be giving or receiving gifts as well. And make sure the gifts you give are in the same price range as the ones your colleagues are giving. The last thing you want to do is give a gift that makes you look like a schmoozer—especially if you coincidentally are up for a raise or promotion.

6. Stealing Office Supplies

A pencil here, a stapler there… what’s the harm, right? Be careful—taking office supplies could come back to haunt you. It’s one thing to accidentally leave a pen in your pocket and have it end up in your car with a bunch of other junk, but you’ll end up on your boss’ radar if it becomes habitual. While you might not think your employer would waste time investigating the case of the stolen reams of paper, think about the messages you’re sending by doing so. For one, it shows that you don’t respect office equipment and think that it’s okay to steal something just because it costs less than ten bucks. Secondly, it shows just how petty you are. I mean, is it really worth your career to take that Swingline stapler home?

7. Hoarding Office Supplies

Okay, so maybe you don’t steal supplies but keeping them all to yourself is just as bad. Imagine your boss comes to your desk to talk to you about something, asks to borrow a pen, and you give him one that has his name on it. How ridiculous are you going to look? The same goes for hiding printer paper in your desk “because the copier is always out”. This just shows you’re willing to put other people out to make your life just a little bit easier. What makes you so special that you shouldn’t have to deal with frustration? Nothing. You’re not. Find a better solution than keeping a bunch of supplies hidden like they’re some sort of office treasure.

8. Spreading Gossip

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Gossip can bring an entire office crumbling to the ground. Like I said before, high school’s over. And spreading gossip is just another way to create tension and lower the overall productivity of a place of business. Even if you’re not the source of a piece of gossip, you should never even catch yourself repeating it—even if you’re only commenting on how stupid it is. If someone walks by at the wrong time and only hears part of your statement, taken out of context, it could end up being their word against yours. The best thing to do when gossip starts slithering around the office is to completely steer clear of anyone who feels the need to discuss it.

Like I said, not every unethical action at work is going to end in lawyer fees and jail time—but that doesn’t make them acceptable. Regardless of how you act in your personal life, when you’re on the clock, you need to do your job and do it well.

Can you think of any other lapses of workplace ethics? Let us know in the comments section below!