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Professional Ethics

Professionals work in a wide variety of settings and across many different industries including business, science, medicine, education, art, and public service.


Many professions have Codes of Conduct that specify ethical behavior and expectations particular to that industry. In addition, professionals must make ethical judgments in their area of specialty that fall outside their specific Code of Conduct.

The resources in this section offer insights that apply to a wide range of professionals as they seek to develop standards of ethical decision-making and behavior in their careers. Often, professionals need to apply moral reasoning to their interactions with co-workers, clients, and the general public to solve problems that arise in their work. Professionals also need to be on lookout for social and organizational pressures and situational factors that could cause them to err, unknowingly, in their ethical judgments and actions.

No profession is free from ethical dilemmas. All professionals will face ethical issues regardless of their career trajectory or the role they play within an organization. While Codes of Conduct are essential, and a good starting point for ethical conduct, they are no substitute for a well-rounded education in behavioral and applied ethics.

Start Here: Videos

Role Morality

Role Morality

Role morality is the tendency we have to use different moral standards for the different roles we play in society.


Bounded Ethicality

Bounded Ethicality

Bounded ethicality explains how social pressures and psychological processes cause us to behave in ways that are inconsistent with our own values.


Start Here: Cases

High Stakes Testing

High Stakes Testing

In the wake of the No Child Left Behind Act, parents, teachers, and school administrators take different positions on how to assess student achievement.


Teaching Notes

Begin by viewing the “Start Here” videos. They introduce key topics that commonly emerge in our careers, such as making ethical decisions based on the role we’re playing at work. The four-part video, Being Your Best Self, describes the four components of ethical decision-making and action. To help strengthen ethical decision-making skills, watch the behavioral ethics videos in the “Additional Videos” section to learn about the psychological biases that can often lead to making poor choices.

Read through these videos’ teaching notes for details and related ethics concepts. Watch the “Related Videos” and/or read the related Case Study. The video’s “Additional Resources” offer further reading and a bibliography.

To use these resources in the classroom, show a video in class, assign a video to watch outside of class, or embed a video in an online learning module such as Canvas. Then, prompt conversation in class to encourage peer-to-peer learning. Ask students to answer the video’s “Discussion Questions,” and to reflect on the ideas and issues raised by the students in the video. How do their experiences align? How do they differ? The videos also make good writing prompts. Ask students to watch a video and apply the ethics concept to course content.

The case studies offer examples of professionals facing tough ethical decisions or ethically questionable situations in their careers in teaching, science, politics, and social services. Cases are an effective way to introduce ethics topics, and for people to learn how to spot ethical issues.

Select a case study from the Cases Series or find one in the “Additional Cases” section that resonates with your industry or profession. Then, reason through the ethical dimensions presented, and sketch the ethical decision-making process outlined by the case. Challenge yourself (and/or your team at work) to develop strategies to avoid these ethical pitfalls. Watch the case study’s “Related Videos” and “Related Terms” for further understanding.

To use the case studies in the classroom, ask students to read a video’s “Case Study” and answer the case study “Discussion Questions.” Then, follow the strategy outlined in the previous paragraph, challenging students to develop strategies to avoid the ethical pitfalls presented in the case.

Ethics Unwrapped blogs are also useful prompts to engage colleagues or students in discussions about ethics. Learning about ethics in the context of real-world (often current) events can enliven conversation and make ethics relevant and concrete. Share a blog in a meeting or class or post one to the company intranet or the class’s online learning module. To spur discussion, try to identify the ethical issues at hand and to name the ethics concepts related to the blog (or current event in the news). Dig more deeply into the topic using the Additional Resources listed at the end of the blog post.

Remember to review video, case study, and blogs’ relevant glossary terms. In this way, you will become familiar with all the ethics concepts contained in these material. Share this vocabulary with your colleagues or students, and use it to expand and enrich ethics and leadership conversations. To dive deeper in the glossary, watch “Related” glossary videos.

Many of the concepts covered in Ethics Unwrapped operate in tandem with each other. As you watch more videos, you will become more fluent in ethics and see the interrelatedness of ethics concepts more readily. You also will be able to spot ethical issues more easily – at least, that is the hope! It will also be easier to express your ideas and thoughts about what is and isn’t ethical and why. Hopefully, you will also come to realize the interconnectedness of ethics and leadership, and the essential role ethics plays in developing solid leadership skills that can advance your professional career.


Additional Videos

Additional Cases