Ethical Considerations

Keys to Ethical Behavior within a Productive Work Environment

Graphic courtesy of
  • Know your employees! Understand why they work at your organization and what needs they have. (Weinbach, 2008, p.132) This will give you, the manager, insight into their own interpretation of ethics.
  • Make sure your staff has knowledge of the contents of NASW Code of Ethics. Post it at your workplace so it can be referenced when needed.
  • Make sure policies are congruent with the NASW Code of Ethics. That being said…
  • Do not overly rely on policies and procedures to guide decision making (Johns & Crockwell, 2009).
  • Explain the decisions you make as a manager to your staff, especially when the decisions are difficult or confusing (Weinbach, 2008, p.141). Communication is key!
  • Be a “hands-on” manager. Know what your staff is doing, talk to them about any challenges they may be having. Let them know you are there for guidance if they are having ethical dilemmas.
  • Have workshops and continuing education that deal with ethics. Keep up to date with current research related on how to be an ethical leader and have ethically minded staff.
  • Be a model of professional ethics yourself.
  • Use the strengths perspective with your staff. Point out instances when you think they’ve made a good ethical decision or action.

How do you fare when it comes to ethical decision making?
Take this quiz below to find out!

Ethics Quiz
Nikki Nelson DiFranks'(2008) research article "Social Workers and the NASW Code of Ethics: Belief, Behavior, Disjuncture" highlights findings that reinforce Weinbach's (2008) concept that professional values and ethics promote a productive work environment, given the environment is conducive to the professional code. DiFranks (2008) research also discusses social workers beliefs in the tenents of the NASW Code of Ethics, and if behavior does not match beliefs the profession may face issues of accountability. There is a lack of current research that examines beliefs vs. behaviors of social work professionals.

The research: A quantitative description survey completed by 206 randomly selected MSW social workers and members of the NASW. A literature review was also performed.

DiFranks (2008) findings: Social workers experience dilemma-induced stress when beliefs and behaviors are inconsistent. The study also found that when social worker behavior is congruent with the NASW code of ethics, dilemma-induced stress is lower. Although more social workers are based in "host" or non-social work settings there is not a substantial difference in dilemma-induced stress in comparison to "nonhost" or social work settings. Social workers in managed care and public agencies experienced the highest dilemma-induced stress; social workers in private practice and private nonprofit agencies experienced less dilemma-induced stress.

DiFrank also discusses ethics trainings and ethical teaching models and examines how both affect social work practice. The study indicated that "seperate ethics courses did not increase belief in (NASW) tenets of the code" (DiFrank, 2008, p. 171).

external image confused-baby.bmp

Graphic courtesy of

According to a study by Johns and Crockwell (2009), social workers reported five factors that can impede their use of the Code:

  1. it is vague and does not provide clear direction
  2. organization policies and procedures are paramount
  3. conflicts between the Code and legal requirements
  4. time restraints
  5. difficulty interpreting its contents
  6. does not reflect practice reality

6 Key Roles and Responsibilities in Ethics Management

By Carter McNamara MBA, PhD

Depending on the size of the organization, certain roles may prove useful in managing ethics in the workplace. These can be full-time roles or part-time functions assumed by someone already in the organization. Small organizations certainly will not have the resources to implement each the following roles using different people in the organization. However, the following functions points out responsibilities that should be included somewhere in the organization.
1. The organization's chief executive must fully support the program.
If the chief executive isn't fully behind the program, employees will certainly notice -- and this apparent hypocrisy may cause such cynicism that the organization may be worse off than having no formal ethics program at all. Therefore, the chief executive should announce the program, and champion its development and implementation. Most important, the chief executive should consistently aspire to lead in an ethical manner. If a mistake is made, admit it.
2. Consider establishing an ethics committee at the board level.
The committee would be charged to oversee development and operation of the ethics management program.
3. Consider establishing an ethics management committee.
It would be charged with implementing and administrating an ethics management program, including administrating and training about policies and procedures, and resolving ethical dilemmas. The committee should be comprised of senior officers.
4. Consider assigning/developing an ethics officer.
This role is becoming more common, particularly in larger and more progressive organizations. The ethics officer is usually trained about matters of ethics in the workplace, particularly about resolving ethical dilemmas.
5. Consider establishing an ombudsperson.
The ombudsperson is responsible to help coordinate development of the policies and procedures to institutionalize moral values in the workplace. This position usually is directly responsible for resolving ethical dilemmas by interpreting policies and procedures.
6. Note that one person must ultimately be responsible for managing the ethics management program.

For more information regarding a social workers ethics visit this website