Personal vs. professional ethics

Written by ellie williams
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Personal vs. professional ethics
Examine the relationship between personal and professional ethics and make better choices. (lost in thought image by John Keith from

A person's ethical code determines their views on right and wrong, and influences how they interact with other people. While personal ethics and professional ethics sometimes differ dramatically, each influences the other. And each comes into play in the workplace, as more companies seek to infuse their corporate culture with a sense of ethical responsibility. Often, professional ethics encompass many of the same principles of personal ethics, such as honesty and fairness but may also extend to principles like company loyalty.

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Personal ethics depend largely on a person's background and life relationships and concern, for example,what your parents, teachers and religion taught you. They are also influenced by the experiences you had growing up with dilemmas such as lying, cheating or even violence. While your personal ethics may change as you learn and experience more, they often retain much of this early influence. Professional ethics, however, are based heavily on the requirements or principles of your profession. You may even be legally required to obey some ethical principles, such as confidentiality, in the case of doctors or lawyers.


With personal ethics, your responsibilities may be limited mainly to those people closest to you, such as your family, friends or neighbours. Your personal ethics may require you to put family above all else, such as your job. These ethics also may determine everything from what kind of businesses you choose to frequent to how you treat your neighbours. Professional ethics often include more diverse and wide-ranging responsibilities. For example, if you're a doctor, your professional ethics may bind you from discussing a patient's history, and may require you to put that person's well-being above all other considerations, regardless of if you have a long-standing relationship with them or just met. Professional ethics may also require you to report suspicious or harmful activity. If, for example, you're a teacher and suspect one of your students is being abused or neglected.


Professional ethics are also often more specific than personal ethics. While personal ethics guides a person's overall behaviour, professional ethics often provide instruction on how to respond to certain situations. According to the "Inc." article, "How to Create a Company Philosophy," professional ethics often include policies on how to deal with things like customer complaints or conflicts of interest.


Some professions require objectivity and impartiality, which may conflict with an individual's personal ethics, especially if compassion and a willingness to step in to help others is an important part of his ethical code. Sometimes, individuals find they must separate their personal ethics from their professional ethics while at work. Examples might include a person who believes activities like gambling or drinking are immoral, or a worker who holds strong views on religion and the role it should play in society. These views are highly personal and may need to be set aside if the person works with a diverse group of people.

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