Ethics is “that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct,”i whereas morality is defined as “moral quality or character.”
In other words, ethics could be considered a subset of moraltiy, because our morality defines our own personal character; and that character decides how we deal with other people, which is the domain of ethics.
It is important for me to make this distinction between the two concepts, because when I talk about ideal behaviour in a business environment, I’m talking about ethics—the way in which I deal with other people or the way in which I would like people to deal with me—and not morality as a whole.
With that in mind, I believe that in professional relationships, ethics is the only aspect of morality for which we have the right to hold anyone accountable. All the other aspects are off limits—unless we move into the realm of personal relationships where we have to decide whether or not be friends or enter into a romantic relationship with someone.
To clarify my stand further, I don’t say that morality isn’t important. What I’m saying is that it is not my place to judge someone’s actions as long as they don’t behave unethically with other people around them. For example, if a potential employee for my company is known to be underhanded with other people, I can—and should—use it as a reason to deny employment to this person. However, if I see that someone is known to have a promiscuous lifestyle*, I don’t have the right to use that information to deny them employment as long as they are qualified to do the job right.
Even in the former situation when you judge someone’s actions based on their past unethical behaviour, that judgment has to be tempered with fairness where you try to understand if the person is making any efforts to improve their behaviour. Despite being an outspoken atheist—a fact that isn’t in line with many people’s standards of morality—I do believe there is some truth to the phrase “judge not, lest ye be judged.” Only, I would rewrite it as “judge unfairly not, lest ye be judged unfairly.”
*By that statement, I don’t mean to indicate whether a promiscuous lifestyle is moral or immoral. That’s a topic for another blog post!