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Career Development Tips

Personal Ethics: What They Are and Why They're Important

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated Jun 29, 2021

Guide Overview

Personal ethics definedWhy are personal ethics important?Differences between personal and professional ethicsExamples of personal ethicsHow to identify your personal ethics

Guide Overview

Personal ethics in the workplace

Personal ethics refers to a person's beliefs about what's right and wrong and guides individuals in the decisions they make both in and out of the workplace. Your unique ethics will determine how you handle certain situations at work as well as how you grow and develop within your career. Here we explore what personal ethics are, why they are important, the difference between personal and professional ethics, and common examples of personal ethical principles.

Personal ethics defined

Personal ethics are ethical principles that a person uses when making decisions and behaving in both personal and professional settings. These ethics influence various aspects of a person’s life and help individuals develop their work ethic, personal and professional goals, and values. Individuals use their ethics to determine between right and wrong and influence how someone behaves in challenging situations. Each person’s code of ethics varies, but many people share common ethics such as honesty and respect.

Why are personal ethics important?

A person’s personal ethical principles are important for several reasons, including that they:

  • Allow leaders to more effectively lead their teams: When a leader regularly follows a predictable and respectable code of ethics, their team is more likely to follow their lead and feel confident in the contributions they make to the organization as a whole.
  • Instill a sense of trust and support in leaders: Leaders and other professionals who regularly behave in the same way no matter the situation are more likely to be trusted and supported by colleagues and employees. Individuals who follow a sound ethical code are easier to believe in and are more likely to establish credibility among others.
  • Give individuals a solid basis of which to determine the most appropriate action in any given situation: When a person has solid personal ethics, they are better able to make decisions and take action in situations that may otherwise seem challenging.
  • Improve the decision-making process: A professional’s ability to make decisions is based on their personal and professional ethics and what they believe to be good or bad. Having strong ethics makes the decision-making process easier and more streamlined.
  • Set a standard of behavior: In the workplace and in life, ethics help establish an appropriate standard of behavior for individuals. This behavior is called ethical behavior and refers to a person’s ability to make sound decisions based on their ethical nature.
  • Support motivation: Individuals with strong ethics are often easily self-motivated and willing to go the extra mile to accomplish a task or goal on time and in the correct manner.

Differences between personal and professional ethics

There are a few key differences between personal and professional ethics. The primary difference is that a personal set of ethics refers to an individual’s beliefs and values in any area of life, while professional ethics refers to a person’s values within the workplace.

An example of a personal code of ethics is as follows: A person chooses to return a wallet that they found on the ground to lost and found rather than keep it for themselves due to their personal ethic of honesty. In the workplace, an example of professional ethics would be the same person returns a wallet to their coworker due to a code of conduct rule of no stealing.

Some people differentiate personal and professional ethics by viewing a personal ethical system as a personal moral code or a person’s conscience, while professional ethics are viewed as a set code of conduct that must be adhered to in the workplace.

Examples of personal ethics

The following are examples of a few of the most common personal ethics shared by many professionals:


Many people view honesty as an important ethic. This ethic transfers from an individual’s personal life into their professional life and ensures they are truthful in all scenarios.


Loyalty is another common personal ethic that many professionals share. People who have a personal ethic of loyalty demonstrate trustworthiness and fidelity in all of their dealings and can be trusted by others to maintain their loyal behavior no matter the situation.


Integrity refers to a person’s commitment to upholding their moral principles in any situation and is an important component of trustworthy and sound relationships both in and out of the workplace. People with integrity are reliable, responsible, and hold themselves accountable for their actions.


People with sound personal ethics demonstrate respect for those around them both at work and in their personal lives. They respect others’ autonomy, rights, and interests, and do not discriminate based on someone’s religion, sex, or race.


People who are selfless put others first and do not act in selfish or self-serving ways. They consider the needs and situations of others and prioritize these needs before their own.


Someone with a strong moral code is willing to take responsibility for their actions and make changes or amends when necessary.

How to identify your personal ethics

The following are steps you can take to identify your unique personal ethical beliefs so you can improve upon them and demonstrate them in your daily life:

  1. Get clear on your priorities. Knowing what means the most to you can help you determine your personal set of ethics. For example, if you regularly put others first, you likely have a personal ethic of selflessness. Make a list of your personal priorities in life and see if you can connect each priority with a unique ethic.
  2. Write down your goals. Having a concrete idea of your personal and professional goals will help you establish your unique ethics. For example, if your goal is to maintain honesty and integrity in everything you do, these are likely two of your personal ethics.
  3. Consider your practices and beliefs. What you believe in and the things you practice will shed light on your unique ethics. For example, if you believe that one should be willing to take responsibility for their actions no matter the situation, you likely have responsibility as a personal ethic.

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