Your Ethics = Your Brand

Years ago when my former manager wanted to announce my promotion it appeared my drug test wasn’t going to make it back in time. Because I’d proved myself an employee of integrity and honesty another manager told him, “There’s no way you have to worry about Nichole.” What do others say about your honesty? Your integrity? The choices you make?

Image by David Castillo Dominici

Image by David Castillo Dominici

I never want to look back on my so-called accomplishments and have to wonder which ones I genuinely earned and which ones I achieved by cheating. No, I’m not perfect. No one is, but mistakes and lifestyles are two totally different things. Poor decisions will catch up with you. Sure, maybe you’ll get the job, but eventually that company is going to find you out. Once you have a bad reputation it is difficult to change others’ minds about you. Hollywood and the general population can be forgiving, but real life is different.

A lack of ethics can be detrimental to your career or even prevent you from launching one. Paula Deen had at least 12 companies sever ties with her because of allegations of racial discrimination last year and still hasn’t fully recovered. After a domestic violence charge Chad Johnson’s NFL football career ended. Swiftly. Although she has bounced back in a major way, Martha Stewart had to serve jail time for insider trading. Some other unethical behavior in your workplace might include:

  • Getting paid under the table–I am amazed how few people realize this is illegal

    Image by jesadaphorn

    Image by jesadaphorn

  • Stealing–Money, supplies, products
  • Abuse of policies and guidelines—A simple example might be using a company discount for friends or family outside of the organization.
  • Harassment—This can be direct or indirect in the form of pictures or inappropriate language that isn’t even directed at a co-worker.
  • Cheating
  • Inappropriate computer use
  • Misuse of company time
  • Misrepresentation—employees making false claims in order to sell products
  • Retaliation-those in authority mistreating employees as a form of punishment

In addition to termination, consequences can include arrest, demand for restitution, revoke of privileges, jail-time or, perhaps, demotion. And you’re not the only one who will suffer. The company could also pay a price. This was the case last month when we had a clogged drain at home. My husband called a plumber who came out and took care of the issue. When signing the bill the guy handed my husband a bottle of Pipe Cleaner. He asked about the charge on the bill and the plumber replied, “Oh, that’s part of the package.”

Part of the package? Suspect. I like to believe the best about everyone but that sounded odd to me—even more so when I looked at the bill later and saw the Pipe Cleaner was listed on a separate line. Of course I called the company. Not that I wouldn’t have bought the product anyway but I wanted to be given the option, not the assumed sale. It made me wonder if he’d inflated the price of his service as well. In actuality, according the person I spoke with in the business office, he gave us a break on the cost of the service. That’s great if it’s true, but think of the damage he could have done. I’d questioned his character. And, for me, that’s not something I’m willing to sacrifice. Going forward maybe he’ll learn to be up front in the beginning because I am still reluctant to do business with him or the company again.

If you see yourself in any of the examples above, what will it take for you to change? Will it cost you your job? Your friends? How about your family? I know what you’re thinking. I’d never lie to my family. To which I’d ask, how do you know? Could you really tell your spouse about the questionable things you’ve done at work? Or would you opt for a lie—either an overt lie or a lie of omission where you just say nothing? Was Lance Armstrong able to confide in anyone? Of course not. He kept the deception going until the wheels fell off.

When you start to deceive others, dishonesty cannot be contained. It might start at work but it will grow and it will follow you home, spill into your personal life and cause all kinds of fallout. Yes, once again, grandma was right. Oh what a wicked web we weave when we first practice to deceive.

The point is simple. DO THE RIGHT THING! Never let scandal, deception or dishonesty be associated with your name. After all, you only have one reputation. Protect it with everything you’ve got.