Is Rule Following An Ethical Business Practice?

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 3703 , Published on 06 February 2012

A speeding bike nearly crashes into a pedestrian walking on the road, “are you blind! When will these people learn to follow rules?” that pedestrian shouts. To many of us, this behavior would seem unethical and so it did to others who saw the incident. Now, if the biker explains these spectators that he was going to catch a flight for which he was getting late, many of these people who earlier were commenting against him will start to understand his situation but the majority would still be against him. Now, suppose the reason told changed to this - he had to catch the flight as one of his family members had met with an accident so he drove in a rash manner, you will realize that the unethical conduct would suddenly transform into an example of great ethics by the majority of people. The ethics will not be for the way he drove but towards his family and the way he drove will be forgotten almost by all. This is the human tendency that they cannot align themselves with one incident and the focus shifts to the secondary topic.

Is rule following ethical practice

Ethics are not a set of rules like some people may perceive but rather it is a moral theory or a philosophy that addresses moral concepts of right and wrong, good and bad, crime and justice. They often act as the determining factor for a course of action to be followed by people and show what moral values they abide by. On the other hand, as many would say, rules are ethics. Rules are made for our benefits and we are to follow them-is the general notion. In fact, rules are not even laws that they determine who is ethical and who is not. Instead, they are just a set of standards of activities, which may vary from person to person on the same issue as well. Ethics generally are specific to a culture or a group following a particular culture, while rules are more generalized and are irrespective of the cultural aspect.

These rules take a new form of norms in large companies and are often compared or I should say misinterpreted as ethics by the people. Business organizations form a set of guidelines or rules and regulations pertaining to the company’s objectives to which the employees as well as the employers are bound to abide by. Setting a set of business practices do involve a bit of a cultural aspect which comes from the minds of the management while formulating them. In fact, this cultural aspect stays on with each task you perform, analyze or take decisions. And this aspect is the driver forcing a person to judge a particular action as ethical or unethical according to his cultural values and ethnicity.

With the increased promotion campaigns being organized by numerous NGOs and other agencies addressing various issues, it has become quite common for companies to join hands or sponsor such events. Business giants such as the TATA Group and the UB Group are supporting many issues of environment protection which are in turn attracting more supporters from the public. Any activity performed slightly varying the mission of a supporting agency is regarded as unethical. It is agreeable that these agencies have brought about a positive change in the general perspective but are these promotions going overboard? Why are they being forced? Why are they curbing us from our right to freedom of choice and expression? Why is there a level of hypocrisy that people are just doing it to flaunt and in reality does not bother to save any of our possessions?

All these questions are relating to the CSR activities but they also reflect the need of answers questioning the judgements made of the people regarding their ethics. Why is it that every action of an individual starts reflecting his/her ethics? Have we grown in broadening our minds? Is it always necessary to limit yourself to follow rules for being ethical? If it is so, then why don’t we lead a monotonous life and why is the world encouraging creativity and companies are asking their employees for revolutionary ideas?

“Transparency International” works towards anti-corruption campaigns and claims to have saved a million lives from this ‘deadly disease’. If that is to be held true, then why don’t they also start agencies or collaborate with existing ones to investigate on the culprits? Why corruption is still increasing? “United Nations Global Compact” is another such organization addressing issues pertaining to human rights, labor laws, etc. If they claim there is protection of children to work as labor then why are some countries still continue to have child labor. Isn’t making a false claim against ethics? If one has to find an ethical issue and relate it to the set of prescribed rules, you can get numerous reasons to raise issues upon. This doesn’t mean that rules are not important, they are, but, ethics should not be confined to them. Suppose two companies in different industries have a separate set of rules – one says the rule is to prohibit child labor and the other states that child labor will have an equal pay without age bias. Both are following rules but what is ethical to you might not be ethical to the other person. So how do you draw a line to define which rules are ethical? Is it even ethical to follow a rule or not?

Yes, rule following is an ethical practice but till a certain extent and in certain context as well. Being in a highly disciplined environment and letting a piece of paper dictate terms to you would hamper your growth and power to think. Explore and experiment is the way to go in today’s life. It becomes difficult for people to take out time for even themselves, therefore, it becomes important to enjoy at work place. Work if taken as to follow guidelines and achieve targets would definitely become a burden one day but if taken as a tool to experiment variety of ideas which revolve in your mind, it would definitely bring happiness and you will gain more focus and enthusiasm to do well. Sometimes, companies have immense faith in their employees’ high discipline and their resources but still, something restrains them to gain as per their potential. Can you guess why it could be so? Yes, it is because of those bold letter words. The adjective ‘high’ is a problem here which holds back their creativity and freedom to work their way. They remain busy in conforming their decisions and actions with the ‘rules’ of the company. Discipline is a standard set but the levels differ from business to business. Extremity will be harmful and would bring a humdrum attitude to the work environment.

This environment will become a culture in due time frame and this culture would start reflecting their ethical conduct. Despite going by the terms and being inside the formulated limits, if you fall short on performance, your ethics will be questioned. Will the famous human rights agencies save you now? Before you come to any conclusion, even the purpose of this article is to develop a thought process in your mind to judge without a rule book. And, this is certainly not to encourage the intention of ‘rules are meant to be broken’ type of people.

While my opening example displayed a more generalized way of how people judge others regarding their ethical conduct, the above situation address the same issue differently – how necessary is it to follow rules? The answer would be just enough to save yourself from any adverse and undesired consequences. Follow, but not blindly, rather with an open mind.

This article has been authored by Kushaal Joshi from FORE School Of Management.

Image: Stuart Miles /


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