Small Business Ethics

When a company is struggling to make the payroll, small business ethics can sometimes go by the wayside. It may be tempting, at times, to turn a blind eye to unethical behaviour by employees if that behaviour increases the bottom line.

This may prove to be costly, and could end up having far-reaching consequences. A company that fails to hold itself and its employees accountable to a code of ethics, can end up causing its own failure.

Dynamics of Ethics

The term "ethics" covers a wide range of behaviour and is one of the core strengths of a society. Most people consider ethics to mean moral concepts dealing with "right and wrong", or "good and bad". Such concepts,however, can be difficult to define as they could change as a society grows and changes. Behaviour considered widely unethical 100 years ago might not meet with outrage in today's society. This is the challenge faced by both Fortune 500 companies, and the family-owned corner grocery store.

Business Ethics

When considering the ethics of running and maintaining a business, some of the widely-accepted core principles are those of honesty, integrity and respect. These principles are the guidelines of successful companies, and all decisions, from the top executive to the individual contributor, must pass the litmus test of these ideals.

Small Business Ethics vs. Corporate Ethics

Small business ethics are no different from those of large businesses. The details of each ethical principle, however, can look very different, meaning each must be tailored to apply to the specific type of business and business environment.


When it comes to honesty, small business ethics are no less important than are those of large companies. To quote Warren Buffet: "Trust is like the air we breathe. When it's present, nobody really notices. But when it's absent, everybody notices." Honesty within a small business has a significant impact on the many small daily decisions made at all levels. Honest behaviour gains the trust of employees and customers alike.


Integrity in the area of business is something that can easily be applied towards the wise use of business assets. For a small business, misuse of business assets can quickly run up expenses that may cause a business to lose so much money that it must lay off workers or close its doors.

Employees who behave with integrity are always mindful of their use of business resources, and strive to keep usage to a minimum. This can even be with something as simple as not using the company copy machine for personal items.

Higher-level integrity refers to a company that avoids conflicts of interest and protects sensitive information such as that of business partners and employees.


When a business embraces "respect" as one of its core ethics, this attitude can positively permeate the entire company. Respect for employees generates respect among employees.

Respect for customers generates a feeling of good will and can generate even more growth than any number of newspaper or television advertisements. Such respect for customers and business partners, leads to loyalty and repeat business that can mean the difference between success and failure.

Small business ethics are sometimes overlooked in the fierce competition of today's business environment, but companies do so at their own peril. Laying and maintaining an ethical code in a company can play a major role in helping that company weather the highs and lows of the business environment it operates in.