Say it isn't so

December 5, 2007
By: Vicki Bell

Confession time. I'm a survey junkie. When I scan news sites, I always check the survey section to see the latest topics. In fact, my very first blog post on, What to do about health care costs, mentioned surveys about dashboard dining and windbreakers imported from China—one has nothing to do with the other, unless the windbreaker is protecting your vehicle during dashboard dining.

I'm especially interested in surveys about human nature. The results of one survey posted today on revealed that millions of Americans will be in a bad mood this winter, and they won't react in healthy ways—one of the healthiest being—naturally—taking the supplement marketed by the company that posted the release. That's right. Just one of many product-promoting surveys.

However, another survey, for which results also were posted today, shed light on a troubling trend among today's teens, the future work force.

According to a new national poll, nearly 40 percent of "ethically prepared" teens believe lying, cheating, and violence are necessary for success. This survey was co-sponsored by Junior Achievement and Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, which recently launched "JA Business Ethics." The program, a continuation of a $2 million initiative to help young people make ethical decisions, provides hands-on classroom activities and real-life applications designed to foster ethical decision-making as students prepare to enter the work force. Students examine how their beliefs align with major ethics theories and learn the benefits and advantages of having a code of ethics.

The majority of teens surveyed (71 percent) said they feel fully prepared to make ethical decisions when they enter the work force. Yet 38 percent of that group believe it is sometimes necessary to cheat, plagiarize, lie, or even behave violently in order to succeed. Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of all teens surveyed think cheating on a test is acceptable on some level, and more than half of those teens (54 percent) say their personal desire to succeed is the rationale.

In a particularly alarming finding given recent cases of school violence, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of all teens surveyed think violence toward another person is acceptable on some level. Of those who think so, the justifications for violence include settling an argument (27 percent) and revenge (20 percent).

"The high percentages of teenagers who freely admit that unethical behavior can be justified is alarming," said David Miller, Ph.D., executive director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Business Ethics, who reviewed the findings. "It suggests an attitude of ethical relativism and rationalization of whatever actions serve one's immediate needs and purposes.

"This way of thinking will inevitably lead to unethical if not illegal actions that will damage individual lives and ruin corporate reputations," he said.

Teens may not have followed the tales of Enron, Adelphia, WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, Citibank, Tyco, and other corporations that seriously were affected by their leaders' unethical behaviors. However, they can't have missed the downfall of Barry Bonds and Michael Vick. Unethical behavior to gain an advantage always backfires—maybe not immediately, but eventually. Always & in one way or another.

I applaud the JA/Deloitte initiative. It sounds as though they have their work cut out for them. Perhaps the Bonds, Vicks, and Jeff Skilling (former Enron CEO, now serving a prison sentence) of the world could atone somewhat for their egregious actions by helping educate youth about the importance of ethical behavior. At the very least, they could become poster boys for what not to do.

For a fascinating discussion about teaching business ethics, read "Is big business ethically bankrupt?"

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209