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In-Depth Jobs

volume-41, 11-17 January 2020

Ethics for Young Professionals

Rahul Sharan

The journey from being a student to a professional is a difficult one. It is not easy to get a job in India especially when there are so many educated, skilled and talented young people. Getting a government job is much more difficult since it usually involves a rigorous selection process consisting of a written test, group discussion and a personal interview.

Landing a job definitely provides a sense of financial security, social recognition and increase in self-esteem. It is quite normal to assume that the challenges would be reduced substantially once we get a job. However, a new set of challenges come to the fore, when we start working. A working life is different from a college life or other forms of social interaction. In our student life, we can choose our friends but in a job set up, we can't choose our Manager, colleagues or even our subordinates - we have to work with people and the conditions which the work environment provides.

A sense of power is associated with a job and it has been rightly said that with power comes responsibility - greater the power, greater is the responsibility. Young professionals need to understand the implications of their work and the related ramifications of the decisions that they take. 

One of the challenges that we need to take care of in a job/as a professional are the ones related to ethics. Ethics can be broadly defined as a system of morals or rules of behavior which defines what is good for the individuals and the society. It is derived from the Greek word ethos which can mean custom, habit or character. It is important to mention that in a few cases being unethical may be different from being on the right side of law. Ethics is not enforceable by law.

The government officials are expected to abide by a code of ethics and values. For example, below are a few important points related to expected standards of the civil services to provide for accountability of civil servants to ensure good governance and better delivery of services to citizen:

  • promote the principles of merit, fairness and impartiality in the discharge of duties;
  • maintain accountability and transparency;
  • maintain political neutrality;
  • maintain courtesy and good behaviour with the public;
  • declare any private interests relating to his public duties and take steps to resolve any conflicts in a way that protects the public interest;
  • act with fairness and impartiality and not discriminate against anyone particularly the poor and the under-privileged sections of society;

As a professional, we should strive to be a polite, courteous and a good colleague, boss & subordinate and maintain a strong personal ethics. Young professionals are most vulnerable with respect to ethical questions since they would be new to working, may still be developing the skills and understanding the tools required to perform a job well.

In one of the studies conducted on young professionals, it was found that young  professionals, often know the right thing to do, but don't take the right action since it helps them further their career by bending the rules or engaging in morally questionable behavior. Even if we don't know the right thing to do, if we spend some time pondering on the subject, we will know the right course of action.

Young professionals may face ethical dilemmas in their day to day working e.g. what to do if the Boss or the culture of the department creates a situation where whatever we do, we take an unethical course of action? In such situations, it may be convenient to consider it as a professional hazard/ sell out to further one's career but that is clearly not the right approach. In such a case, it is best to present your boss an alternative and ethical solution. If you can't come up with a good solution, seek a mentor you trust, confide in and discuss the situation and provide your thoughts on possible solution.

Young professionals should reflect on the decisions that they make and approaches they take by asking questions such as whether they are proud of the kind of worker they are, and would they want to live in a society in which every member of the profession carried out work in the ways it is currently executed. Responding to these questions regularly can keep professionals honest and may offer opportunities to correct a misguided decision or action.

When we face moral dilemmas, most of us justify our action by assuming that we didn't have a choice. Let's get this straight, we should not fool ourselves by saying that we didn't have a choice - we always have an option and it is up to us to exercise that option. 

Also, in a lot of unethical dealings, someone would say 'let's be practical'. Let's get over this phenomenon at the earliest. Mostly being practical may mean taking the convenient/ profitable route ignoring ethics.

Every code of ethics is largely based on the trinity of Selflessness, Justice and Empathy.

Justice demands that any decision should be fair to all the parties concerned/ stakeholders. There shouldn't be any discrimination - on the basis of religion, caste, gender, race, region, language, background or any such thing. Discrimination of any kind is wrong, and Justice should not be compromised under any circumstances. 

Empathy demands that we do unto others as we would expect they do unto you. We should put ourselves in other person's shoes and then we would understand the other person's point of view.

Selflessness is not ambiguous but perhaps the most difficult to follow. We can take an objective decision if we remove self-interest out of the equation. It is important to note that in any decision we take, our self-interest is not involved/ there is no conflict of interest. The motto of ethics, according to Swami Vivekananda, is 'Not Self; but Non-self'.

Selflessness is easy to decide but how do we sort out cases where there is a conflict between the need for justice and empathy e.g. consider a situation where if we decide based on justice, we would take one decision whereas if we consider empathy, we would take exactly opposite decision. Consider a situation where you have to decide annual increments and Sita has performed better than Ramesh, BUT Ramesh needs money much more so that he can take care of his family and ailing parents while Sita is single and wealthy. In such a situation, however much we feel empathy towards Ramesh, higher increment should be given to Sita since one has to be just as a Manager. 

In terms of work ethics, it helps to consider work as worship. Also, let's remember that if a work is worth doing it's worth doing well (otherwise don't do it). Good work ethics means that the stamp of quality should be evident on any work we do/ output we produce.  

As a young professional, it is important to be aware about the purpose of work (e.g. to ensure good law and order for police) and be proactive about the approach to take to perform the work. It may be helpful to identify the role models/ admirable workers in the field that you are working eg A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (for scientists), Kiran Bedi (for police) and Raghuram Rajan (finance/ banking) and emulate them.

As a government servant, we may have to take decisions which have far reaching consequences; it would be good to remember the Talisman given by Gandhiji. He said "I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away."

A traditional but very simple lesson of ethics is:

"For the good of a village, a man ought to give up his family;

For the good of a country, he ought to give up his village;

For the good of humanity, he may give up his country;

For the good of the world, everything."

As a professional, we should be ready to sacrifice ourself for the good of the department, sacrifice the department for the good of the organization and sacrifice the organization for the good of the country.

It is very important to take care of the customer (since they are the reason for our existence) and listen to our boss. However, this doesn't mean that 'The Customer is always Right' or 'The Boss is always right' - the only truth is that 'Ethical Actions are always Right'. If your professional commitment clashes with ethical values, just stick to ethical action/ behavior. Validate your thinking first and don't let the seniors influence/ intimidate you.   

Let me conclude by saying that when we come to a crossroad in life, we need to take the right path, which may be difficult to tread but the one which is made of principle - which leads to character. If one is upright, one would always do what is right - whether he/ she is acting as an individual, as a professional, part of a society, business or even the government.  

The writer Rahul Sharan is the author of the book 'Ethics Matters!! The Time is now!!' and works as a Consulting Solution Director in a top multinational IT company.

Views expressed are personal.

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