How many decisions will you make today? I’m not talking about those big life altering decisions like should you change jobs or get married. Instead I’m talking about those small (and often innocuous) decisions you may not even realize were made. Yet these small decisions build your personal brand.

If you are striving for professional success and to differentiate yourself from your peers (and hello who isn’t!) it’s important to avoid the ethical pitfalls listed below:

  1. No Lying Allowed. It doesn’t matter if you’re lying to your boss about why you’re late or a team member about a mistake. The number one rule for ethical behavior is no lying…ever!
  1. The Cheater. Chances are you didn’t like the kid who cheated at games when you were young. And news flash, as adults we’re no bigger fans of the behavior. Regardless of how you dress it up, fudging on personal or vacation time reporting, long lunches, extended breaks and fake doctor appointments is still cheating. Your employer has generously provided certain benefits. Not 10-20% more to take as you see fit. Be classy (and ethical!) stay within the guidelines.
  1. Surfs Up Dude! A recent study showed workers spend 60-80% of their time surfing the net for non-work-related issues. While I hope those results are a little extreme, it still doesn’t make planning that next vacation or checking your favorite blog post (unless of course it’s mine!) during the workday ok. Surf time has become so rampant that recently an employer in the United Kingdom took a radical approach. They reduced their employees to a 6 hour work day but in exchange asked for them to completely avoid personal use of the internet during the workday. And guess what….productivity (not to mention morale!) actually increased!
  1. I’m Out of Here! While it’s certainly normal behavior (and hello sometimes smart!) to consider looking for a new job, it shouldn’t be done on company time. Yet millions of employees do it every day. Whether it’s trolling LinkedIn under the guise of “networking” or taking a call from a headhunter, job search activities should be performed after hours. At the risk of over simplifying things, your employer is paying you to work for them…not to find a new job with someone else.
  1. Hey Bartender. We’ve all had that rough morning meeting that may make us joke about having a stiff drink over lunch but acting on it is a completely different story. While amazingly drinking at lunch may not be the complete taboo it once was, when the topic is ethical behavior it’s still a slam dunk NO!
  1. Stealing is for Baseball. Most of us have been guilty of taking the occasional pen from the office. But when that single pen becomes a box and then you make the easy transition to flash drives, CD’s and copy paper it’s likely time for an intervention. Sure while you may not go to jail for this type of white collar theft, don’t kid yourself about the significance. It all represents taking something that isn’t yours…which is stealing and never the right thing to do!
  1. And that Means Ideas too! Stealing physical objects from your employer are admittedly wrong, but stealing ideas from co-workers and introducing them as your own is no better. You may get by with this once, but chances are a second time will encourage peers (and management!) to be on guard since you’ve already been proven untrustworthy.
  1. But it’s Just a Couple. I’m betting that on occasion you’ve used the work copier or fax machine to handle some personal business. Sure maybe you only needed a couple of copies, but is it really your employers responsibility to buy the paper and ink for you to make Aunt Ellen a copy of your famous recipe?
  1. Less is More Right? There are certainly aspects of life where the “less is more” mantra rings true, but your efforts at work aren’t one of them. Simply put, being ethical means doing the right thing. And it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that stretching out your current work assignment to avoid that next thing on the horizon is not only unethical, it’s a bad career move.
  1. Affairs of the Heart. Since we often spend more waking time with co-workers than family, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that the majority of affairs happen at work. But as dear old dad used to say, “if everyone jumped off a bridge, would you too?” No matter how you may try to justify things, an affair at work does not make you an ethical role model. Not to mention it’s typically a horrible career move!

Do you have a co-worker who makes poor ethical decisions? If so, I’d love to hear about it!