“I think ethics is the most exciting topic in the world to talk about,” said no one ever.
I know people who actually cringe when they discover a seminar or conference they will be attending has a session on ethics. Some professions require training in ethics—for example, those of us with a CPA license must obtain a whopping two hours of ethics training per year. (Thank you Enron, Arthur Anderson, etc…)
Why do most find the topic so boring? I assume that’s the reason no one really wants to talk about ethics. I have a theory that we find it so boring because we already think we act ethically all the time and therefore can’t learn anything new. Kind of like the person who habitually drives in the left passing lane who doesn’t want to hear about the LAW that says to stay right unless passing. But that’s another topic (and obvious personal pet peeve). Many people can probably relate to this…It’s possible that discussing ethics may not make you learn anything new, and that’s because our moral barometer is likely mostly set from an early age. And ethics is not always a black and white situation. What discussing ethics hopefully does is make us think, perhaps even a bit differently than before, about what is right and wrong, especially when what’s right isn’t all that obvious to us.
At LAGERS, our Ethics Policy provides numerous guidelines to assist staff and trustees, as well as other defined covered parties, in making ethical decisions. We include some sample questions to ask ourselves, such as
Is what I’m doing right and fair?
Would I mind if others knew about this?
Would others think this might affect my judgment, even if it won’t?
Am I using my position, or confidential information obtained through my job, for private gain?
For us at LAGERS, making ethical decisions is completely intertwined with our fiduciary duty—making the best outcome happen for our members first and foremost (within the constraints of state and federal laws). Period. It's reflected in one our organization’s values—Integrity.
Integrity - acting at all times in an honest, ethical and professional manner to ensure fulfillment of LAGERS’ obligations to members, employers, and taxpayers.
We live this every day as we carry out our mission--as we answer phone calls, as we process wages and benefits, as we prepare financial statements, make investment decisions, work to secure our data from hackers, and interact with our members in educational sessions. Our Board sets the ethical “tone at the top” by adhering to this same value of integrity in the decisions made on behalf of the members.
Our Ethics Policy also contains a quote: “Rules cannot take the place of character.” We require everyone here to read and sign off on the policy annually, but at the end of the day the right or ethical decision is dependent upon the judgment and character of each of us—which is true for every person out there, whether at work or in our personal lives.
"Rules cannot take the place of character" - LAGERS Ethics Policy
As a side note, if you’d like a little light reading on the subject of ethics, a wonderful book we heard about at a recent conference is Cowboy Ethics by James P. Owens. Owens, a Wall Street investment manager,studied the ethical code of the American cowboy. I know it sounds unbelievable, but it is actually short, light and even interesting, with beautiful photographs as an added bonus.
We wanted our members to know that, even though it may sound boring, ethics is at the core of LAGERS' deeply held belief that everyone deserves a secure retirement. And it's important to us that you know the steps we take practice ethics, every day, as we carry out that vision.