WHY ENGINEER? — Chapter 6 — Where Do Ethics Fit In?

When I was a new engineer on the job, I learned a valuable lesson.  Quality Control is not about Quality of Design.  Quality Control is about being assured that the drawings were followed faithfully during the manufacturing and testing phases of producing products.  That was fine with me, and still is.  I don’t actually want a Quality Control Engineer telling me how to design “real” quality into a product.

Ethics, on the other hand, is something your company doesn’t think you have unless they put it in you!  Now that is where I start to have a problem.  It is quite evident that ethics as a subject has been taken over by the legal profession.  It is not about “doing the right thing.”  It is about doing nothing that will put the company in legal trouble.  That’s all it is in their view — case closed.

Well, that may be all it is to a lawyer.  That may be all it is to Management.  That is not what it all is to me.  When you take your first class in ethics that is sponsored by your company, you’ll see what I am talking about.  Ethics is not about keeping your word.  Ethics is not about telling the truth.  Ethics is only about keeping the company out of court.  They won’t come right out and say that to you, but that is exactly what they mean.

It has always grated on my sense of justice that a company has the gall to set itself up as the judge of ethics, as if you had none of your own when you hired on.  And I would guess that working for the government works the same way.

Now, I have no objection to keeping the company on the right side of the law, but to me there is much more to ethics than that.  Understanding the laws that affect your products and business is a good thing, but always adhering to the truth is not heavily stressed in ethics classes.

Once someone lies to me, I will never trust them again.  And lack of trust is erosive.  It wastes time with having to check things that you are told because the teller lacks credibility.  Customers in particular hate being lied to.  Can you blame them?

Unfortunately, I have run into quite a few coworkers who lie to get what they want or to get what they think the company wants.  That usually means putting you down and taking credit for your work or not telling a customer the truth about what you are going to supply, when, and how much it will cost in the end.

Watch your back and the backs of those you trust — and watch the backs of your customers!