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Generation Y-Not? Today’s Teen Work Ethics Are Hazy

Employers whose work force depends heavily on teens may already know that today’s 18-and-under crowd appears to be a little shaky in the ethics department.

Shocking statistics reveal that teens feel comfortable about lying and cheating to get ahead. And even physical violence is not out of the question.

These recent figures come from a poll jointly sponsored by Junior Achievement and consulting firm Deloitte & Touche USA LLP. Their “Teen Ethics Survey” found that 71 percent of the 725 U.S. teens (ages 13-18) polled felt fully prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the work force.

Yet, 38 percent of those surveyed say it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie or even behave violently to succeed.

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A quarter (24 percent) think that cheating on a test is acceptable on some level.

Fortunately, plenty of strategies exist for those employers willing to put forth the effort to create a safe and ethical workplace, especially since an ethically sketchy teen work force takes its toll in a number of ways.

– Theft will erode profits;

– Violence sparks lawsuits and is simply unacceptable;

– Lying creates an atmosphere of distrust and may destabilize an organization; and

– A firm’s reputation may be tarnished irreparably by an employee’s loose ethics.

That kind of damage can also play out within the firm itself, as unscrupulous behavior undermines the organization from the inside.


How Did We Arrive?

So how did we arrive at this point? The easy answer is “instant gratification.”

Whatever teens want, there it is. But most observers say the causes run much deeper.

It may be a failure to see the difference between reality and make-believe.

Employers no doubt are more concerned with remedies and prevention.

Perhaps the most immediate problem to address has to do with intergenerational harmony in the workplace.

Even before teen ethics assert themselves through bad acts, the basic teen mind-set (do anything to succeed) can cause friction as young employees interact with an older generation whose values may be very different.

Older workers, typically 40 and up, may have one set of values , work hard, do well, commit to your employer.

Younger workers fresh out of college reportedly will judge a firm by its environmental behavior, its commitment to diversity and other such standards.

So what can business owners and managers do?

The first line of defense is to get everyone talking. Create open discussions about the company’s ethics policies.

Besides getting generations to click, and thus shaping positive behaviors, there are other steps employers can take to meet the teen ethics challenge.

Talk at length about the company ethics policy , make sure your company has an ethics policy.

Set clear expectations and follow through on disciplinary threats.


Solid Code Of Ethics

An ethical workplace starts with a solid code of ethics.

Be honest and ethical in conduct, including ethical handling of actual or apparent conflicts of interest between personal and professional relationships;

Comply with applicable government laws, rules and regulations;

Maintain the confidentiality of information entrusted to employees;

Provide constituents with information that is accurate, completely objective, relevant, timely and understandable;

Proactively promote ethical behavior as a responsible partner among peers in the work environment; and

Protect and ensure the proper use of company assets.

But, ultimately, experts say the best way to enforce ethics in the workplace is to lead by example.


Adam Stone is a contributing writer for CalBizCentral. For more information, please visit calbizcentral.com.

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