Maintaining Your Ethical Balance at Work

It’s easy to take the topic of ethics for granted and it’s also easy to constantly worry about it. On one hand, there are people who go about their lives simply doing what they think is right and not giving “ethics” a second thought until a crisis occurs. Then there are those on the other end of the spectrum who are always fighting ethical battles either defensively or offensively. These people are either in the midst of a crisis themselves, or are fighting proactively against the moral decline around them. If you surveyed most people about the importance of ethics, you would get a wide range of responses from apathy to urgency.
We are spread all over the map regarding the level of importance that we should place on the topic of ethics. In order to raise ethical standards, we need to bring back a sense of equilibrium to where we live by solid, moral standards without being consumed by them. This is called balance. We try constantly to achieve balance in our professional and personal lives. We want to balance our time, eat a balanced diet, and stay emotionally balanced. But are we ethically balanced? Ethically, we need a sense of stability whereby we do not take it for granted yet we are able to make firm moral decisions without panic, guilt, or indecision.
It is critical that we do NOT confuse balance with mediocrity. We are not talking about balancing the good versus evil. Being ethical 51% of the time is the same as not being ethical at all. Being ethically balanced refers to your state of mind rather than your ethical scorecard.
There are all kinds of approaches to your ethical decisions that can throw you out of balance. If you live your life oblivious to any deeply held moral and ethical beliefs, then you are out of balance. Sure, you may exist peacefully and honestly for some time, but when the inevitable crisis occurs, your natural response will be for self-preservation or doing what “feels” right at the time of the decision. That’s not balance.
If you live life by maintaining only minimal ethical standards or none at all, you are out of balance. In the workplace, these people barely hold their jobs until they get caught. Or in society, they find themselves frequently on the other side of the law or battling authority. Without a change of heart, this type of person is doomed to a life of trouble and instability. When faced with an ethical dilemma, his or her response is, “Who cares?”
Even if you live by the letter of the law with perfection as your only standard, you are likely out of ethical balance. Although it may sound odd that doing good is not ethically balanced, being consumed with moral perfection leads you to become legalistic and inflexible. High standards are good. Obedience and discipline are good. But perfection and legalism are not. These kinds of people tend to become isolated and deeply discouraged by the inevitable moral failure that comes with life.
So, what does good ethical balance look like? To some extent, everyone has a little bit of all these extremes lurking somewhere. But an ethically balanced person has values, perspective, responsibility, and character.
Values: Values are the fundamental principles or rules when lived by make you “ethical” or not. You must have deeply-held core values that show themselves visibly in the everyday moral decisions you make.
Perspective: Perspective prevents you from leaning to one extreme or another. Having an ethical perspective requires the ability to be flexible in interpreting and analyzing things within a morally principled framework. That is, you are not judgmental of others yet you have a solid moral foundation. Somehow you are able to see the big picture and live in peace with it.
Responsibility: Ethically balanced people accept responsibility for their ethical shortcomings and make a genuine effort to change for the better. It is more than blame. It is an effort to do what it takes to change and move forward.
Character: There must be a genuine self-awareness of who you are at your very core. What do you believe is right or wrong? This is the real you behind the façades and outward appearances. Your character should not change with the circumstance but be a constant moral anchor.
In sports terminology becoming perfectly balanced in the game is called being “in the zone.” When encountering ethical crises that push you to the limit, you want to be “in the zone” too. There, you are ethically balanced and see situations with clarity and certainty despite the obstacles in front of you.