Literature Review and Case Study Critique

As a profession, engineering has a particular code of ethics and a society in which the academic service providers belong. The codes and the engineering society dictate the professionalism of engineers, that is, how they are supposed to conduct themselves and practice. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), professionalism in engineering includes not only honest practices and ethics, but also recognition, public approbation, and methods of awards for work well done (Elden, 2012). For any profession, a code of ethics and professionalism are vital because they define how individuals should behave and form a basis for pre-emptive warnings.

This research attempts to prove this notion through a thorough comparative analysis of different literature and case studies. Notably, it will cover the importance of ethics at different engineering phases like design and manufacture and how it raises conflicts. Ethics and professionalism are vital for seamless work but come with numerous issues like conflicts, breaches, and penalties.

Before explaining the importance and types of ethical and moral behavior, this section will differentiate the two through definitions and examples.

Various sources use morals and ethics interchangeably, but the two are distinct from one another. While ethics refers to a rule of conduct that a culture or a particular group identifies with, morals are the set of principles that dictate what is right or wrong based on individuals’ philosophies. Research by Gerpott et al. (2019) explains different ethical and moral behaviors, using the two terms interchangeably. According to the authors, an example of ethical behavior in the workplace is moral decision-making, and this is making fair judgments contrary to personal preferences.

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The other action that determines ethicality is fair competition, mainly when two employees are competing for the same promotional position. Ethical and moral behavior is all about being integral, similar to engineering practices. The responses that these authors suggest are not distinct to those that engineering societies require.

Different bodies like the Institution of Electrical Engineers and the Engineering Council call for the same behaviors in the workplace. Engineers need to be integral, impartial, and fair in their practices, and these are examples of ethical conduct. Moral behavior, on the other hand, represents aspects like being kind to people and avoiding cheating. The sources acknowledge that moral and ethical actions are different because the latter bases on groups’ principles while the other one on individual practices. Like in other professions, ethics in engineering is essential in product development because it ensures efficiency. During the design phase, which is usually the first phase in the life cycle of a product, different engineers meet to give specifications according to the intended use of a product. Ethical codes that mandate the health and welfare of the public, and paramount safety, help in ensuring that the engineers involved choose the right materials with the correct specifications.

The idea that engineers should use moral principles in design has resulted in sustainable developments like eco-design and value-sensitive design. Barakat (2018) backs up this information by mentioning the design of sustainable cities in first-world countries as a sequential example. The same laws have helped engineers to come up with recycling plants. Therefore, ethical codes help in coming up with designs that are not only safe but also sustainable. Other than the design phase, ethical principles assist in manufacturing and specifications phases because they define the trade-offs and standards within which engineers must work as Mamedova et al. (2019) explain. In manufacturing, engineers always face dilemmas in picking various materials because of cost and workability preferences. However, the code of ethics that obliges them to ensure safety guides them towards selecting materials that would result in safety and public welfare. In carrying out financial, marketing and procurement transactions, the Engineering Council (2020) codes mandate engineers to be integral and quote actual values.

Professionalism and Influence of Ethics

Professionalism refers to how individuals conduct themselves in the workplace, how they carry out their duties, and how they relate with their society. According to the Engineering Council (2020), there are four key elements to back up this definition, and they are: honesty, respect, loyalty and exceeding expectations. Barakat (2015) gives the same description but adds that it is not only the conduct but also the qualities, aims, and attitudes that one exempts at the workplace. Some of the characteristics of professionalism are an appropriate dress code, loyalty, and demeanor. While working, mainly out of the office, engineers need to put on protective gear that comprises of safety boots, goggles, and aprons, depending on the type of work. A professional is also confident and fulfills what he promised, say responding to people promptly and being at the agreed time. Other than that, Stieb (2015) states that behaving morally and ethically, owning up to mistakes, being competent, having the appropriate etiquette and demeanor, are the primary characteristics of professionalism. Such characteristics are similar and reveal that professionals need to be responsible and have strong skills relative to their field.

Indeed, ethics and professionalism are not the same, but one aspect influences the other. Ethical codes shape the direction of and impact on individual behaviors, which affects the professionalism of individuals. A code of ethics explains essential professional practices that affect how people conceptualize their work and how they make societal contributions. An affecting factor of ethics on professionalism is the essence of and desire to educate members respectively, in order to unify behavior. In engineering disciplines, for example, students learn about the need to join particular societies and their required practices. Upon completion, each student becomes aware of what they are needed to do in the workplace. The young specialists understand that they need to be integral, prioritize safety and be fair. In the end, this behavior defines professionalism and becomes the norm for each engineer. Therefore, the code of ethics, through continuous practice, influences professionalism. Boni-Aristizábal and Calabuig-Tormo (2016) add that organizations use the codes of ethics to determine professionalism. For instance, if ethics ask for integrity, then the organization will emphasize on the same as the aspect of professionalism.

