The Importance of Ethics in Professional Development

Reviewed by Melina Theodorou

Illustration of a scale where one side contains money bags with the dollar sign and the contains the earth and two people

Careers are like marathons. It’s all about steadily progressing and learning along the way. Although we plan to grow and develop ourselves both professionally and personally throughout our careers, we must be guided by our basic principles. Professional development and ethics go hand-in-hand as we learn to navigate our careers by reading our moral compass.

We can define career ethics as a code of practice that determines behaviour by judging whether actions are right or wrong. By following a clear and consistent set of standards, we can reap the benefits they have on our career progression.

We develop ethical rules throughout our lives through our families, education, communities, religion, and jobs, and they can be vital to help us thrive and improve in our professional endeavours. 

To understand the importance of ethics in career development, we have compiled a list that considers how ethics can promote professional growth and success.

1. They build up your reputation

How you behave at work will be observed by colleagues, clients, associates and superiors. Inevitably, you’ll make an impression on others with your decisions and actions. This reputation will influence your career development.

If you are a professional at work, acting responsibly and ethically, this will resonate with your peers, who will be respectful of your decision-making skills, and this will invite new opportunities for professional development.

If you want to climb up the corporate ladder or simply be successful in your field, you’ll need to maintain a good public image. By acting on principles and doing what you believe to be right, you’ll attract attention as an honest, dedicated individual with integrity. 

Such a reputation will likely interest employers and stakeholders who will see you as someone they can rely on.

2. They provide emotional security

As an individual interested in growing professionally, it’s essential that you are confident of your abilities and expertise to ensure this level of emotional security. 

This self-assurance and the certainty that others will have in you will likely translate into new opportunities and growth. It’s possible that as a result, superiors will give you more responsibility or more demanding positions.

By having clear values and being consistent with your work, you’ll be able to identify colleagues with whom you share similar values, create stability and establish confidence not only in yourself but in others. 

You’re more likely to feel emotionally secure at work with the knowledge that you, your colleagues and the wider organisation agree on and follow strong ethical principles. Additionally, finding a job where the managers and leaders share your values will likely inspire them to help you succeed through training and new opportunities.

3. They promote teamwork

Another benefit of ethics is that they promote teamwork as an operational method in your place of employment. 

By demonstrating the importance of certain values at work, you’ll create a bond with others, which naturally aids collaboration and forges a community. This cooperation will allow you to improve your teamwork skills and develop positive relationships at work.

As you enhance these skills by relying on your ethical principles, others will want you on their team. This is another way of building trust and showing how you could be advantageous to other employers, companies or groups.

Taking responsibility for your actions in a team or as a leader will also improve team dynamics. Employees need to have a sense of security that each individual will be held accountable for their behaviour to ensure the team performs optimally. Acting accordingly will demonstrate to others that you are ready for more responsibility in your role.

4. They enhance your commitment and performance

Your personal and professional values are a guide for how you behave. Your ethics allow you to choose a professional position and an environment where you’ll thrive. 

When an employee’s values align with their company’s values, they feel more committed to the organisation and their work. As a result, this leads to increased job satisfaction and improved performance.

Indeed, using ethics to guide your career can lead to a positive domino effect on your success. 

By having a part in something that generally agrees with your principles, you’re more likely to have a sense of purpose that motivates you. This motivation will be reflected in your work, resulting in increased productivity. 

Moreover, your achievements and loyalty will then be recognised and thus, help your career to progress.

5. They attract talent

According to a 2023 study, 91% of American workers regard work ethic and integrity as critical to their job security. However, as little as 40% believe that businesses follow ethical practices. This alarming statistic could prove fatal for companies that lack moral standards. As shown by the study, employees appreciate organisations that take action based on ethical principles.

By prioritising integrity and fairness, companies can attract the right talent to fill open vacancies. This is a recipe for success as new hires will also feel like valued employees from the get-go.

Another fact that proves the importance of ethics is that companies with clear ethical values have less turnover. Employees who feel their standards are respected feel more satisfied and engaged in their jobs. This, again, is conducive to professional growth.

6. They establish a code of conduct

In some industries or organisations, professionals are expected to adhere to a certain code of ethics. Some official codes exist, such as the Code of Medical Ethics for physicians or the Model Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers. 

In other companies, it is common practice to create an in-house code of ethics or conduct that establishes the rules and principles for employees, shareholders, suppliers, etc.

As an ethical professional looking to advance your career, you should always be aware of any code that applies to you and strictly abide by those rules. These regulations ensure that no career mistakes turn into legislative issues by outlining the ethical and legal requirements. The aim is to eliminate any possible misinterpretations of the company’s values and objectives and reduce problems with clients and colleagues.

By complying with a code of ethics, you’ll prove that you are a person with integrity who takes their obligations seriously as a professional. When your employers and superiors recognise your moral behaviour, this could give you access to more opportunities.

7. They can make you a role model

By standing for your ethics and having clear principles, you may become a role model for others in your field. Your colleagues or subordinates may choose to model their actions based on yours after seeing and understanding your motives. 

Ultimately, you may turn into a leader thanks to your strong ideals.

Incorporating ethics into your career requires you to know yourself well, clearly define your limits and prepare yourself to be accountable for your actions. Leaders who are willing to stand up for what they believe in often set a precedence which then becomes the norm. 

Colleagues are likely to follow in the footsteps of someone who values fair and just treatment. If you’re someone that others look for guidance, this builds a positive reputation and opens new doors for career success.

8. They lead to business growth

Integrity, transparency and fairness are three highly sought-after qualities in employees and companies. Clients tend to become loyal customers when they feel they can trust and depend on the business or an individual worker. Being able to offer a high quality, reliable service to your audience because of ethical decision-making will translate into business success. 

In turn, this success will invite more investment and further increase the client base. This achievement is something that will inspire interest from other companies or employers, leading to offers of higher salaries and executive positions.

Certain professionals, such as lawyers and salespeople, can greatly benefit from this attitude as they need to have an ongoing client list at all times.

9. They widen your network

Another way ethics can progress your career is through the contacts you’ll acquire. Your moral values will strengthen your professional connections as they will reflect how you treat others and provide services. As a result, people will be more likely to recommend you to others and provide you with a good reference in your future.

These contacts will allow you to grow professionally and develop a successful career as they springboard you into new paths. However, networking can be quite challenging, and it’s advisable to devote sufficient time to maintain these relationships.

10. They lead to highly valued work

Your ethics could mean that others can trust you with important tasks. This validation could mean that your work is less likely to be scrutinised. Indeed, someone who shows consistency in providing good quality work will be met with respect and given due credit.

When your work is valued, you are more likely to be rewarded with career advancement opportunities. Likewise, if you stick to your standards, you’ll always be able to defend your work and provide good examples in future job interviews.

Companies with strong workplace cultures often prioritise certain values and look for those same values in prospective employees. 

Experience and the right qualifications are no longer enough in some industries. Top organisations are now looking deeper to ensure that their new hires are compatible with the work environment they wish to cultivate. 

One sure-fire way to interest employers and to grow professionally is to demonstrate your commitment to ethical principles. Meanwhile, unethical behaviour could jeopardise your entire career and even negatively affect other areas of your life. If you think your behaviour could be construed as unethical, watch out for warning signs at work, as some actions could be grounds for dismissal.

Can you think of any other reasons why ethics are important to your career growth? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!


This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 8 November 2016.