Tips for Promotive Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

After the names of executives involved in business scandals dominated headlines, “ethics” has become a common buzz word in Corporate America. As a result, over the past few years the emphasis on good business conduct has largely been placed on executives and those in the financial arena. In reality, ethical behavior must permeate every level of a company – from the mailroom to the boardroom – for it to be most effective.

As challenging as it may seem, it is necessary for each member of an organization to understand and accept that their contributions and the decisions they make on a daily basis can have a major impact on the company as a whole. This impact can be measured not only in company profit and team morale, but in the level of trust gained with clients and consumers. In addition, stellar corporate ethics have been shown to help companies retain top employees and attract highly-qualified new talent. Fortunately, Ajilon Professional Staffing has a few tips that will help you create a work environment that supports your company values and encourages employees at all levels of the organization to live the part.

Create a corporate culture.

If you want your employees to make business decisions based on a moral code, you must first establish clear guidelines so they will know what is acceptable. Writing a company mission statement and creating an employee code of business conduct will help you clarify the type of professional behavior your company deems appropriate. This is a great opportunity for you to determine what principles your staff considers important, so seek their input as well. Once created, a copy of these guidelines should be provided for all members of your organization and posted in common areas.

Keep in mind, however, that for an employee code of business conduct to be truly effective, it cannot simply list the "do’s and don’ts" of ethical behavior. Instead, it must provide guidance to your employees by assisting them in making good ethical decisions. Training programs that cite specific real-world examples of moral dilemmas employees may actually encounter are also a good way to help your staff prepare for decisions that fall into the “gray area.” Ethics training can also provide an opening for you to share examples of professional decisions or situations you’ve been faced with that tested your principles and resolve to behave in an ethical manner.

Establish a "support system."

Let’s face it, we would all prefer to think that the honor system is enough, but in many cases it clearly is not. When employees understand that part of their job is to make ethical decisions – and to report any behavior they consider unethical by company standards – it removes the fear that they might lose their job if they speak up about a coworker or manager’s unethical behavior.

Providing a secure means for employees to speak out is a good way to ensure they will do so if necessary. Creating a "Whistleblower Policy" is one way you can reassure your employees that they won’t suffer because they did the right thing. The policy should make it clear that workers who come forward with any information regarding a colleague or manager will not be penalized and instead will be afforded all protection possible under the law.

Put ethics in the job description.

Making it clear right from the start that yours is a company and a department that values strong ethical behavior is a good way to ensure that the people you hire will be a positive addition to your team. In fact, companies that develop a reputation for acting in a principled manner tend to attract top-tier candidates who share their values. So, use the hiring process as a time to judge a potential employee’s commitment to doing the right thing. During interviews, ask employees if they’ve ever faced an ethical dilemma on the job and if so, how they handled the situation. Also, ask if they’ve ever had a colleague who regularly violated policies and whether it felt demoralizing personally or affected the department. Include ethics as a part of all reference and background checks, and once you’ve hired a new employee, be sure to provide training to bring them up to speed on the company’s code of business conduct. Six months after their date of hire, follow up with new employees in a one-on-one interview to solicit feedback on their transition to the new environment and their impression of the company as a whole in comparison to past employers. This may help you gauge the effectiveness of your new employee ethics training program and provide suggestions on how you can improve it in the future.

Set the tone…and follow through.

Perhaps Ghandi put it best when he said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." While ethical behavior is necessary at every level of a company, it is imperative that those at the top model this behavior and challenge anyone – colleague or otherwise – who fails to respect the code of conduct. Failure to do otherwise sends a message to all that you do not value the principles put forth in the company mission statement and the guidelines provided in the employee code of conduct. In addition to being bad for team morale, this implies your approval of unethical behavior by others in the company.

So, don’t just talk about principles and values; live your principles and values. And do it every day. Make it clear to your staff that you prefer they make the right decision over the easy decision – even if the result means less profit. Remember, leaders set the tone, but it must be one that resonates at every level of your business. This will only happen if you believe what you’re saying, so be sure that your actions support your words.

Remember that ethical decisions are made by people, not businesses. By placing an emphasis on ethical behavior and making it known that anything less is unacceptable, you are creating an environment that supports and encourages solid, ethical actions.

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