Teen Ethics

Regular readers know that MYOB deals with a lot of serious issues, but we always try to keep things on the light side.  After all, there’s enough negativity coming at you every day from radio, TV, and your local news.

But here’s something that’s very unpleasant.  In fact it’s downright scaryJunior Achievement and Deloitte recently released the results of a survey on teenage ethics.  Considering that today’s teens are tomorrow’s (maybe even today’s) employees, their values are very important to the future of our businesses. 

Here are a few of the survey’s conclusions:

  • Seventy-one (71) percent of teens feel prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the workforce, but thirty-eight (38) percent of that group believe that it’s sometimes necessary to "cheat, plagiarize, lie, or even behave violently in order to succeed."
  • Nearly one fourth of teens think it’s ok to cheat on a test under certain circumstances.
  • Twenty-three (23) percent think violence toward another person is acceptable.
  • More than half of the teens surveyed either thought it is unfair, or weren’t sure if it’s unfair for an employer to fire or suspend someone for unethical behavior committed outside of the job.
  • More than half believe it isn’t fair for an employer to make hiring and firing decisions based on the employee’s online activity.  Another nineteen (19) percent weren’t sure.
  • Almost half believe that it’s ok to download music without paying for it but only five (5) percent think it’s ok to steal something from a store.

Clearly the level of ethics and morality in our society are on the decline.  But these hard numbers reflecting the views of our young people are alarming.  Clearly we all have to be very careful in making personnel decisions.  If nearly one out of four potential employees think physical violence is an acceptable way to handle problems, there is a very real liability issue for every employer.  If employees act in an unethical manner it can destroy a business’ reputation.

Of course everything isn’t doom and gloom.  If one in four potential employees thinks violence is the way to resolve conflict then three out of four don’t.  It just means that we have to be very careful to hire the right people.  Background and reference checks, including Googling the applicant, are more important than ever.  A check of MySpace, FaceBook, and other online sites is also important and completely legal and ethical, even if half your applicants think it’s unfair.

Junior Achievement sponsors programs that teach business ethics including a free online program for students in grades 4-12.  In-person programs are usually delivered by volunteers from the business community.  There are even college scholarships available for students who complete the ethics course.  There is more information on the JA web site, including a "Get Involved" link.

Thanks to Workforce Management Quick Takes for pointing MYOB to the survey.

[Update:  02:09 PM 4/15/08  As a follow up to Bill Hinderer’s comment below, here’s a link to Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.

4 Responses

  1. Mike:

    After an experience this weekend, I wonder if TV causes our teen to have an unrealistic view of what will be required to succeed in the business world.

    My wife and I were hosting an engineer and his family from our Truvox division in Southapmton England during their first visit to the United States. At then end of their trip, we asked if the United States was different than what they expected. They said that they were surprised that they had not seen one car chase or one shootout during the whole time they were here. American shows on TV and news of the vilolent crimes here had convinced them that criminal activity was to be expected as an everyday occurence everywhere in America.

    Do shows like the Office or the Apprentice give our young people the wrong idea of what it takes to succeed in business in much the same way as our English guests were misled by America crime dramas? They think that it will be necessary to lie or be violent in order to succeed because that is what they see on TV and they have no other frame of reference.

    I think “bring your child to work day” is approaching later this month. Maybe we all need to look as that as an opportunity to help set the record straight — one child at a time.



  2. Excellent point. I don’t think most people realize how powerful television and movies really are. I’m convinced that the epidemic of eating disorders among our young people can be at least partially blamed on shows like “America’s Next Top Model.” Even some of the music our kids listen to contributes to their perception of what’s right and wrong.

    That’s why things like the Junior Achievement Ethics program, some of the new Boy Scout programs, and Take Your Child to Work Day are important. It’s a chance for us to work one-on-one with the kids to overcome some of the media stereotypes.

    By the way, “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” (the official title) is Thursday, April 24. I’ve added a link to the post.

  3. Some are getting their sense of ethics from their parents, and that’s not always good either. I am a retailer who is also an elected official. We have a land use controversy where a developer has followed the rules of the City and the State, but are being blocked from building on because the neighborhood opposition is based upon the possibility that some of their new neighbors might be of a different race or religion. This attitude is being sold to the community as “standing up for our values”. So, in their view, the law be dammed. They don’t have to abide by it because they are above the law. The leading opponent is a builder/developer who is also a councilmember who is, frankly, angry he didn’t get to develop the property himself. That’s supposed to be a noble, ethical decisionmaker? And that’s the example our children are to be following? I guess it’s easy to blame television but the moral and ethical failings in our country are caused by much more than a passive activity. If ethics were taught as part of every school curriculum, I think it would make a difference. At least the level of discourse would be raised considerably.

  4. Steve,

    I don’t want to get too political here, but as you point out, the survey statistics illustrate a major problem that has many causes including racism, greed, and self-serving elected officials. Parents must take a major share of the blame.

    I do find it encouraging that organizations like Junior Achievement, Scouting, church organizations, and the “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” group are trying to make a change. I can’t think of a better use of our time than to participate in their activities.

    Meanwhile, we need to deal with the reality that we have to be cautious in making personnel decisions.

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