Personal ethics vs professional ethics

This article will be dealing with personal ethics vs professional ethics topic of UPSC Ethics GS Paper IV.

Personal ethics vs professional ethics has been described as “Without ethics, man has no future. This is to say, mankind without them cannot be itself. Ethics determine choices and actions and suggest difficult priorities.”

― John Berger

In General  

Among Personal ethics vs professional ethics both are equally important.Ethics and values are what makes us human. In order to lead meaningful life, one needs to lay down some code of conducts and follow them. Often many of us mistake ethics to be related to decision making revolving around our conscience, but that is not so. Ethics related to workplace are more about following the workplace codes laid down by the company. There might be times when the two coincide, but most of the times they are different. In simpler terms, the morals and values that define how you are as a person can be referred to as your personal ethics. How we behave and conform to the rules in professional setup/organisation is referred to as professional ethics. However, the two types aren’t just limited to their definition. A professional environment may too involve some personal ethics too.

Personal Ethics 

It refer to an individual’s personal or self-created values and codes of conduct. Since childhood, these values are instilled in human beings with the help of friends, families, friends, etc. What an individual gains and develops in the childhood remains throughout life and helps in their decision making. An individual’s personal ethics also can be seen in his/her professional ethics too.

Professional Ethics 


These are the values and principles, which are introduced to an individual in a professional organisation. These rules, regulations, principles, etc are mandatory in nature and the employee/ employer will not have any choice to not follow them. Furthermore, we also know that this is imperative in nature. For the organisation to reach its goals, it’s important for everyone to be disciplined. Professional ethics helps in maintaining discipline and decorum In the office. Non compliance to such code of conduct and regulations might lead to your behaviour being reported as harsh and unprofessional. For e.g., if your business dealings are dependent on the values of fairness and transparency, you will always be able to retain your vendors and customers.

In certain situations, personal and professional ethics may contradict each other and moral conflict/ethical dilemma could rise.

For e.g., A doctor may personally believe that abortion isn’t right. But in a certain medical condition abortion only might be the last and only medical solution available. The doctor also has to respect the rights, freedom and autonomy of the choice of patient.

What is the difference between Personal Ethics and Professional Ethics?

Personal ethics vs professional ethics

  1. Ethics are standard of rights and wrongs – what a person should or shouldn’t do. Some people define personal ethics as conscience based and professional ethics as code based. According to another definition, personal ethics is an individual’s code of behaviour toward the people around him and the efforts he/she takes to be and give his/her best in personal life. In same way then, professional ethics are an individual’s efforts to be the best person possible in his/her work life. For e.g., an individual has a specific idea about how much he/she should drink when outside. this decision will be based on his/her own knowledge of their own behaviour when he/she drinks, his/her friends level of comfort and the amount of proximity he/she shares with them and how his/her drinking may impact his/her productivity the next day. These are considerations of personal ethics. Now, when looking at the same case through professional ethics – an individual might be comfortable to have two drinks with his/her friends, but not be ethical to have those two drinks right before coming to work. He/she would not be violating his/her personal code about drinking, but sabotaging his/her position in office and would be considered inappropriate in a professional context. The value system hasn’t changed, but the context is.

2. Furthermore, the biggest difference between the two is the strictness and the discipline with which people conform to them. The values/principles defined by your organisation/institution/profession must be more diligently followed than the personal ones. Even if your personal and professional comes in conflict, most of the people would go by the later one (professional) as breach of these may hamper your reputation. But if one doesn’t adhere to the personal ethics, it will hardly make any difference because the basic trust will be absent – something that comes from your family and friends. We need to keep in mind that violation of our own regulations may harm others too.

3. Personal ethics develops over a period of time and instilled by our near ones – parents, family, friends, etc. They also can be developed through life – altering incidents. Whereas professional ethics depends on the kind of organisation one is joining/part of. These are some which you have to immediately adhere to as well. Others can be developed as you undergo experiences.

4. Following Personal ethics will result in clear conscience, positive attitude and a satiated spirit. If you fail to follow them, the principles you yourself have laid out, you will end up feeling guilty and remorseful. Having said so, the consequences may vary from individual to individual. In professional ethics, the results are more predictable and obvious. Following them will result in honour of being a diligent employee and sincere worker. Non – compliance brings bad name, tarred reputation, disgrace.  Many a times, punitive measure/legal actions are too taken.

5. Personal ethics are relied on the individual as he/she designs them for their own self, to make his/her life more orderly and disciplined. individual life depends on them only. Professional ethics are formulated and laid down by organisation and they need to be upheld by all employees and employers, irrespective of salary and designation.

We cannot state that one is better than the other, or we follow one and leave the other one. It is important for us to balance between these two. Also following both is essential in its own respective capacities. This will make us better human being – for our owns and for society at large.

You can also watch a video here on Personal Ethics vs Professional Ethics 

Personal vs Professional Ethics
Personal vs Professional Ethics

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