Ethics in the office is usually taken for granted. When we are busy with our job, focused on increased profitability, we usually forget simple things that are needed in ordinary business dealings, or common conversations with office mates. This is true for me. I have been a leader most of my time in business and I always miss little things like respect for the ordinary employee. Lately, I have to pause, give it some serious thought, and decide that in order to have a pleasant relationship with my co-workers, I have to be able to say ‘sorry’ when I commit slight and simple errors.
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You have to respect everyone in the organization because we are equal in this world of emotional humans. We also have to minimize negativity in the office in order to have a pleasant atmosphere while focusing on profits.
We have to ask our fellow employees and managers if they approve of some behavior by others and if they are not, then we have to correct it. Most businesses and organizations have their own code of ethical conduct of ordinary employees in line with the organization’s mission and objectives. But, these codes of conduct usually point to the particular morality and religious beliefs and culture of the people.
In the United States, the codes of conduct in the different offices and organizations coincide with Christian beliefs and attitudes. The Jewish people base their codes of conduct to the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses, and the Jewish customs and tradition. Generally, however, codes of conduct are based on what is right and what is wrong. There can never be a disagreement on the right and wrong concepts in a civilized world like ours now.
The codes and practices can make employees and managers live harmoniously and understand each other well. Our workplace becomes productive, and we can live with a valuable work and life balance.
Business ethics is our standard of morality in the workplace. We have to observe and be careful about it because it guides our professional conduct in the office. Nevertheless, since we emphasize money and profits in business, we sometimes ignore the morality of what we are doing.
My emphasis on ethics and social responsibility is to always reduce or minimize negative impact of my business to society. If we talk about environment, we have to minimize the impact of business to the environment. This is true with other disciplines, as in science, or the social sciences. For every living thing born, there is a negative impact to the environment. Our job as humans with a conscience is to reduce this negative impact.
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Employees should also respect each other regardless of race, creed, sex, and age. Nowadays, sexual harassment in the workplace seems an ordinary occurrence. There are times that this is undetected when victims are afraid to report, or there are no protective measures being done by managers and superiors in the office. Violence in the workplace is also another no-no where women are the usual victims.
Corporate social responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is not only an obligation. It is a part of being a ‘steward’ to the properties we have here on earth, and also the concept that humans are by nature religious. God has provided financial capital for your business therefore you must give back something in return. The Old Testament of the bible mentions of tithes to be given to the temple for the priests to receive and use in the service of the temple.
Corporate social responsibility has some religious connotations in it. It is not just something that business people enjoy about because they interact and socialize in parties as they give to charity and donations, but a biblical command because we are all responsible for one another. The more property you have, the more responsibility you should have to your fellow humans. It is giving back or sharing the vast resources that we have at our disposal.
In a capitalist society, property and money are not equally distributed, and businessmen are the ones with greater wealth. It is only through this concept of corporate social responsibility that properties and wealth are distributed, although this is only the tip of the iceberg when talking of equal distribution of wealth. The socialist world looks on equal distribution of wealth, without religious concepts attached, i.e. the social responsibility.
We tend to understand CSR as giving back but it should be something that God has placed in our system in order to fulfill some of the biblical teachings that the rich should give to the poor. I should conclude on the topic of CSR, that business people should be give more, and not just the extra money that they have, or that they give for the purpose of disposing some extra funds. There are those who believe that when you give, you receive something in return. This might be true, but the motivation becomes selfishness in this sense.
My knowledge and experience with corporate social responsibility was enhanced when I formed an investment company, the Millennium Homes Investment Company, which had offices in Jamaica, New York and East Orange in New Jersey. I founded this company way back in 1999, and it lasted until 2006. I became involved with a foundation which provided international aid, particularly houses and resettlement areas for the poor in Third World countries. It was sort of a ‘Habitat for Humanity’ foundation of former President Carter, but this one also involves in other issues such as financial aid for poor families.
We were all business people and owners of businesses in the United States and other countries in Europe and the UK. We worked with governments in those countries, but mostly we were in direct contact with civic organizations, the Rotary, and so forth. I liked the idea and the involvement, more so because my business was all about speculating properties with some field work, analyzing businesses and going to places in different countries, and meeting people of various cultures around the world.
In one of our CSR practices, I asked one of my employees to be directly involved with some ethnic minorities around the world. Through a civic organization, we pinpointed one area in a mountain province in the Philippines, where ethnic groups are present, doing their occupation, such as planting and harvesting rice in one of the wonders of the world, the Rice Terraces of Banaue, in Ifugao, the Philippines. This ethnic minority also make handicrafts with their bare hands.
I instructed my employee to work it out on how we could help. She found out that the group needed financial capital to start the business. The handicrafts are of high quality wood frames and furniture that they could export to other countries, especially the United States. We provided the needed capital and the group have formed a cooperative, something like a socialized business, and they are now doing good and making money. We also provided the expertise and additional technology and training to them.
