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Accountability and Ethical Bankruptcy in a Financial Meltdown

Accountability and Ethical Bankruptcy in a Financial Meltdown

Economic pressures, fear of an uncertain economic future, keeping up with the Joneses, entitlement attitudes, and pure unadulterated greed are some of the excuses that have made the workplace more vulnerable to theft. As a result of the worsening American economy, The Wall Street Journal recently reported a surge in employee embezzlement and theft. Paper clips, copiers, office furniture, and billions of dollars taken are samples of the many and varied items employees feel compelled to take for personal use or resale. An accountant, recently embezzled $180,000 from a furniture company. When asked why, was quoted as having said, “To give my children what they wanted.” A municipal court worker took $131,000 over about a six-year period “to pay bills.”

The mind’s power to rationalize convinces us to believe what we want overriding our moral conscience. To tell oneself often enough and long enough that we need, deserve, have been cheated out of, victimized, are owed, each marginalizes our emotional and moral intelligence. Moral decisions should not be made in a vacuum. In other words, moral dilemmas ought to be made with critical thought and reflection. We are tempted to shut out the voice of conscience when our desires for gratification appeal. When faced with strong temptations of unethical behavior, I have heard the voices of my parents and grandparents say, “Joe, you be a good boy now, you hear.” Long deceased, their voices are still clear in the moral conscience of this 1960’s teenager.

Within any business, governmental, and non-profit organizations, there ought to be a voice to remind people of their moral responsibility. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (for public companies) and Federal Sentencing Guidelines (for ALL other organizations) call for an ethical culture. This places an imperative for ethics education and training for all in organizations. Obviously, organizational leadership has to first to step up to the plate to make this happen. Being reminded of the consequences of ethical misconduct affirms expectations and multiple costs. What are some ways to increase moral awareness?

1. Compliment associates on good character traits exemplified in their work.
2. Openly discuss ethical dilemmas.
3. Develop and conduct regular training on ethics.
4. Have associates to take turns teaching the ethics learning session.
5. Openly discuss ethical misconduct incidents. This alleviates the much of the gossip and rumor mill, which prolongs disruption.
6. Create an atmosphere of transparency.

7. Practice Accountability, Honesty and Integrity.

No one is one 100% ethical 100% percent of the time. However, it is prudent to be cognizant of behavioral patterns of ethical misconduct. As in a sitcom show it was stated to Law enforcement officer, in TV Show,” “John, you better nip it the bud right now.” These recommendations and other measures help to mitigate the costs of ethical misconduct for organizations, associates, and families, which can be substantial. The costs of ongoing ethics education are an investment in the ethical culture of your organization.


It is interesting that your first three points all deal with actions that, I have observed, are NOT taking place in our society. One of the largest items not being discussed in the wake of our economic downturns are the immoral and unethical decisions that were made that led to the mess we are in. It seems if we were all more willing to engage in your point #2, openly discuss ethical dilemmas, then we as a society would be more willing to engage unethical behavior when we see it. We must not only discuss ethics, but practice it on a daily basis. There is no such thing as entitlement, everything and anything has to be earned. We have to insist on a higher level of morality.

Compiled by: Yj Draiman

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