“This is an industry of extreme perks,” said author and speaker Hattie Hill, CEO of Hattie Hill Enterprises, during her breakout session at the Financial & Insurance Conference Planners Annual Conference in November 2010. “But,” she continued, “when you do unethical things, it will get back to you.”

Her session “Personal Ethics in a Corporate World,” drew a full house of meeting planners and hospitality partners eager to discuss the nuances of their ethical challenges.

This is not a new conversation, but it is arguably more relevant than ever. “Desperate times have called for desperate measures,” said one person in the audience, referring to efforts to stay afloat during the economic downturn.

A case in point was made earlier that day in the conference general session when FICP president Dan Young, CMP, of Thrivent Financial, chastised an unnamed hospitality partner for luring some planners away from the association’s evening event with an exclusive invitation to a National Football League game. Participants at Hill’s session agreed that this invitation was unethical, although likely not intentionally so.

In Hill’s book, ethical behavior means doing the right thing, whether people know it or not. Her advice is to think about ethics as a line, and when you have an ethical dilemma, figure out if your decision would be over the line, under the line, or on the line.

For participants at the FICP seminar, one of the most animated discussions had to do with respecting boundaries between personal and professional relationships. For instance, a hotel representative said it is not uncommon for planners who bring big business to his property to ask for personal favors such as free accommodations for a family vacation.

To arrive at an ethical decision for any situation, whether personal or professional, we should listen to our personal ethics barometer, says Hill. We all have one, whether it be a gut feeling or, like Hill, asking, “What would my Mama say?” Then, answer the following “ethical challenge” questions:

1. Is this decision truthful?
2. Is this decision reasonable?
3. Does this decision obligate me? Is there an expectation?
4. Does this decision benefit all stakeholders?
5. Could I stand behind this decision if it went public? If it were on CNN or in a YouTube video, would I be comfortable with it?