Conflicts of Ethical and Professional Issues

In the workplace, engineers may fail to uphold ethical standards, resulting in conflicts. A conflict of ethical or professional issue occurs when an employee fails to make the appropriate decisions. There are multiple types of ethical conflicts, and the most common one is fraud. It occurs when an organization or an individual makes a deceptive move to the public. In research by Sanusi et al. (2015), the authors recognize that construction and engineering firms face the most fraudulent behavior, and this affects their overall performance and finances. Some of the most common fraudulent practices are assets misappropriation, false supplier invoices, illegal political contributions, and an engineer accepting to invoice for quantities higher than those that a supplier will deliver. A study by Jakobsson (2016) backs up this research by explaining how fraudulent behaviors affect the profit-making and reputation of a company because of conflicts.

Other than fraud, conflicts of ethics are confidentiality breaches and issues with honesty and finance. Confidentiality ethical conflict happens when a party reveals data to the wrong party. The information can be propriety, contract breaches, or as a result of changing jobs. A case study by the Board of Ethical Review (2020) reveals a breach of confidentiality because engineer Z submitted a work report to engineer Y, who was not part of the project. The codes prove a confidentiality ethical conflict because the code of ethics prohibits engineers from sharing work data to unauthorized people without consent or approval by the law. Huhtala and Feldt (2016) explain how financial conflicts occur, and this is when an organization or an individual steal from a client, either in large or small quantities. Such issues result in conflicts of ethics and profession because one person illegally gains from the other or the other one loses escalating business politics.

Contracts and Breach of Ethics

When explaining ethics in engineering, contracts are vital because of the likely ethical issues that may arise during the agreement and in termination. Some contracts and insurance policies ensure that engineers remain ethical and professional in their practice. One of them is the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), which prevents engineers from sharing any confidential information. As Strassberg (2015) explains, there are different types of NDAs such as product development, employees or software development. Intellectual properties are a type of the same contract that ensures safe business practice and service or product development. They include trade secrets, copyrights, and patents. With trade secrets, for example, Rehman and Yu (2018) state that a contract helps in safeguarding the business assets, process, strategies and methods, blueprints and specifications, formulas, and customer lists, mentioning but a few. If one breaches the agreement, disclosing the commercial or intellectual secrets, such employee will face the input legal actions. Professional indemnity insurance and public liability insurance are additional policies that engineers must comply to in the event of failure, due to negligence or a third party’s fault.

Ethics and professionalism are vital in engineering practice, and that is why any violation results in sanctions. In engineering, the type of penalty usually depends on the breach, with some punishments being lighter than others. It is important to note that engineers are always aware of these codes and events that could lead to sanctions. There exist significant penalties for misdemeanors and major crimes, respectively. Minor violations include engineers’ tardiness, incomplete work, insubordination, and illegal use of office equipment. These actions show unprofessionalism, but because they are not critical, minor sanctions apply. Common penalties for these infractions include reduced work privileges and oral and written warnings. The Board of Ethical Review cases backs up this information with examples of studies where engineers violated various codes of conduct. Acts of violence towards co-workers, managers, and clients, theft, disregarding public safety or taking incompetent risks result in harsher punishments like fines and job demotions. Society can revoke the engineers’ license, reduce payments, and in extreme cases, terminate the job or title.

Effects of Globalisation, Culture and Career Development on Ethics and Professionalism

As technology changes and the human population increase, businesses continue to expand in the supply chain, talent, and sourcing. This issue affects the implementation of ethics and professionalism because of cultural and moral differences. As mentioned, ethics are principles that guide a particular culture and may vary by country or culture. It is ineffectual to assume that one’s ethics are right and fail to recognize those of others, in a global business environment. Therefore, cultural differences have necessitated societies and organizations to review their code of ethics and drop some, which they perceived to be imperative. In an extremely diverse society, defining ethical codes has become more challenging, and corporations have to stick to legal codes. Recently, the Engineering Council rendered some ethical codes as invalid for this reason. On careers, individuals pick a job and decide to work on it from a personal perspective. The need to incorporate particular changes, such as attracting more people to the field, may result in the elimination of specific codes.


Ethics and professionalism are helpful in engineering because they result in standard practice. Ethics are vital in different phases of engineering product development like design and manufacturing. With ethics, engineers strive to make the safest and most sustainable products as seen with buildings and smart cities. The codes are also vital because they result in professionalism and impact engineers’ overall behavior in the workplace. The literature has also revealed different types of ethical conflicts, and these are confidentiality, finance, and fraud. Conflicts of ethics are detrimental because they escalate business politics and cause financial losses. However, societies and governments have input policies to ensure that those who violate the codes receive substantial penalties. Even though ethics are essential, globalization, cultural differences, and career development affect its approval. In essence, the research has given an insight into the meaning of ethics and professionalism, importance, conflicts, violations and penalties, and factors that affect it.

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Literature Review and Case Study Critique. (2021, Dec 11). Retrieved from

Literature Review and Case Study Critique
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