The Key Steps to Creating an Ethical Workplace Culture

We would all like to think that our employees know the difference between right and wrong in the workplace. But do your employees know where to turn in a crisis?

The truth is, even employees with the best moral compasses can find themselves in an ethical gray area. How does this happen? The culture that your organization creates can cause employees to cross an ethical line. Does the company pressure salespeople to close deals no matter what? Are your best employees in fear of losing their jobs over a minor slip up? There are enough opportunities for people to cross ethical lines — don’t let your company culture be one of them.

Culture Starts at the Top

So much of how an organization is run is dictated by the men and women in charge. Middle-level managers and employees take cues on what is acceptable (and unacceptable) from the leadership team, which is why it is important to ensure your leaders are acting in ethical ways. If those who wrote the policy can’t follow it, how can your employees?

Additionally, leaders should be transparent with their organizations. Lower level employees are often left out of board rooms where decisions are made. However, that doesn’t mean they should be left completely in the dark! Create a sense of trust and allow management to be open with employees.

Onboard Employees with Ethics in Mind

Companies known for their ethics, like Google, live and breathe these practices. It helps employees buy into what is right and wrong from day one. During orientation, thoroughly review your company’s ethics policy. Encourage new employees to ask questions and clarify any gray areas. Make sure the paperwork you are handing out is updated.

Keep in mind that our business landscape changes constantly. What was originally a gray area might not be anymore, but so many new ones may have appeared. Employee conduct and ethics policies should be reviewed yearly to ensure accuracy. If and when you make changes, all employees should be notified.

Act as a Safe Place

Employees don’t often report unethical behavior because they don’t know where to go. An HR professional should always act as a resource for employees. Larger employers can even have a hotline for employees to report items that make them uncomfortable.

Not all organizations have an HR team that can employ a full-time Ethics Officer, so a simple box where employees can voice concerns can go a long way. Regardless of the outlet you choose, make sure what is reported is confidential! Also, make it clear there is a no retaliation policy. If employees feel they will be punished for doing the right thing, chances are, they won’t.

Creating an ethical workplace and culture can pay long-term dividends. Imagine if Enron employees had internally reported unethical behavior before it spiraled out of control. (Business schools probably would probably lose an entire lecture on the importance of ethics and financial transparency!) Creating a positive, ethical environment can inspire everyone to act in ways that better the overall organization and it’s community.

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