Great Idea: LIFTing Teen Ethics?

A New Better Business Bureau program raises awareness about the importance of personal ethics

Have you ever realized you got too much change from a store clerk and promptly handed back the extra money? At work, do you limit your personal use of the internet and your smartphone to your breaks? Do you always stay to the end of your work day even when no one would know if you left early?

If you answered “yes” to those questions, then you understand what ethical behaviour looks like. Unfortunately, it seems more and more people don’t. 

That’s why the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario is offering ethics education to youth in its region, and has encouraged their counterparts across Canada to follow suit.  “It was a direction we wanted to move in to give back to our community, to introduce a program that helps kids understand how critical it is to make good decisions every day,” explains Len Andrusiak, CEO of the regional BBB headquartered in Winnipeg.

Ethics, he believes, is something kids should be taught — especially these days when high-profile examples of unethical behaviour are all around them. “We need to recognize that media stories are full of situations where questionable ethical decisions are being made — not just by young people but by politicians and community leaders, by doctors and lawyers who are being challenged on decisions they’ve made in their positions,” Andrusiak points out. “It can’t hurt to start in the school system and with kids who’ve already made mistakes in their lives to help them learn how to be good team players and understand the importance of doing the right thing.”

An ethical LIFT

Known as LIFT, the BBB’s program emphasizes the importance of ethics and integrity and how those qualities can positively shape a person’s own personal brand. It provides young people with tools to navigate ethical dilemmas they encounter in their school, work or personal life. The potential consequences of unethical behaviour are discussed.

In five, 45-minute, in-class workshops — which dovetail nicely with high school business courses as well as many other subjects — students learn the steps they can take to find ethical solutions.The curriculum also offers an introduction to business ethics as well as personal character lessons focusing on topics such as responsibility, character, values and development. Social media is cited as an example where displaying integrity and ethics can have a positive effect now and in the future, while the opposite can have immediate and long-lasting repercussions for someone’s personal brand. “I don’t think some students today understand with social media how quickly you can damage your personal brand by making a wrong decision, and how important a good personal brand is for your relationships with your employer, or employees if you become a business owner. It’s also impacts relationships in personal life,” says Andrusiak, a former entrepreneur and business owner himself.

LIFT was developed by the BBB in Denver, Colorado, and introduced in schools there three years ago. To date, over 1500 Denver students have successfully completed the program. Two Winnipeg high schools were the first in Canada to welcome LIFT into their classrooms earlier this year and feedback has been positive. Andrusiak is also promoting LIFT to organizations that work with at-risk kids and youth involved with the justice system. The Boys & Girls Clubs of Winnipeg has already signed on.

LIFT workshops conclude with each student presenting an ethics-related project which requires about 10 hours of their own time to complete. As well, they have the option of signing the LIFT commitment, promising ethical conduct at school, work and in their personal life. Students who make that commitment, fulfil all program requirements and demonstrate knowledge of ethical workplace standards receive LIFT Certification which could give them an edge when applying for employment.

Although Andrusiak recognizes the critical role that parents play in teaching their children ethics, he realizes that kids don’t always listen to what their parents say. That’s why he considers allowing teens to discuss various ethics-related scenarios with each other to be “the most powerful, important part” of the program.

Revealing stats

A 2012 survey of American youth on the topic of ethics found that only 28 per cent feel the average person is ethical, while almost 60 per cent believe successful people do whatever is necessary to win, even if others consider it cheating. And, 95 per cent admitted to cheating on a test, plagiarism or copying someone else’s homework.Those stats concern Andrusiak. “I think that’s where we’re missing the boat. We can’t let that become the norm,” he warns.

Still, there was good news in that U.S. survey. Ninety-eight per cent of youth recognize that trust and honesty are essential in the workplace, and 95 per cent said that being thought of as ethical and honourable is a high priority for them. “The objective of LIFT is to help young people succeed,” Andrusiak concludes. “The Better Business Bureau is an organization of collective businesses that wants to promote ethics, honesty and integrity and we feel there’s no better place to do that than with our youth.”

By: Laurie Nealin

Want to know more?

Find out more about LIFT at

School counsellors or youth agencies in Manitoba and NW Ontario interested in introducing a LIFT program can contact the Manitoba BBB at 204-989-9011 or

In other provinces, educators should contact their regional BBB to determine if they plan to introduce LIFT in their areas. (Note that there is no BBB affiliate in Quebec.)