Are ethics absolute or relative?

Recently I was asked if I thought ethics were absolute or relative. Very few things are absolute as so many things come into play – culture, demographics, social environment to name a few. Kind of like the notion of common sense. What is common for you might not be common for me.

How do ethics impact business decisions? In business, I strive to always work ethically and with professionalism. So far, for the most part, I have been able to do work with some really talented and smart people. The ability to collaborate with people of this caliber has only strengthened my skillset. These skills I’ve learned, I’ve taken and have applied with other clients. Is this ethical? I think so human growth is part of living, right? I hope through this interaction, people I work with have done the same. But then I wonder, at what point does taking the value of the relationship turn to an unethical action?

The life of sub-contracting

As a contractor, I frequently work with clients who are looking for my expertise to fulfill a need for their clients. For example, their expertise is in video development, but their client needs to be able to assess for understanding or track the completion of the video – enter Professionalize It powered by Jenny Anderson. Or my client is a specialist in marketing, but their client has a need to turn that marketing content into an engaging eLearning experience, time to call Jenny.

Circular target marked with numbers and red dart. An idea of targets i.e business, price, audience, market, group, practice, analysis, risk, range, rate, state, tracking, area, value, cost, site, etc.The work I do in this situations is for the client that is paying me, not the end recipient of the work. As a natural part of us working together, I’m learning from my client, and, in turn (I hope) they are learning from me. Our portfolio and work of knowledge grows. Now I take my experiences and use what I have learned from my other engagements. The same applies to my client, they can showcase what they have accomplished when a future need arises.

Next, what frequently happens, my client has a new opportunity. They share they have shown the work done on a previous engagement and the client is impressed and wants something similar. However, this new opportunity is similar but slightly different than our previous engagement. Next, they ask for guidance, insight, and estimates on levels of work. This whole process is exciting as I’m able to collaborate and discuss possibilities. Plus – when my client wins the business – pay my bills as I am able to complete the work.

What would you do?

But what happens if, during this process, my client takes my ideas, suggestions, and estimates and hires someone else when they have won the job? Is this ethical? Have they crossed any boundaries? What would you do in this situation?