Ethics should never be situational. I was once sitting in the office break room having lunch with some employees. Two of them owned rental properties, and were commiserating about the problems they have with tenants. The first said that he was frustrated because when he is forced to evict someone who is not paying rent, they often retaliate by trashing the house. The second employee/landlord chimed in and said that he loves it when a tenant trashes one of his units, because he "inspects" the property with sledgehammer in hand and finishes the job. "I make sure it’s done right, so that my insurance company replaces all the appliances and fixtures."

I hoped he was just kidding, but he then proceeded to go into detail about how he has learned to game the system so that the replacement appliances are better than the old ones. He left no doubt that he actually follows this procedure.

I looked at him and calmly said, "John, you’ve just openly admitted to insurance fraud. How can you ever expect to be trusted by anyone in this room after a story like that?" He said he was the most trustworthy guy we’d ever meet – he only does things like that to insurance companies.

Ethics don’t work that way. Hopefully John possesses some standards, but as a general rule someone who is a crook in one part of their life will be a crook in other parts.  John would claim that the insurance company does not deserve his honesty, but if I send him on a business trip and the temptation arises to raid the mini-fridge, how am I to know that I am deserving of his honesty on that particular day?  When time comes for promotion and raises, do you think John will be at the top of my list?

You may be honest to a fault, but remember that when it comes to reputation, perception is reality.  If you are a smoker and decide to take six five-minute breaks during the day instead of two 15-minute breaks, all your boss perceives is that you are standing in front of the building smoking every damn time he comes or goes.