How to Deal with People with Different Ethical Beliefs at Work

Unresolved ethical issues can escalate into arguments.
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If somebody at your workplace holds different ethical beliefs than you do, serious problems can arise. Letting these issues fester can poison the work environment and your relations your co-workers. Sometimes these problems may be small misunderstandings that you can easily resolve, while other times the different values may result in unacceptable or even illegal behavior. Try to remember that ethics are relative and there is no such thing as a universal right and wrong. The key in every case is to get the issue out in the open where you can deal with it as quickly as possible.

Consider your own beliefs and whether you are being too rigid.Try to be tolerant and understand that differences in upbringing, culture and perspective can result in a different set of ethics from your own. Oftentimes, ethical differences can be resolved by trying to understand another person's beliefs.

Speak with the person directly. Articulate your problems and explain why you believe your colleague's behavior is unethical. Always be clear but respectful. There's always the chance that your colleague is unaware there's a potential problem. If your colleague's differences are a matter of opinion only, then talking about them may be the proper recourse. However, if he is also acting unethically, you must deal with the problem immediately.

Avoid retaliation if the behavior affects you. One of the worst things you can do in an office conflict is respond to the problem with revenge. Doing so implicates you in the problem and makes things worse for you and your co-worker.

Record your colleague's ethical transgression if the behavior is illegal or contradicts the standards of your workplace. Make a note of the date and time of the behavior and the exact nature of what that person did. You may need to speak to a supervisor, and having a record of her conduct will help you explain the problem.

Speak with a supervisor or member of the human resources department at your workplace if talking to your co-worker directly doesn't work. Explain the problem to somebody who can do something. Even if your co-worker's beliefs do not result in unethical behavior, talking to somebody else at the company can help you deal with the issue in a civil way.

Speak to your union if possible. If several people at your company share beliefs that present a problem, such as a work ethic that results in unpaid overtime, you may need to talk directly to your union or association if such an organization exists. These organizations can help resolve problems that you might not be able to resolve internally. If you do not belong to an association or union, consider consulting a lawyer or general worker's rights organization such as Industrial Workers of the World.

James Stuart began his professional writing career in 2010. He traveled through Asia, Europe, and North America, and has recently returned from Japan, where he worked as a freelance editor for several English language publications. He looks forward to using his travel experience in his writing. Stuart holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and philosophy from the University of Toronto.