An experience that I can relate is when I was involved in the real estate. It was one of my first jobs that allowed me to experience dealing with different kinds of customers. As a real estate agent, I was trained to convince people to buy this and that property. Business ethics was still out of my mind. I was a new job seeker who wanted to get my commission, and I was struggling to make both ends meet. To make a long story short, I found something that changed the course of my life. There was one instance that my manager asked me to deal with a piece of property. She said it would be worth our effort if we could sell it as soon as possible.
The property was rather huge and expensive, and if we could deal it with less amount of time and effort, all our money problems in the office would be solved right there and then. She asked for my services because she said I was a good sales person, I had exceeded my quota, and she believed that I could do it. Before embarking on looking for possible buyers, I examined the papers for the property. There was some problem, but I thought it could easily be settled out as my ‘boss’ would not let me work on some questionable property. Later, I found it one night as I was about to conclude one of my biggest deals, that the papers for the property really had a problem, and that somebody (my ‘boss’ perhaps) let it appear that there was nothing wrong.
I did not push through with the deal as I knew the would-be buyer would question it, and a possibility of having trouble with the law. I went to my boss and told her that what she did was wrong, against the law and against our moral standards of dealing with insecure papers. She tried to reason out, but I did not give her a chance. I submitted my resignation at a time when I needed money to pay my bills. But that experience allowed me to have peace of mind.
In my job-hunting experience, I was gratified to know that I still have a sense of ethics in my being. God rewarded me with a high-paying job, until I became a manager myself, and later owned a business.
I always enjoy flying. In the Air Force, a branch of service in the Army in my country, I wanted to train as a pilot, but I didn’t have the chance.
I was employed as a flight stewardess of El Al Airlines of Tel-Aviv, Israel. I experienced an incident that would also test my judgment of right and wrong. I have experienced various jobs and this one was not new to me as I was once a member of the Air Force, a branch of the Army in my country. My training was brief and I was immediately dispatched to one of the commercial planes of El Al Israel Airlines flying the routes of Tel-Aviv and New York.
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I had a co-employee, another stewardess who became a friend, or so I thought she was a friend, who was enjoying the world of flying. She really enjoyed her job more than I did, but there was something more to it. I found out that this would also test my job as a stewardess and as an employee whose allegiance should be to the company I served. She was senior to me in that company, so I had to follow her instructions and orders in line with our job.
There were instances however that her command was becoming out of line; I mean I thought she was not a good leader, because she was forcing me to do some jobs alone, while she was always inside the cockpit. Later, I found that she had this relationship with somebody. That relationship became forbidden because they were doing something unethical. I had to report the matter to the supervisor and both of them got a suspension.
Some employees forewarned me about reporting it but I realized I had to examine my conscience, and telling it to my supervisor was right and the most ethical thing to do because our service to the customers was affected and business was at stake. The worse that could happen was an accident. Though I was dubbed a traitor by my supposed friend and other employees of the airline, I believe I did the right thing.
Training people for best practice
One of my favorite jobs as CEO and as one involved in the art of dealing with people is to be able to impart my social responsibility and ethical standards in business. Let me enumerate some instances.
Training is an initial step in managing human resources. We train people regularly. New and old employees have to be trained and developed into good and efficient employees and leaders. Our training involves imparting to office personnel and employees the code of conduct of employees, some of which include preventing sexual harassment, racial discrimination, sexism, age discrimination, etc.
Training and development is very important in handling human resource. This is where we start. Training people is one of the key steps in the success of the business. Managers and employees should regularly involve themselves in such an activity in order to be good leaders and employees. In my experience as a former member of the Army, I see training as an important step in imparting discipline and respect to fellow human beings. In business, this is one way of teaching ethics to employees and managers. Training does not stop in the training center; it goes all the way up to the workplace or office.
When I set up a spa business, I introduced good training practices in the workplace. I practiced corporate responsibility and values that should be observed by my employees.
Hiring people from different ethnic groups
The thought of putting up a spa business came to me when I happened to pass by a mall, in one of my tours. I tried to have some relaxation after a busy and tiresome schedule in the city. When I entered the establishment, I was instantly captivated by its beauty and creativity. The spa was right in the middle of a commercial building; it was set up in such a way that you’d feel you were not inside a building. It was creatively built and situated.
When you’re inside, you’d feel like you were in an island. The setting was beautifully conceptualized, the owners could have put everything into it – creativity, money, and all resources needed to make it look exciting and to make the customers have a wonderful and soothing experience. That is what a business should be, I thought. Who were the owners? Who were these wonderful people who have put a wonderful business? I wanted to investigate, but it was impossible to do it.
