Ethics are defined as a system of moral principles, or the way things ought to be. It deals with values, as opposed to facts. Now, I could go into things like meta-ethics, and hedonism, and virtue ethics, and consequentialism, but no one really cares about them, and neither do I.
Obviously, ethics play into many other concepts. Strong ethics plays into having good character, for example. Ethics affect a great deal of how we act, think and feel. It narrows or widens our options, as well as influencing how others treat us in a variety of ways. If I know you are a trustworthy person, for example, I’ll be more willing to be friendly to you or to tell you something I might not otherwise.
Why should we be ethical while working? We shouldn’t abuse that expectation. You expect the bank teller to count your money properly or the guy selling food not to spit in your drink. You don’t know them, but you trust that they won’t do it. And that trust is what makes the world work and interactions between people possible.
And if the threat of reprisal is the only thing keeping you from doing something bad, then I feel sorry for you. That means you’d do what you want if no one could stop you, and that’s kinda scary. An ethical system cannot be imposed from without – that’s not how they work. If you’re forced to behave a certain way, it won’t be genuine, and therefore problems will arise. Ethics tell you how to take “informed risks.” Bear in mind that “ethical and lawful” is not the same thing, much of the time, and that bending the rules is not inherently bad.
We mainly should be ethical not because of what other people think, , but because it is the right thing to do. Acting in an ethical way is all about choices. Do you step up and take responsibility for the mistake? Help out someone even though it’s out of your way? Take on a harder job so someone else will have it easier? Ethics also prepare you to be more successful in everything you do: people can spot a fake a mile off, and so if you’re genuine, you will draw them to you and show that you’re trustworthy. So really, it’s in your own self-interest to be ethical, quite apart from the moral aspect.
There’s also the question of what’s ethical. Obviously, different people have different ethical frameworks. So how can a group of different people reconcile their beliefs in order to keep things moving smoothly? That’s simple: reach a consensus on what everyone agrees is wrong, and try to find an equitable compromise. We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.