When it comes to running a business, some areas are black and white and some are grey. For example, it is clear that insider trading is an illegal practice with very real and serious consequences, but claiming a product is made in a certain country because it is assembled there, even though all components are made in a different country, is something many businesses are permitted to do, even though the practice isn’t completely honest. Whether your company sells trending products or offers a niche service, you’ll undoubtedly run into situations that are black and white as well as situations that fall in the grey category.
So, how can you determine what’s ethical and what’s not when dealing with issues that are grey? A few different things, like personal beliefs and values, will factor in, but many seem to think that if a practice is common, it is considered ethical and okay. Businesses will make decisions on a grey area issue that they believe to be okay because hundreds of other businesses are doing the same thing when, in fact, the practice is unethical. And, unfortunately, plenty of common business practices that companies and their employees take part in are ultimately unethical and can cause serious problems.
Made Up Testimonials or Success Stories
Believe it or not, a lot of companies will go to the effort to make up testimonials or fabricate client success stories to help boost their ratings on a review site or to pad their website on which they display what “clients” have said about them. Some will even go as far as to offer employees an incentive, (or rather, bribe), to create multiple profiles and post made up testimonials and stories of their own. Some companies justify it by having employees write the truth under a pseudonym, but no matter how it’s justified, the practice is very unethical.
Instead, businesses should focus their efforts on improving their products and customer service and working on reaching out to clients to ask for positive reviews. Clients may not always think to leave a review unless their experience was exceptionally terrible, but plenty of satisfied clients would be happy to leave a good review but may not think about it unless asked.
Contract Violations that are Justified by a “Blanket” Statement
Every contract—whether between two companies, a company and a client, or a company and its employees—contains a blanket statement or two that clarifies that the drafter has the right and ability to make amendments to the contract at any time. Such statements are fairly standard and ensure that the drafter covers anything they may not have explicitly stated in the contract; however, sometimes companies will invoke that blanket statement in a way that is considered unethical. Whether they raise the price of their products without any warning or reason, or they fire an employee without going through the disciplinary process outlined in the agreement, some of the ways they invoke the blanket statements can be considered inappropriate.
Guilt Trip Sales
Salespeople use many different tactics to open doors and close deals. They have to do their job, make their company money, and earn their commission. While some get creative and do their best to connect with the people they are working to sign, others will use unethical tactics, like guilt tripping, to get what they want. Guilt tripping may be effective in some cases, but because it puts inappropriate and unnecessary pressure on a person to make a purchase, it’s considered unethical and rude.
Misuse of Time and Money
Business people are often sent traveling on behalf of their company or will host dinners at a restaurant for clients and potential clients to let them know how valuable they are and discuss future plans and partnerships. Unfortunately, though, some employees and representatives may choose to use the company card and time in a way that isn’t solely for business reasons. While many will often justify overspending or enjoying entertainment that wasn’t on the itinerary, it doesn’t make it any more ethical.
Even employees who aren’t traveling or entertaining on behalf of the company will often misuse company time. By texting or surfing the web on their phones while on the clock, or covering for another employee who is running late, they may think they are taking an earned break or helping a friend out, but ultimately, they’re acting unethically and wasting their company’s time as well as their own.
Facebook has been under serious scrutiny for allegations of retrieving information about its users without their consent or knowledge and using it in various ways. Facebook isn’t the only company guilty of invading privacy and gathering their clients’ information, and although many will justify it saying that it’s needed to improve their processes and products for their clients, if it’s obtained in unethical ways, its use is unethical too.
When it comes to running a business, there will be some things that are clear, but there will be other things that may not be so black and white. While other businesses may be following similar practices, don’t mistake common practices for ethical practices. Invasion of privacy, fabricated client stories, and the like, no matter how common, are considered unethical.
What other common business practices do you find unethical?