Work Ethics and Professionalism in Engineering

Introduction

Work ethics and professionalism in the field of engineering is an important element. Many studies have been undertaken to explain the importance of professional ethics in engineering. Engineering as profession is one that is wide and canvasses disciplines such as chemical, civil, mechanical and electrical engineering. Engineers have a hand in almost every structure and equipment people interact with daily in their lives. As a result, the level of ethics, integrity, and professionalism exhibited must be at a higher level (Basart and Serra 2013). The rationale is that their actions and products of the same can and affect people who interact with such products. The members of this profession should, and is held, to a higher standard than an average layperson.

The interest in this area of study has been fueled by the need to critically reconsider the role of professional behaviour and ethics in engineering. Moreover, it purposes to investigate the need for high level of professional and ethical conduct in engineering and attendant effect on the society as a whole. To achieve the above, this paper will critically analyze existing literature on professional conduct and ethics in a wider perspective of engineering. In the review of existing literature, it will seek to identify and subsequently address the existing gaps in the research.

Ethical moral behaviour in the workplace

In everyday work situations, telling a lie or doing a shoddy work will likely affect a firm’s image in the eyes of the public who are either customers or prospective customers. Equally, an electrical engineer who fails to fulfill his undertaking to finish installations within a specified period of time will lose trust in the client concerned and those who get to know of such conduct (Bucciarelli, 2008). For a company to succeed, there should be trust between all the stakeholders involved from shareholders all the way to the competitors.

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Ethics has thus been taken to refer to certain set rules that prescribes acceptable conduct in a given sector or society as a whole. It is a prescribed right way of performing ones duties through established principles, rules and values upon which people base their conduct (Alahmad, 2010). Concepts like truth, fairness, honesty, and equity are more directly linked to ethics. The state on behalf of society has taken the duty to legislate policies that protect welfare of the public from unethical and unprofessional conduct of members of professions like law, medicine, and engineering.

Professional codes of ethics have therefore, been prescribed to dictate acceptable professional standards of behaviour of members of a given profession. Just as there are rules barring barristers and solicitors from using client funds for personal gain in the legal profession, engineers are also subjected to codes related to safety and integrity. Essentially, professions like engineering are held to a higher standard owing to the fact that they possess special knowledge and skills above the common man and their actions affects a large number of people in the society (Harris et al., 2013). A poor design and construction of a building will lead to loss of life and financial loss if it collapses. Such risks cannot be allowed to affect unsuspecting members of the public.

Morality is a controversial subject for discussion since authors have questioned the universality of the concept. Robert C. Solomon defines morals as set of rules or moral conduct agreed upon by a society and proceeds to provide four key points under morals (Noval and Stahl, 2017). In outlining the four points, he stresses that moral rules are important, consist of universal rules, are objective, and affect other people. While certain moral principles like those against murder and theft are universal, others are quite relative and subjective. However, for the engineering profession various organisations have emphasized more on ethical conduct than morality. The irony is that morality sometimes forms the basis of ethical conduct, hence an integral element of regulation of this profession.

Importance of ethics in the workplace

Different engineering processes involve use of personnel whose actions need to be regulated to retain product and service integrity. Company growth and development is dependent on the rules and procedures set in the work by employer and employees in order to maintain professional company culture (Brinkmann and Ims, 2003). Values like integrity, trustworthiness, respect, accountability, responsibility, camaraderie, loyalty, and fairness are essential elements of ethical terms and principles.

The effect of implementation of the above principles and values is that it improves productivity in all the departments of a company. Environmental sensitivity is an important value in accompany during disposal and recycling stage of production having in mind the United Nation 17 SDGs. Less legal issues will arise where professionalism and ethics is implemented in all the stages of production so that the resulting product is not substandard or a danger to the public, thus necessitating a recall.

Professionalism at the workplace

Professionalism generally refers to consistency in attendance of work, accountability in delivery of tasks, going the extra mile to deliver results, staying clam in during emotional moments, respectful communication to everyone and exercising good judgment. Other authors have considered attributes like neat appearance, reliability in getting work done, proper demeanor expressing confidence, competency in the relevant field, interpersonal skills, good phone etiquette and accountability (Davies, 2016). The common thread is that professionalism requires one to be all round.

Ethics are sometimes objective or subjective depending on the setting. Preexisting values inherent in a person affects how a person will act at the workplace and thereby influencing professionalism, which can be either positive or negative. Personal ethics are thus a key factor in determining the professionalism of an employee (Davies, 2016). There is also the ethical or the unethical behaviour of co-workers that will influence a person as result of interactions over time.

Ethical dilemmas emerge where there is clash between personal ethics and professional ethics. Professionalism can violate a person’s personal ethics and this can affect their productivity. Group ethics totally unrelated to those acquired form colleagues can also emerge. Again, ethics is evolving so that what was considered ethical in 1960s may no longer be considered as suitable (Frey and Wellman, 2008). Corporate governance principles have now introduced international standards that are being adopted by organizations to enhance ethical development.

