workplace ethics

Establishing Ethics Program in the Workplace

Everyone knows the commandments: do not steal, do not lie, do not hurt your neighbor and, of course, the “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” These are the principles the majority of people choose to follow in their personal lives. It’s interesting, how ethics are often considered to be a commitment related to the personal but not business. Moreover, some business practices actually tend to frown upon ethics. This choice is often explained by prioritizing what’s best for the bottom line over doing the right thing.

Ethics and ethics in the workplace are commonly distinguished as two different notions. In reality, there is no — or rather, there is not supposed to be any — difference between workplace and personal ethics. Regardless of it being at work or in personal life, ethics are the same. Ultimately, ethics are not about focusing on what feels good or benefits you. Ethical choices are the right choices to make, which align with the code you choose to live by.

Application and Practical Impact

Where ethics in the workplace is concerned, executives usually want to see answers these key questions: “How does work ethics benefit my business, its practical goals, and employees’ work?” and “Is there any reliable data to confirm the premise?”

A nonprofit organization called The Ethics Resource Center offers assistance in identifying ethics concerns and establishing higher ethical standards in offices. The organization runs a yearly telephone survey known as NBES (National Business Ethics Survey) involving up to 1500 US employees. The survey reveals encouraging results for the companies that emphasize ethical business conduct. To give an example, 9/10 questioned employees admit that they expect their companies to not only consider what is profitable but rather what is right. This makes it safe to assume that employees aren’t being cynical or even indifferent about work ethics. It’s also hard to argue that this news is encouraging for any organization looking to implement or develop ethics-related initiatives. After all, any long-term program success is directly connected to participants support.

Both formal and informal ethics practices have proven to affect particular key outcomes. When leaders, management, and company in general model ethical conduct and exercise the application of values at work which include respect, trust, and honesty, the employees who work for the company report positive experiences such as:

  • Higher likelihood of feeling “valued” at the organization.
  • Lower rate of misconduct at the workplace.
  • Higher chances of reporting misconduct.
  • Improved company’s response satisfaction when reporting misconduct.
  • Improved overall work satisfaction rate.
  • Reduced pressure to compromise ethics standards.

Seeking Out and Addressing Concerns

Among other things, the NBES found a substantial gap between employees at lower levels and middle & senior management. The uncovered gap is in the perception of organization’s ethical environment, which is considered positive by the management but deemed inadequate by the lower-level employees. What is the takeaway? — the importance of particular ethics matters faced by the employees may be overlooked by the executives.

The importance of including inputs from lower-level employees is crucial to developing, cultivating and implementing a successful ethics program as, otherwise, there is a risk of a disconnect which leads to executives failing to adequately address particular concerns at lower levels. It is critical for management to continue seeking out feedback regularly.

Aside from a disconnect in communication, the concern of reporting misconduct is a common issue. Surveys reveal that 1/3 employees believe they will be considered “snitches” if they would have chosen to report improper workplace behavior. Moreover, employees at nearly the same proportion believe they will be seen as “troublemakers” for reporting misconduct. The discovery of such concerns calls for the systemic elimination of retaliation at all levels.

Getting Key Questions Answered

Let’s get back to addressing two of the key questions: “How does work ethics benefit my business, its practical goals, and employees’ work?” and “Is there any reliable data to confirm the premise?” There is a number of reasons why executives should dedicate time and resources to focus on ethics in the workplace. There is also sufficient amount of reliable data to support the assertion. The NBES discoveries confirm a direct connection between exercising ethics programs and increased employee satisfaction which results in positive outcomes for the organization.

Notably, suggesting that encouraging ethics will show visible impact overnight is simply naive. The resolution to company’s issues won’t happen overnight, but it will with a well-developed and organized effort. Implementing an ethics program targeting key concerns sends an important message, showing that your organization is moving in the right direction.

Implementing an Ethics Program

Integrating an ethics program will take cooperation and involvement of many people rather than some kind of science. When considering the establishment of the program, it is important to take the right approach based on company culture, proper planning, and management styles. Note that some people may not be comfortable discussing ethical issues. Therefore, executives should first respond to these questions:

  • How we define “success”?
  • What are our values as an organization?
  • Are the values properly articulated?
  • Who is our organization accountable to?
  • Does the executive level of our organization stand behind the idea of workplace ethics?
  • What are current ethics policies in our organization?
  • Do good people find our organization showing unethical behavior?

Upon discussing these questions as well as obtaining feedback from lower level management and employees, executives should have a better overview of ethics perception in their organization.

All in all, it boils down to reaching a collective understanding of ethical conduct. Next, working on raising awareness of ethics-related questions and proving solutions at the workplace. Ultimately, these programs are looking to cultivate ethical behavior in both personal lives and at the workplace.

Workplace ethics is more than just a “tick the box” exercise. Given perfect conditions, ethics at the workplace leads to small businesses attracting more customers, corporations avoiding embarrassing scandals, and negotiations between organizations becoming transparent. Isn’t this what all of us ultimately strive for?