Enron. Worldcom. The Wall Street meltdown. These are all some of the more noteworthy examples of corporate skullduggery, a lack of regard of and concern for ethical behavior.

But some business experts see these examples as the exception more than the rule.  There are thousands of companies with millions of employees who do the right thing, according to the experts.

Many people work their entire careers without ever encountering anything like the problems that led to the downfall of companies such as Enron.  If you play by the rules, you develop a reputation as someone who is ethical, and you generally don’t have problems.  But if you are willing to do things that are not exactly above board, other people can see what you are doing, and you may attract people of the same temperament.

It’s important, these experts say, that those at the top of an organization clearly spell out the culture and values of the company and make clear that unethical behavior won’t be tolerated.

Others say that the unethical behavior of businesses often reflects the larger attitudes of society in general.  It’s the idea of, “Well, everybody is doing it, so why should we be any different?”  These experts say that behaviors that are tacitly condoned by society won’t be rooted out by government regulation alone.  There already is a large number of government regulations covering many different areas.  But even all of these rules will miss some of the behaviors that are less than ethical.

To solve the problem, it will take the efforts of each individual to stand up and call out anyone involved in unethical behavior and to make clear that such behavior won’t be tolerated.

But if people leave such behavior to the government to find, it often becomes a cat and mouse game as people see what they can get away with.  Here, as in most instances, silence implies consent, and so those who see such unethical behavior cannot remain silent if such behavior is to be stopped.

Government has its role, but in the end, it is society itself that needs to send the signal that unethical behavior is wrong and to express its disapproval.

When we hear about unethical behavior by a business, it’s easy to assume the worst about the people who work in the corporate world.  But the people who work in business are just like ourselves, these experts say, people who are our neighbors and friends.  And what happens in business is the result of the actions of these people.

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