American Business Ethics: What’s Acceptable and What Isn’t

American Business Ethics: What's Acceptable and What Isn't

Your work environment will most likely be starkly different from what you’re familiar with. This is because American corporate values are different. American business ethics revolve around maximizing profits, while still following the law.

What might be ethical to you might even be illegal in an American company, and vice versa.

Here is a guide to American work culture. Familiarize yourself with what is expected of you, so that you don’t become known as an uncivil employee.

1. Do not take expensive gifts

Picture this: a client has handed you a document that they need processed urgently, and they are opposed to waiting for the average duration. Instead, they offer you an expensive bottle of wine to help speed things up.

The gift is clearly a bribe. Do not offer or accept payment in cash or kind to facilitate progress. You can get fired, as bribing is a punishable offence. 

In many countries, it is acceptable to accept or offer gifts or money to close a business deal. However, in the U.S., even if you insinuate that you would consider a bribe, you can offend the other party and lose the deal altogether, as well as tarnish your professional image.

Instead of offering a bribe, try to negotiate the deal. Check with your superiors and offer them a better deal, or throw in another deal at a discounted rate.  

2. Do not use misleading advertisements

If your job is to market products or services to a specific clientele or audience, refrain from misleading information. Do not promise what you cannot deliver.

While in many countries it is acceptable to brag and present a polished image, Americans expect to receive what they are pitched. Make sure your advertisement has the correct information and does not oversell. As per the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, claims regarding health, safety, and performance should be substantiated.

Failing to deliver that will not only put your job at risk, but also tarnish the company’s image. Additionally, you can face civil lawsuits and enforcement actions.

3. Do make friends

Most American employees are extremely friendly. They might come across as a little too friendly if you come from a culture of social reservations.

Americans will approach you and share their personal information, even if it’s the first time they’re speaking to you. It’s perfectly normal. In fact, you should do it too. Americans spend a lot of time working, and you’ll be expected to as well. Your friendships will come in handy.

This is why your superiors may even seem amiable. They’ll be positive in their feedback and praise you often. It is also a common trick in America to sandwich their criticism. They’ll begin with a few positive compliments, then circle in towards the issues, and then end on a positive note. 

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4. Your colleagues might get competitive

It is perfectly alright if you find yourself in a competition with your colleagues. Americans are solo players, always seeking the limelight. This is why American companies are extremely focused on teambuilding exercises, and often organize retreats. 

Your colleagues might try to overshadow you or hog the credit. Do not let them walk all over you.

To secure your professional position and other incentives like a raise, or the title of ‘employee of the month,’ you’ll need to get a little competitive.

After all, you have to prove yourself as an important employee. The easiest way to achieve that is to prove that you are an important individual, part of a team, and someone who is working to further the goals of the company.

5. Your ideas are important

Americans value equality. Compared to how it is in other countries, the work dynamic is not too insistent on hierarchies.

You are always encouraged to share your opinions, or even disagree. It is also common for American companies to have regular brainstorm sessions to plan for projects. This is to encourage dialogue across the company among all the levels of the workforce.

Regardless of your position, if you have something important you think you can contribute, speak up politely.

This shows that you possess a strong work ethic, and are confident and ambitious. All these qualities are vital to American work culture, and will help you climb up the corporate ladder.

6. Relax and keep it casual

It may seem weird to call your supervisors or senior employees by their first name, but get used to it. Your manager might even insist on it. Americans are often informal and relaxed in the workplace.

You’ll find them on dance floors in office parties, making conversations. They might even ask you about your family. Keep the small talk short, informal, and friendly.

Dress codes depend on the company you’re working in. Most new companies don’t have strict dress codes, but if you find yourself in a huge corporate organization, it is best to suit up.

7. Always be on time

There’s nothing worse than being late in an American workplace. Americans are known for centering their lives around their work.

Showing up late presents you as an unreliable and disrespectful employee. If you’re often late, you might even face serious action. If you’re punctual, you’ll automatically be perceived as someone who takes their job seriously.

If there are times when you cannot avoid being late, inform your manager beforehand. Each company has a different protocol for such situations. Make sure you inquire about it and are not late without notice.

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8. Vacations and leaves are tricky

Americans do not take leaves, vacations, or even breaks in the workplace very often. Most companies offer only two weeks of paid leave a year. Your colleagues might not even use the paid leave.

If you think that’s bad, the U.S. doesn’t mandate paid leave to a new parent. The decision is entirely up to your employer.

Even during lunch hours, your colleagues might prefer to eat at their desks. Americans take very few breaks during their work hours, and sometimes even skip meals altogether.

So, if you want leave, you better have a good reason ready.

American work culture can come across as extremely taxing and competitive, but at the end of the day, it is worth it. If you’re an ambitious and driven person, this work culture provides an environment where you can achieve your true potential and progress further in your career.

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