Bringing Your Whole Self to Ethical Behavior

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New research from Maryam Kouchaki, an associate professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, shows that employees who compartmentalize their personal and business lives are more likely to engage in bad behavior.

This study validates the importance of not simply “towing the line” for professional purposes but also integrating ethics into our overall conduct. Through this lens, the PRSA Code of Ethics can serve as a valuable reference point for helping PR professionals to behave ethically inside, as well as outside, of their work environments.

“When people separate their work identities from who they are at home and among friends, the separation can lead them to feel inauthentic, which increases the risk of unethical behavior,” Kouchaki said.

Ethical behavior facilitates the ability for our employers, colleagues and clients to trust us, and trust is integral to the practice of our profession.

In fact, the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer underscores how trust is essential in every workplace. According to the study, “Employees who have trust in their employer are far more likely to engage in beneficial actions on their behalf — they will advocate for the organization (a 39-point trust advantage), are more engaged (33 points), and remain far more loyal (38 points) and committed (31 points) than their more skeptical counterparts.”

When we are trustworthy, we impact others to act with trust.

In his recent Inc. magazine article, author Robbie Abed writes: “Everyone’s asking why we can’t trust big companies to play ethically in the marketplace, but here’s a better question: Why aren’t we building companies where it’s easy to be ethical?”

Professional communicators are in a unique position to drive trust in organizations and support creating ethical cultures in the workplace.

Ethics is not a uniform that we discard after hours. We should hold ourselves accountable for ethical behavior at all times. Just as we would be unlikely to trust a police officer who robbed banks in his or her off hours, we must have a single identity that is trustworthy. Doing so ensures that we are primed to make the right decisions when confronted with conflicts in our work, and our lives.

Karen Swim, APR, is a strategic PR and marketing consultant at Words For Hire and the president of Solo PR PRO. She is a member of the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards.

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Karen Swim, APR

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