When I recently posted on the topic of ethics, I didn’t know that the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) was about to publish an article on the topic in its publication, Communication World (CW). Research findings included in the September-October CW article were even more surprising–and disturbing.

Last year, the IABC Research Foundation funded a study of ethics and communication, conducted by researchers at the University of Houston (Texas) School of Communications. The team was led by professor Shannon Bowen, who stated in the study proposal,

“Recent corporate scandals, such as Enron, have heightened the urgency of re-evaluating the ethics of business communication.”

Based on the response of 1,800 communicators to an online survey, the urgency is to actually teach communicators about ethical communication practices. Only 20 percent of the survey respondents had completed at least one course on ethics, and only one-third stated that their employer provided training or study opportunities in ethics! Not surprisingly, the CW article author, Gloria S. Walker, ABC, FRSA, summarizes that the majority of communicators “may not be well prepared to handle situations that arise in their day-to-day work.”

Walker then states that, in addition to the codes of ethics that many companies and associations like the IABC promote, communicators need guidance. She asks,

“Where can practitioners find this guidance? That is the issue we must begin to address.”

Begin to address? We should never have stopped addressing ethical behavior in schools and in associations like IABC. But before we blame society and our educational system for once again failing our youth, consider the possibility that our fellow practitioners are letting themselves–and their profession–down by not caring enough about the subject to determine their own solid moral compasses.

Wow, am I grateful that my family instilled basic ethical standards in me that later were reinforced in legal and ethics courses in journalism courses. Although I’ve made some dumb choices over the years, I’ve rarely had to ask someone else for guidance. I usually let my “conscience be my guide,” and that works pretty well. But it does help to have a coworker or other colleague who can help hold us accountable for our decisions.

Given the IABC Research Foundation survey results, that solution isn’t applicable to the majority of communicators today. That is very bad news.