Excessive pressure to reach unrealistic performance targets is another way in which ethics and professionalism can be compromised. Where an organization sets extremely high targets, employees may resort to unethical means to reach those targets in fear of retrenchment and in pursuit of financial gain (Carucci, 2016). More people will use shortcuts and reports will not reflect the actual processes used by the company for future references. Similarly, engineers provided with strict deadlines might resort to unprofessional ways of meeting that deadline while compromising the quality of product, structure, or process.

Joseph L. Badaracco Jr has described the conflict of ethics and business politics as not being issues of right and wrong but conflicts of right versus right. Studies have questioned whether strict application of ethics is unrealistic in light of the realities of business practices (Carucci, 2016). An engineer working on project for a company may be conflicted as to whether to consider the interest of the community with regard to environmental issues or just remain steadfast to the contract. Broadly, PepsiCo recently had a conflict between some of the shareholders and the Chief Executive Officer. Whereas the CEO was obligated, to maximize profits and in turn dividends for the shareholders, there was the ethical issue to adopt more environmental friendly diversification. This is an example of conflict between ethics and financial gain.

Measures against unethical and unprofessional conduct in the workplace

In a bid to tame losses caused by failure to adhere to professionalism and ethical conduct at the work place, organizations have come up with internal mechanism and other international best practices. According to (Fanimokun et al., 2012). Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) have been used by companies having in their possession sensitive data, information or materials that require protection from competitors or members of the public. NDAs are a form of restrictive covenants to the benefit of the company initiating it.

While it is aimed at protecting the economic benefit of the company involved, it can stifle innovation and limit the expansion of an individual’s abilities. NDAs can also result in conflict of interest where an engineer has a fiduciary duty to a client (Passino, 2009). It can result in liability in the end as one attempts to fulfil it to the detriment of a clients’ interest. For instance, a chemical engineer who has worked for company A can be restricted from working with or for company B in the same sector or totally restricted from opening a competing business. Therefore, one can conclude and rightly so, that some of the measures undertaken are not really for the benefit of the general public but for the protection of selfish capitalistic interests of individual companies. Thus, there is a thin line between professionalism and protecting interests of a company.

Mistakes are bound to be made at one point by an architect, civil or mechanical engineer. Such mistakes can be costly especially where the client brings a suit against the engineer. Consequently, companies and individual engineers are now taking professional indemnity insurance to pay for legal costs or any compensation arising from mistakes made during their work Li and (Fu, 2012). However, this I only a remedial measure to the client and cushion to the engineer or company involved. It does not ensure there is professionalism and ethical conduct, in fact, because it provides cushion against expensive legal costs, it may encourage unprofessionalism.

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in the United Kingdom has a prescribed procedure for handling complaints against its members. It has a Professional Conduct Panel that considers complains of improper conduct of its members before, if necessary, forwarding the same to their Disciplinary Board. Where the Disciplinary Board finds a member guilty of a lodged complain, such a member can be expelled, suspended, fined, reprimanded, or admonished. Therefore, there exists mechanisms of punishing errant members of the profession

Effects of career development, globalization and cultural issues on ethics and professionalism

Globalization has led to increased competition and expansion of companies creating more opportunities for engineers in terms of employment and career development. However, cutthroat competition has seen the proliferation of unethical and unprofessional behaviour by entities as they seek to maximize earnings in a crowded market. Today, companies are expanding and setting up in other jurisdictions to avoid tax, evade tough environmental laws. Again, cases of bribery and kickbacks have been witnessed in companies seeking certain favour. What then is the role of engineers finding themselves either directly or indirectly involved in such vices?

Organizations like the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) have rules governing code of ethics by engineers in the United States (Basart and Serra, 2013). On the other hand, Accountants have the International Ethics Standards Board for Accountants (IESBA). Despite the different cultural practices and perception of morals and ethics, professional have been able to agree on ethical standards both at national level and internationally. Although culture has an impact on ethics, it is still possible to reach a common ground for professionals for uniformity in standards and quality of service.

Conclusion

In light of the foregoing, ethics and professionalism remain to be important aspect of corporate governance. In relation to the engineering profession, ethics and professionalism plays a key role in protecting members of the public and consumers of their products and services. Engineering, like other professions like Law, Accounting and Medicine require strict regulation even if it involves self-regulation. These are professions exhibiting special knowledge and skills and members of the same carry themselves out as competent (Alahmad, 2010). Ideally, it is not for the member of public to conduct due diligence on the qualification and competency of an engineer he or she wishes to deal with. Self-regulation should take care of any rogue fellows in the profession and the presumption is that the current members are competent in their area of specialization. Owing to the above factors, engineers must be held to higher ethical and professional standard

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References

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