Organisational Ethics

19 October, 2021

Many organisations include ‘ethics’ in their vision and mission statements and policies without truly understanding what it means to be an ethical organisation. Outside a few countries in the West, the concept of Organisational Ethics is largely unknown. The authors of this article in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper are members of the Bioethics Group, Aga Khan University, and make the case for the importance of OE, particularly in healthcare.

Murad Moosa Khan and Sameer Nizamuddin note that “In daily organisational life, ethical values are not only about doing things right but also doing the right thing. Rules-based organisations emphasise the former. The latter relates to ethical organisations. Often ethics is restricted to legal codes and regulatory compliances. But OE is beyond these. It is about having an ethical perspective to every action and decision that takes place in an organisation. Amongst others, this includes conflict-of-interest issues, appointments and promotions, appraisal systems, institutional policies, compensation and benefits, moral distress in employees, resource allocation, as well as the organisation’s business model. The last is particularly important, as it is not only about making profits but how profits are made.”

The authors argue that organisations’ historic emphasis on quality management to improve production lines efficiency and product quality did little to address corruption. They suggest that this was partly because the focus on increasing profits meant few organisations paid attention to organisational culture, not realising that the ethical culture of an organisation is critical to its performance. Few organisations, they say, understand that quality is always the by-product of ethics and not vice versa.

“An important element of OE is ethical leadership, ie ‘the duty of leaders to foster an environment that engages and supports ethical values at all levels of the organisation’. Prioritising ethics is the primary duty of leaders, as integrity always flows from top down. One cannot expect employees to behave ethically if they see the leadership not adhering to organisational values. An ethics-driven decision made by a leader has ramifications that can have a lasting impact on the organisation.”

Murad Moosa Khan and Sameer Nizamuddin

In countries and industries with weak governance structures the lack of accountability compounds these problems. While the principles of OE apply to all organisations, the authors contend they have particular relevance for healthcare organisations in which there is a significant power differential. The authors see ‘ethical bifurcation’ in healthcare, where clinicians and researchers are held accountable for ethical standards when dealing with patients but there is no similar requirement for the administrative and policymaking areas. Investing in an organisational ethics programme benefits both the organisation and its patients.

via Dawn, Murad Moosa Khan and Sameer Nizamuddin, 15 March 2021. Read the full article here.

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