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 Joe Gerard in Ethics, Ethics & Compliance on February 9th, 2010

A New York Times A Promise to Be Ethical in an Era of Immortality proposed some interesting theories about ethics and making a commitment to ethics in the workplace.

“When you have to make a public vow, it’s a way to commit to uphold principles.”
The article talked about the 2009 MBA graduates from the Harvard Business School and a new voluntary oath that was introduced to students.  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.”

According to one of the graduates quoted in the article, Dalia Rahman, “When you have to make a public vow, it’s a way to commit to uphold principles.”

It’s an idea that companies and their employees could adopt to uphold ethics in business. In fact, some companies are joining or establishing groups designed to make these kinds of pledges. The theory is that when you say something publicly you feel more pressure to follow through on what you’ve said.

A strong code of conduct is a great starting point for encouraging ethical conduct in your organization. To create your own, download the free Code of Conduct template.

How Does This Apply to Me?

An ethics pledge doesn’t need to be a high-profile public statement. It can be as simple as employees making a promise to peers in the workplace as a group. With more reports of employees holding their peers accountable for behavior in the workplace, this could be an opportunity for employees at all levels to work together to maintain the integrity of the company.

Some companies have dedicated media advertising time to report to the public about how they are remaining committed to safety, ethics, quality and other issues. These efforts could be seen as “pledging” to the public, attempting to strengthen the positive image tied to their brand. Making these commitments publicly means that a company must uphold them. Employees and the public will demand answers if a company’s actions don’t measure up to commitments it makes in the media.

Workplace Application and Benefits

For those involved in compliance and human resource departments, adding an “ethics oath” into ethics training can be a team building exercise. A unique oath can apply to each level of management, 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 can benefit a company:

  • Positive Brand Value According to an Ethisphere article about brand value, 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 stick around. They will often promote and endorse 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 positive expectations are proven. When all external and internal stakeholders in a company follow through on their commitments, the public develops respect for the brand.
  • EVERYONE is Accountable – An ethics oath reinforces the “tone from the top”. When lower level employees make a commitment to ethics along with their bosses and managers, employees at all levels are more likely to adopt and commit to making an ethical change. A pledge taken with everyone in the workplace has a much greater impact than a sign posted on the wall.

Here’s the MBA Oath:

You can use the MBA oath as a starting point for your own ethics oath.

MBA OATH – SHORT VERSION
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.


Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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