Corporate Ethics Oath: A Tool For Understanding and Developing Workplace Ethics

Your pledge doesn’t necessarily need to be a high profile public statement, it could be something as simple as having to pledge an oath out loud to your peers in the workplace as a group.

Posted by Lindsay Khan in Ethics, Ethics & Compliance on February 9th, 2010

I came across an article that was published in the New York Times back in May called “A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immortality”. I wanted to share the article and some thoughts about it with you, because it could lead to an interesting activity to make a more concrete commitment to ethics in the workplace.

Article Overview:

“When you have to make a public vow, it’s a way to commit to uphold principles.”
In brief, the article talks about the 2009 MBA graduates from the Harvard Business School and a new voluntary oath that has been introduced to students from any school.  It’s called the “MBA Oath” and those taking it are pledging to “serve the greater good as a business manager, promising that graduates will act responsibly, ethically and refrain from advancing their “own narrow ambitions” at the expense of others.”

One of the graduates in the article, Dalia Rahman, was quoted as saying “when you have to make a public vow, it’s a way to commit to uphold principles.” This made me think… what if companies and their employees made public oaths committing to serve the greater good? Many companies are joining or establishing groups designed to make these kinds of pledges, so why shouldn’t you? As Rahman said, when you say something and make it public, it becomes more concrete and you feel far more responsible to uphold that promise.

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How Does This Apply to Me?

Your pledge doesn’t necessarily need to be a high profile public statement, it could be something as simple as having to pledge an oath out loud to your peers in the workplace as a group. With more reports of employees holding their peers accountable in the workplace, this could be an opportunity for employees at all levels to work together to maintain the integrity of their company.  Recently, many companies have been dedicating their advertising time on television and other sources to report to the public about how they are remaining committed to safety, ethics, quality and a variety of other issues.

These efforts could be seen as their forms of “pledging” to the public, attempting to strengthen the positive image tied to their brand. Once again, going public with these commitments means that stronger efforts will need to be made in order to uphold these commitments, because the public and your employees are now aware of where you stand, and if the actions do not coincide with your statements, they will want answers.

Workplace Application and Benefits:

For those of you who are involved in compliance and human resource departments, adding an element such as an “ethics oath” into ethics training for your staff could be part of a great team building exercise. Oaths could be created so that there’s a unique one for each level of management in the company, or all staff could take the same oath. How you carry out the pledging process and what is included in your oath will be unique to your business and its goals, but the general concept can be applied to businesses across all industries.

Here are a few ways that an “ethics oath” could help bring your workplace together and have a more profound effect on the workplace quest for ethics:

  • Positive Brand Value - According to this article about brand value on Ethisphere, making your commitment to ethics public means that you are showing an investment in your brand value. When businesses are perceived as committed to ethics, safety or another area of consumer importance, many consumers will disregard the cost of your service or product based on the fact that they feel they are buying the best.
  • Increase in Commitment From Employees - When employees work for a company with a strong brand value, they are more likely to want to remain in as a part of your workplace and will usually end up promoting and endorsing the brand they work for because they truly believe in what their company offers.
  • Perception + Expectation= Reality - Mistakes are sometimes unavoidable and when a company addresses an error head on, the perception and expectations set for that particular company now become a reality. When all both external and internal stakeholders in your company actually follow through on their commitments, the public develops even more respect for your brand image.
  • EVERYONE is Accountable - Reinforcing the “tone from the top” concept- when lower level employees are with their bosses and managers standing in the same area and making the same commitment to ethics, employees at all levels are more likely to adopt and commit to making an ethical change because speaking the words of the pledge with everyone in their workplace has a much greater impact than a sign posted on the wall.

Here’s the MBA Oath:

We thought you might be able to use this as a starting point for your own Ethics Oath.

As a manager, my purpose is to serve the greater good by bringing people and resources together to create value that no single individual can build alone. Therefore I will seek a course that enhances the value my enterprise can create for society over the long term. I recognize my decisions can have far-reaching consequences that affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and in the future. As I reconcile the interests of different constituencies, I will face difficult choices.

Therefore, I promise:

  • I will act with utmost integrity and pursue my work in an ethical manner.
  • I will safeguard the interests of my shareholders, co-workers, customers, and the society in which we operate.
  • I will manage my enterprise in good faith, guarding against decisions and behavior that advance my own narrow ambitions but harm the enterprise and the societies it serves.
  • I will understand and uphold, both in letter and in spirit, the laws and contracts governing my own conduct and that of my enterprise.
  • I will take responsibility for my actions, and I will represent the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
  • I will develop both myself and other managers under my supervision so that the profession continues to grow and contribute to the well-being of society.
  • I will strive to create sustainable economic, social, and environmental prosperity worldwide.
  • I will be accountable to my peers and they will be accountable to me for living by this oath.

This oath I make freely, and upon my honor.


Marketing Coordinator

Lindsay Khan is the marketing manager for i-Sight Software. With an Honours Bachelor of Commerce degree in marketing from the University of Ottawa, she brings business acumen to the subjects she covers for the company blog and website. Lindsay compiles monthly newsletters, writes and promotes downloadable guides and press releases, promotes webinars and manages our online communities.

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