Professional Ethics

What are professional ethics?

Professional ethics are the codes of conduct that govern the behaviour of individuals in their professional roles. Though the term has its origins in referring to those “professing the vows of a religious order”, it became more mainstream during the 17th century and, over time, shifted to its current usage.

While there often is overlap, professional ethics are not the same as personal ethics, which guide how an individual acts in their private life. Understanding how and when these can come into conflict, and what the appropriate course of action should be, is pivotal to acting ethically within a company.

Why are professional ethics important in the workplace?

Professional ethics are an integral element of developing trust and relationships between colleagues, customers and suppliers. They also play a significant role in ensuring that individuals act with honesty, transparency and accountability in their business dealings.

Many professions have their own specific ethical codes with lengthy histories. The Hippocratic Oath that’s taken by doctors, for instance, was originally written in the Ionic Greek period and still stands as a document that guides and informs how modern medicine is practised. Ethical codes such as this can build long-lasting trust in members of a particular profession – the Governance Institute of Australia’s 2021 Ethics Index shows that GPs, ambulance officers and nurses all ranked in the top five most trusted occupations for the past year.

Professionals who are committed to behaving ethically act in the best interests of all parties involved, which can strongly and positively influence company culture. This is an area of growing importance for the modern workforce – according to a recent study from Personio, 21% of employees intending to resign gave “toxic workplace culture” as a primary reason for their desire to leave their current positions.

When joining an organisation, it is essential to not just bring your own sense of professional ethics, but to ensure that your standards are reflected by the organisation itself.

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