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Ethics in the Workplace: How to Maneuver Through a Career with Integrity

In workplace environments where the goal is often to get ahead and succeed in any way possible, ethics can be the furthest thing from your mind. When it comes to advancing your career, qualities such as the adherence to moral principles can seem unimportant compared to creating instantaneous results. However, it is through defining and […]

In workplace environments where the goal is often to get ahead and succeed in any way possible, ethics can be the furthest thing from your mind. When it comes to advancing your career, qualities such as the adherence to moral principles can seem unimportant compared to creating instantaneous results. However, it is through defining and navigating with your own personal moral compass that you can not only set yourself apart from your peers, but also lead to decisions that best serve your company.

Working in the pharmaceutical industry, I am constantly having to balance the needs of the companies I work for with what is best for the people our companies serve. Below are some of the ways in which I operate that makes sure I live what I value.

DEFINE YOUR VALUES CLEARLY AND PUT THEM AT THE HEART OF EVERYTHING YOU DO

In order to think and work ethically, one must first establish their own personal ethical code of rules to abide by. By clearly defining your ideas of right and wrong from the start, when you are faced with a potential ethical dilemma, you will already have a clear vision of the best path.

My parents were both in the medical field, and from a young age I admired their passion for helping others, often putting a patient’s needs before their own. As I moved through school, I became fascinated with the idea that DNA was a code that once cracked could be used to identify and eventually cure any and all diseases known to man. It became my one desire to research such diseases and do everything in my power to ensure they were brought to the people.

By the time I earned my Phd in molecular biology, it was clear to me that while I loved researching new drug development for the betterment of the human race, my true skills lay in my ability to connect with people, and that my talents would be best utilized on the corporate side of the pharmaceutical industry, ensuring new drugs were properly marketed and distributed. I knew that by working from the inside, I would be able to ensure the companies I worked for were practicing patient-first care. My ethics system is something I am still constantly working on and re-evaluating, as it should be for every individual.

DON’T THINK ABOUT ETHICS AS JUST FOLLOWING LAWS AND REGULATIONS

Practicing ethics in your work life is about more than following laws, adhering to regulations, and even your own company’s guidelines. It is about having social responsibility, i.e. the obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. In doing so, you may come to realize that by showing your consumers that your company is behaving ethically and with a commitment to go beyond mere compliance with laws and regulations, that you will actually build a stronger relationship with your customers, leading to better retention rates.

At one point in my career within the pharmaceutical industry, my company was mere days away from beginning distribution of a new colorectal cancer treatment. My team and I had been working tirelessly for months on the development, marketing, and production of the drug, but we were informed of a biomarker that would indicate whether the treatment would elicit a discernible response to the drug therapy. As leader of the team, it was down to me to make the call of whether to proceed on schedule in light of the new information. There were no regulations or laws that prevented us from continuing with the release as planned, and by not disclosing the biomarker the profit potential was higher as patients would need to purchase and try the drug to determine its effectiveness for them personally. However, putting my patient-first moral standards into place it was clear that in an oncological treatment plan where time can be of the essence, saving time by pre-determining a patient’s response to their cancer treatment could prove to be vital to a patient’s recovery. I felt that ethically we were accountable to divulge the information, and even took it a step further proposing the creation of a standardized test for practitioners to use, providing initial education on the product, as well as offering specialized customer service support. Although this did push back the release of the drug, it proved to be the more innovative solution as well as the ethically sound one.

CARE ABOUT PEOPLE BEFORE PROFITS

Above all, the best way to move through your career in an ethical fashion is by realizing the imperativeness of making people the bottom line over profits. Authenticity attracts people, and although it can be easy to forget just how important people are to the success of any business, you must remember that you are working with people, not parts or gears in a money-making machine.

At another point in my career, I was charged with the marketing and distribution of the drug Xenical. Originally formulated as a treatment dyslipidemia, it had been discovered that because the drug worked as an oral lipase inhibitor, and could therefore function as a tool for weight loss. Upon this finding, many of my colleagues were quite adamant on the idea that we would best maximize sales by marketing the drug to anybody and everybody looking to shed a few pounds. However, upon exploring the research further, I found that there were a number of adverse side effects that would not only deter the average consumer from continuing the treatment, but also cause pain and disappointment to many individuals hoping for results. Instead, I pushed for the company to market the drug towards medical professionals as a treatment to prescribe for those suffering from obesity. Those were the patients that truly needed a medical solution to their problem, and would benefit the most from the treatment. In pursuing a people-oriented approach to marketing, we not only were able to gain the trust of our consumers, but upheld ourselves ethically as well.

Follow Carsten Thiel on Medium and Twitter.

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