What are Office Ethics?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Office ethics can refer to a set of codes and values, and rules that derive from them, that help to determine right choices and behavior in the office setting. These may be different depending on each office and are most based on the core values the office wants to express and wants employees to follow. Numerous things may be included in office ethics or some companies don’t clearly draw out an ethical policy. The latter stance may occasionally lead to trouble and employees may have to make their own decisions when faced with ethical dilemmas, since these ethics are not always in keeping with personal moral stance.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

The wise company tends to establish values that it wants employees to understand and follow, and on top of this, they may set up rules so there is little moral decision making needed. If one core value is to make certain that all workers feel comfortable in the workplace, for instance, a rule that might follow is no soliciting of outside products at work. This could produce discomfort in some employees, making them feel they can’t escape a marketing environment while working, and the company may respond by outlawing a practice that would go against one of its core values.

With this same core value, office ethics can tell people how to behave to each other. Clearly, making sure people are comfortable means treating each other with respect, not soliciting others for sexual activity or romantic liaisons, being responsible for work so it is not passed onto others, and keeping the workplace clean. A lot of rules can be generated from basic office ethics, or some companies expect employees to infer rules from basic assumptions regarding how a company defines what is good or moral.

There are some office ethics that apply to almost all offices, at least in theory. It is usually considered wrong to do things like take office supplies for home use, to express rudeness, on the phone or in person, to customers, and/or to behave in any manner that violates regional employment laws. These behaviors may lead to either warnings or firing, depending on the abuse perpetuated.

Other activities that are, at the least, frowned upon include using work time to conduct personal businesses, such as emailing friends, contributing to a Facebook® page, or making long distance calls to family. Some offices might permit a few of these activities to a certain degree. Not all do so, and these behaviors might earn sharp reprimands or eventual termination of employment.

Since office ethics can only be thought of in example form, it’s useful for employees to understand a business’ ethical code and core values when first getting a job. It should be noted that not all offices adhere to a defined set of ethics, and this may be fairly easy to tell in early days of employment. Flagrant disregard of ethics by employees and supervisors suggests the code really isn’t working and possibly may be disregarded by the new employee. On the other hand, one person violating a code doesn’t suggest a whole office does, and shouldn’t be taken as example for how to behave in the workplace.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


What is ethical if someone calls the boss? Do you say she is busy prepping for a meeting, or sorry she is tied up, can I take a message?


Moldova- I agree with you. I believe if you focus on your job performance and completing your tasks to the best of your ability than you won’t have time get into trouble with office ethics.


Great article- I just wanted to say that doing an honest day’s work by coming to work on time and remaining productive on work-related activities is vital to adhering to office ethics.

A person’s work ethic says a lot about what value they place on office ethics. For example, a person with a strong work ethic gets the job done.

He or she does not waste the company’s time by coming in late for taking excessive breaks. This person is also unlikely to be found surfing the internet or making personal phone calls on company time.

In addition, this type of person is less likely to cut corners and cheat the company of a job well done.

The flipside could be said of someone with a poor work ethic. They will not likely share the same office values that the hardworking employee does.

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