COVID-19 and work ethics in home office settings

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

Abstract

COVID-19 has caused a general lockdown of workplaces and forced thousands of people to work from home. This imposed home office situation is experienced differently by individuals. For example, anecdotal hear-say include working excessive hours caused by missing structures, timelessness and the absence of the feeling of ‘having to go home’; and juggling work commitments and family duties at best effort yet not being able to fully comply with work. There may also be examples of reduced work engagement. Consequently, we believe that there is a wide spectrum of how home office work is perceived under enforced circumstances like COVID-19. This leads to the question of how such an exceptional pandemic situation is related to ethical workplace behaviour and work ethics in general. Work ethics and employees’ job performance was investigated by Osibanjo, Akinbode, Falola, and Oludayo (2018) who used a dichotomy between ‘strong work ethics’ and ‘weak work ethics’. Work ethics influence ethical behaviour such as integrity, sense of responsibility and self-discipline (Osibanjo et al., 2018). Using a normative lens to explain ethical work behaviour means that irrespective of exceptional circumstances such as COVID-19 ‘good’ people are thought to behave ethically while people with a ‘bad’ personality are assumed to adhere to unethical actions (De Cremer & Moore, 2020). In contrast, behavioural ethics approach challenges the normative line of argument as people’s behaviour depends on the situation (De Cremer & Moore, 2020). In home office situations, particularly in enforced pandemic conditions, employees may behave with integrity and according to their strong work ethics and high ethical standards. Alternatively, employees may also choose unethical behaviour, motivated by weak work ethics, justifying their actions in a way that their own ‘good human image’ is protected (Ariely, 2013). Depending on the situation, even ethical people may subconsciously behave selfishly and unethically allowing themselves to ‘cheat a little’ using justifications that help them achieve self-serving goals (Ariely, 2013). However, focussing on self in a workplace setting falls short which is why further dimensions need to be considered. Behavioural business ethics suggests investigating organisational settings at three levels: the intrapersonal, interpersonal and organisational (De Cremer & Moore, 2020; Wuersch, 2020). Work ethics of the individual belongs to the intrapersonal level which focuses on cognitive, affective and identity-based processes, including “the biological and psychological processes which occur in one’s mind before or during the formulation of a message” (Ruesch & Bateson, 1987, p. 47). The interpersonal level is about ethical leadership, experience of power and employee interaction, and the organisational level embraces the ethical climate at work (De Cremer & Moore, 2020). In conclusion, the three levels of this ethical framework are interrelated; that is, ethical workplace behaviour motivated by strong work ethics is influenced by an interplay of intrapersonal processes, interpersonal experiences and organisational culture and values. Hence, we are interested in identifying how individuals can be supported in exceptional situations, such as enforced COVID-19 home office, to maintain strong and healthy work ethics and ethical workplace behaviour.

Workshop

WorkshopBusiness ethics during a pandemic
Period17/07/2017/07/20
OtherAustralasian Business Ethics Network (ABEN) is group of academics and practitioners that have been coming together for 10 years. The current chair Dr Heather Stewart from the Department of Business Strategy and Innovation, along with the support of the committee – Associate Professor Eva Tsahuridu (RMIT), Dr Julia Benkert (Swinburne) and Dr Alessandro Bressan (University Notre Dame – Australia), recently held the inaugural mid-year virtual exchange (workshop). With over 40 attendees centred around the theme of Business ethics during a pandemic: ABEN responds to COVID-19 there were 15 presentations. The presentations included Clare Burns (BSI PhD candidate) who provided insight into defensive routines of whistle blowers during the current pandemic. Other presentations included ethical issues such as the dilemmas of coping with COVID-19, the innovations needed in addition to the challenges particularly in the rapid push for working from home.
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