Last Updated 28 May 2020

Can Business Ethics Be Taught?

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Business Ethics can be defined as the study and evaluation of decision making by businesses according to moral concepts and judgments. Ethical issues range from a company’s obligation to be honest with its customers to a company’s responsibility to preserve the environment and protect employee rights. Ethics includes the need to produce a reasonable profit for the company’s shareholders with honesty in business practices, safety in the workplace, and larger environmental and social issues.

Business ethics calls for an awareness of social responsibility and this includes addressing social problems such as poverty, crime, environmental protection, equal rights, public health, and improving education. Can business ethics be taught? This is a question where there is no absolute answer yes or no. But I believe the ethics and business ethical examples should be and have to be taught in business school.

First, it is important to help graduates understand other people's value systems and expectations of them, to be able to engage and discuss this side of things in a decision making process (especially if other people's expectations have become rules or laws, as with accounting and disclosure requirements, rules against conflicts of interest, etc). Second, it's important to help graduates realize the horrible consequences (especially for others) of some seemingly harmless selfish acts. We certainly shouldn't delude ourselves that a required course in grad school is going to make bad people into good people, or mean people into kind people.

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Nor should we be sanctimonious about it and feel that offering a course on ethics somehow makes us (the instructors or administrators) "good people. " But the first approach above will make it easier for the graduate to interact with others in the workplace, and to avoid oblivious violations of industry regulations. And the second approach above might actually change the way some people behave, at least a little, by instilling a greater awareness of how their decisions affect or harm others.

However, most people would agree with that ethics is very difficult to be taught especially when the financial reward to do unethical behavior is greater than doing the right thing. The strong ethical behavior will not prevent another melt down that was witnessed on Wall Street. Too many times, the issue is all about money. How much can I get in the short term, can I get out before the long term risk hits, and can I retire before with the money I made. This type of mentality forces high risk taking to get the greatest return in a short time.

For any company, this will eventually hit the bottom line. The company may even see bankruptcy. The Board of Directors has a major responsibility to the shareholders. That is to develop strategic plans to ensure growth, but to ensure longevity of the company to survive the long haul. Not quick profits and get out. The shareholders need to also control the Board of Directors to ensure that Board of Directors financial gains are measured appropriately and to ensure longevity of the company. But what happens only a small minority shareholders have enough stocks to make decisions.

The rest are just along for the ride. What is needed besides ethics, is being held accountable for the actions taken, and ensure that all actions are not in the gray area white and black are no longer seen. We have been read and seen too many unethical issues happened, such as Enron Corporation, Andersen, Bernard Madoff Fraud etc… Also so many unethical things in China, Sanlu infant milk powder issue which has killed so many babies, a big number of corruption issues about high position officials, which we can often read news from medias.

But if some shareholders or anyone can stand up and say something in the beginning before the things went too wrong, it probably would prevent some corruption or fraud, to some degree. People who don’t believe the ethics can be taught have their concerns. "It's unrealistic to expect people's behavior is going to change because they sit in classes," says Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach based in San Diego and an adjunct lecturer at Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business. "Is there any proof in any executive education ... hat anyone who went to any course ever changed any behavior as measured by anyone else over any period of time? Not that I know of. " Mr. Goldsmith and others concede that new emphases on ethics in business schools send a message to future managers that ethics are important, even in the corner office. But, they caution, expectations for a big impact from these programs are pie-in-the-sky thinking. "No one is going to come out of those courses as a different person," Mr. Bruhn says. "The thing those courses are going to do is create awareness.

They're not going to change behavior because ethics is learned by modeling, not by reading a bunch of books over a weekend. " There is another main problem is the patterns of moral behavior are formed long before students are able to study in the business schools. An analysis shows that the key period for shaping a person's moral character falls between the ages of 2 and 10. When we reach business schools we normally are more then 22, it's kind of too late. The students are already all formed their own moral thinking, behavior and ethical habit.

Ethics should be learned since we start knowing and sensing this world, and be taught by our parents, seniors, teachers in kindergarten, in primary schools, by the environment we grow. It is about a whole education system for a country. Especially for the education of our young next generations, we have to put more emphasis into subject of moral virtues. Ethics should be a basic issues in any organizations and be taught in all levels of education. Over all, to some extent, yes, ethics can be taught in a classroom, if the schools, teachers, professor and the students adopt a practical approach, in preference to a philosophical one.

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