How normalised are ethical violations in your organisation?  

Talked into a private diagnostic Laboratory recently, and their services were good. State of the art equipment, qualified personnel who certainly knew how to do their jobs. I saw nothing that drew me at any point to question their expertise or their ability to discharge their duties well.

When I was done with what I came to do, the last person who saw me out asked, “So madam, anything for your boys and girls? Some malt will do ooo. As you can see, we are many and we handled you well”.

I was stunned. Stunned because here I was up in my head with excitement over the fact that these private labs may be professionally run after all – unlike the labs in the public hospitals where the first thing they say to you before they attend to you is a request for a bribe – in the most hostile manner you could think of.  They will deny you the service entirely until you ‘level up’ to them with some ‘coins’. The more the amount of money you gave them, the better you are treated. When you give them less than they expected, your samples do not make it to the lab at all. Which also is code for, “we will waste your time until you honour us with more money”.

That is just the system. And not only in the health service sector – this behaviour also spans across industries and sectors including construction, the oil sector, insurance providers, the justice system, financial institutions, communication, education etc.

When you walk into a place to conduct business or seek a service (which you will be paying for anyway), you might need to hedge your expectations against the phrase ‘nothing is for nothing’ or my favourite, ‘scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’.

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If the request for a bribe or any other ethical compromises did not meet you at the gates, it certainly may meet you somewhere between the cleaner and the manager, or meet you at the very top.

This is because, somehow, people have built a survival bubble for themselves in which they are allowed to misuse company time, defraud clients, mislead regulators, steal from and lie to their employers, clothe themselves in conflicts of interest – all for their personal bottom-line, “to give oneself a cut of riches and wealth #TheNationalCake”. Very often, that ‘cut’ they need turns into the pursuit of larger amounts of wealth.

For many who gain employment, the Organisational Culture and Ethics discussion they had with their HR during their orientation talks is cut dead the minute they’ve had enough time to study the system enough to work around it.

But it is important for employees to know it is not just your organisation, company, or business that benefits from your good work ethic; it will always definitely work in your own favour as much as a bad work ethic will work against you.

In Business Schools, the ethics class is one that brings the most argumentative bantering among students – and often between students and professors.

Many are very willing to focus only on the bottom-line, profits for the business and personal gains, no matter the violations that get them there.

In our country, many may have the perfect excuse to cut corners and be plain unethical!

“If I didn’t do it where I work, when I go to someone else’s organisation seeking a service they will do it to me.

“I need to make the money off people here so I have enough to spare when I go seeking a service somewhere else,” a school administrative staff once told me.

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Edward Hennessey said: “Ethics must begin at the top of an organisation. It is a leadership issue, and the chief executive must set the example”.

Hennessy has served and still serves on the board of some of America’s most profitable organisations as a director. With over 40-years’ experience leading from the most critical offices in corporations, he has seen enough to come to that conclusion.

I support his argument completely. For me, ethical violations are like a dead rat in one’s bedroom: the stench is hard to ignore, and with a little effort you will find that rat.

Every leader can smell ethical violations. Some chose to do something about it and some choose not to.

A leader who disregards the stench and allows it to fully decompose under his nose will lead his organisation into losing the trust of its clients, vendors and customers.

The ethical behaviour of most business professionals is regulated by codes of conduct; do you have such spelt out in your employee handbook? Do you have punitive measures to discourage your workers who might want to violate the codes anyway? Do you remind them of what could happen if they are unethical in any way toward their colleagues, clients etc?

I did not buy the malt, and I can’t help but imagine how many more malt drinks they will request before their network solicitation is found out.

But then, can I go back there with the same trust I had in them prior to this request?  I cannot be quite sure.



 Juanita Sallah is a writer with a sophisticated skills-mix and a special interest in Media, Communication and Corporate Governance

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