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Virtue Ethics in the Workplace: Approach & Examples

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  • 0:04 Virtuous Employees
  • 1:47 Virtue Ethics in Context
  • 2:26 Examples of Virtue Ethics
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joseph Madison

Joseph is currently in my final year of a PhD for Management. Joseph served in the US Army for 23 years, working in intelligence, behavioral health, and entertainment.

Virtue ethics in the workplace is based on each individual employee's virtues and how those virtues affect their behavior within the work environment. This lesson will provide an overview of virtue ethics and offer some examples.

Virtuous Employees

Mark is a known philanthropist. He volunteers his time for those in need and tries to give as much as he can. His virtue is compassion. At work, Mark is an accountant, and his compassion also has a place there. He helps his peers regularly and goes out of his way to make sure a project gets done. This is virtue ethics. Employees who hold a set of morals and virtues personally will use them every day, both in and out of work. This is why it is important to hire employees with a strong set of virtues, because these behaviors will carry over into the work environment. Virtue ethics focuses on the employee individually and considers who they are. Are they stand-up citizens within the community? Or are they known for selfish, reckless behavior?

Virtue ethics is a unique approach in the workplace because it does not focus on employees as a whole. Additionally, the approach does not focus on only work behaviors. Instead, the theory holds that a good person will be a good employee. However, this approach does have one issue similar to the saying 'nice guys finish last,' 'last' meaning that a nice guy will be bypassed for promotion. Virtues are behaviors like compassion, trustworthiness, responsibility, honesty, etc. Similarly, ambition is also considered a virtue, and employees with ambition who are willing to step on others to succeed can be more noticed than the nice guy. This shows how different individuals can have different virtues, which, in turn, can create a tense work environment. Offices can develop cliques that are made up of individuals with similar virtues. This can cause trouble by creating an 'us versus them' mentality.

Virtue Ethics in Context

This version of ethics in business originated with Aristotle, but it has grown into one of the three approaches found in normative ethics. Normative ethics is based on the ideas of how people should behave. Each approach in normative ethics starts from a different viewpoint. Deontology focuses on how people have responsibilities and duties to behave in a specific way. Consequentialism says that people should behave in a specific way because of the consequences of not doing so. Virtue ethics focuses on the behavior the individual already has and carries that over into the workplace.

Examples of Virtue Ethics

So how does virtue ethics look in a work environment? Here are a few examples to help show this approach.

In the first example, we'll look at Laura, who is working on a challenging project. She is struggling to finish the project on time and is afraid for her job. Lee is a peer of Laura's. Although he is not part of Laura's project, he sees her upset and worried over the outcome of her not turning the project in on time. Lee believes it is his responsibility to help his fellow man or woman, so he pitches in to help Laura. Lee does this completely on his own time, and asks for nothing in return. The virtue Lee exhibited was his sense of responsibility.

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