So, I just had to be content of admiring the place, and gave it a thought sometime when I went home. But then, why just think about it, I asked myself. I could put it into reality, or create a business just like it. I could make it happen. I made plans, a business plan, and brainstormed myself into being creative in a business that I wouldn’t know would make money. I was challenged by the fact that creativity can also make profits, and that, in fact, it is in being creative that you can make a lot of money. I consulted friends and professional people who knew about the spa business. I discovered many things.
Putting up a capital in the new business was the hardest part, but I managed to convince some of my former business associates to help put up the spa in Flushing, NY. My creativity was challenged, very badly. But I loved it, and felt excited about it. Putting up a spa in a busy corner of a 7/24 city is unique. There were problems along the way, for instance, the location, the personnel, and the exact architecture.
This last part was the most difficult – how the spa would look like, and what materials to use and where would I get these, if I had to duplicate the spa model in the mall, and make it more beautiful and creative. I always thought I was the most creative person. The materials had to be environmentally friendly. I developed the business plan and submitted this to my associates. I also personally envisioned the floor plan and made the interior design.
In one of my satisfying moments, I was standing there in one of the most expensive rents that we could manage, and saw the sign ‘You- The Spa’. The impossible became possible. The simple but beautifully engraved sign was placed above the entrance. We envisioned the ads to be artistic as we could, and the price should be affordable. The personnel and the people to man the establishment had yet to be recruited, and I personally saw to it that everything would go on as smoothly as possible.
The challenge on my part was met, but there were many challenging activities yet to come. I prayed that the hardest part had already passed. Looking for materials to build up the finishing touches was one of the most difficult to execute. I didn’t want to decorate it with plastics. I had to import some plants and materials to make it as realistic as it could.
Moreover, I didn’t want to hire a contractor and destroy whatever he could to build something. When the contract was being negotiated, I saw to it that I had a hand in securing the materials. I did not want construction wastes to be just thrown or disposed of wherever the contractor would want to. Other materials had to be bought and handled properly to minimize environmental impact.
Recruitment of personnel was also a big challenge. There were some problems (at first I thought there was a problem) because many of the applicants were Asians or migrants, and I didn’t want my business to be manned by other nationalities. I was wrong. When I thought I had no recourse but to hire these people because there were no other applicants, I had in mind that it would just be temporary. But what happened was a blessing in disguise. The newly-hired personnel were the most efficient and talented people I’ve ever known. Asians are the most qualified people in the art of spa. The situation appeared like these Asians came there to look for spa businesses. It was wonderful.
These people came from other countries to try their luck in the most crowded place on earth, and here they are giving all they could for the success of my business. Training was not a problem; they were acceptable to everything you taught them, and their talents were overflowing. I said, God you’ve given me a people who are talented, kind, and extraordinary. I was wrong in thinking that Asians should not be accepted in my business.
I was enlightened in this experience of mine. Now, what I have heard of them in my country that they are extremely good in nursing and in the service industry, all came out true. I was wrong and unprofessional in the first place for thinking bad about people of other nationalities.
What I did to appease myself was to give them all the benefits and the care that I could provide, just to let them feel that I was very thankful for their services. I wanted to let them feel that we were a family. I even asked for more of their talented countrymen and relatives and provided travelling expenses for the new but qualified ones. Well, most of them were qualified anyway.
Now, I always see to it that I include people from poor countries, especially Filipinos, Thais and Indians, and make them part of my pool of talented manpower in every business that I undertake. I believe this is part of my social responsibility – to help poor but talented individuals, so that we can at least fight poverty in the world. I also address environmental problems by having less plastic and other biodegradable materials in the workplace.
Providing technology and training to poor countries is one of the help that we can do so that they become productive. Third World countries have a lot of poor families with unschooled members. Education, training, and financial aid are some of the things that we can do. Unemployment makes things worse. There are those who have education and skills but are still unemployed or underemployed. Their governments couldn’t do any better because of incompetence and the existence of corruption among government employees. What organizations should do is to directly aid the people through training and provide financial capital after the training.
Back home, in the United States, we also have poor families. The recent economic downturn has increased the unemployment rate, and some of the businesses, especially those involved in housing and real estate, have permanently closed. Many of the businesses are still in danger of closing. We can only pray that this will not go on and multiply. Unemployment is the worst thing that can happen to an individual whose shoulders a family has to depend on.
CSR practices of corporations and global organizations should be improved and should reach to the farthest corners of the world. Many of these corporations are doing their job well, but there are still many things to be done. There are many out there who are earning less than a dollar a day, and an equal number have nothing to eat. It’s time that CSR should not be confined to the pages of the newspaper.
On the subject of business ethics, there are still incidents of abuse and sexual harassment that are undetected, even in an advanced country such as the United States. It is also time that businesses and organizations join hands to cure this malady.