News & Events

Professional Ethics at Work

By: Matthew Robinson, PE

We all like to think that the decisions we make in our professional careers are straight-forward and easy. Yet we frequently find ourselves having to navigate difficult and nuanced shades of gray.  The seemingly simple imperative to “do what’s right” becomes confused when we think deeper and question what is right. 

During the course of any given day, we are frequently under pressure to finish our work under tight time constraints, intense budgetary pressure, and increasingly dynamic conditions.  These competing priorities stress our decision-making skills as well as our approach to work. It’s natural for us to consider cutting a corner when it feels like we can’t gain any ground, but what about that voice in the back of your head telling you to stop and think about it first?

Our professional ethics and morals serve as our internal beacon at work, providing a bulwark against a constant stream of stress and helping us to balance all of those competing priorities when we are trying to get work projects completed. These ethics and morals, unique to every person, define who we are and how we approach the pursuit of our personal and professional goals.  But these aspects of our personality cannot develop in a vacuum.  Indeed, if I were the last person left on earth, I would realistically have no need for ethics and morals because there is nothing that I could do that would hurt another person.  So, where do these defining parts of our personalities come from?

Our ethics and morals are birthed early in our life as self-awareness dawns on us.  Starting first as a set of rules dictating how we want to be treated (remember when you told your parents, “It just isn’t fair?”) and gradually evolving into our standard for conduct and behavior in the world, our morals and ethics are constantly being shaped by our every experience and action.  In addition to our own internal code of conduct, our communities, faith, governments, friends, families, and a long list of others share and enforce their own ethics with us.  Thus, the genesis of our ethics is an amalgamation and a reconciliation of our personally held internal beliefs and the external standards of conduct that we come into contact — or conflict — with.

So, what is right?  This is a question without an answer because it is inherently subjective.  Right to me may not be the same to anyone else, and no matter how empathetic I am, I may never be able to understand why you don’t feel the same way I do.  So how can we ever hope to maintain our ethical integrity in a professional setting if there is no absolute right or wrong? 

Thankfully, the professional societies associated with our industries have decided to tackle this problem and provide standards of professional conduct and practice.  These standards help to reinforce what we feel is right, even when we cannot articulate why it is so.  Therefore, our ethical obligation as a professional requires us to incorporate the ethical standards for our organizations and authorities that we want to be a part of into our personal approach to work and life. Knowing these industry standards and codes are part of being a professional but understanding and internalizing their lessons is a personal journey. Luckily, it is not a journey we have to take alone. Examining our ethics means considering a situation from as many points of view as possible, something that Qualus is eager to share with the industry through our ethics refresher training.

This is the goal of us as professionals here at Qualus.  We are an organization of workers with a strong internal moral beacon, an understanding of the obligations we all owe to our industry, and a respect for the burden our post carries. Join us in the future as we provide ethics refresher courses that will help you navigate the shades of gray in our work and earn continuing education credits while doing so!

Matthew Robinson, P.E. is senior manager in training and development at Qualus with a history of working in the electrical power industry. Matthew is a registered Professional Engineer and holds a master’s degree in power engineering from Northeastern University. To discuss Matthew’s ethics class or other professional courses for your team, contact us at For a full list of available QualU courses, see our course catalog.