Is it hard to be ethical in a recession?

Mary K Pratt says companies find it harder to stick to ethical goals at a time are cost-cutting. See Ethics: Harder in a Recession?

Pratt misses the most important point. She worries about green initiatives and corporate responsibility programmes. I’m more concerned about day-to-day ethics.

When the recession hit New Zealand – a year or so before the story appeared – I noticed bosses quickly dropped ethical standards.

In particular I observed:

  • Lying – suddenly companies thought it was OK to tell lies. I sat in a management meeting where a senior manager scolded a colleague for not lying. This was despite the lie being so obviously untrue it would undermine his and the company’s credibility for a long time. Any gain from the lie – and I suspect there would have been none – would have been short-lived.
  • Cheating – I saw close up companies cheating others – acts of minor dishonesty such as charging for services not delivered.
  • BullyingI heard bosses threaten employees with lost jobs if they didn’t do x, y or z. The threats and bullying made for a seriously disrupted and demoralised workplace.

What do you think, are ethics too hard when times are tough?

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