The Ethical Workplace

Companies that maintain an ethical culture in the workplace reap the rewards of more motivated and productive employees, resulting in greater financial success. Nonprofit and association management professional, Lori Porter, MBA, IOM, CAE, talks about it in her Associations Now blog post. “An organization’s ethical climate is important because it can improve employee morale, enrich organizational commitment, and foster an involved and retained workforce,” Porter wrote. “Organizational ethics are primarily driven not by policies and procedures but by the actions of its leaders. Good leaders model the ethics they’d like to see reflected throughout the organization.”

What Is an Ethical Culture?
Culture is hard to define and difficult to measure, yet it has the power to shape a company’s employee satisfaction and retention, productivity, reputation, and its ultimate success. It is the environment and morale within the company – including how people treat company clients, customers, and coworkers. An ethical culture creates an environment where doing the right thing is rewarded and doing the wrong thing has immediate negative results. An ethical business culture places priority and value on their employees, establishes equity in procedures, pay, and promotions, and encourages employees to treat each other and the customer with compassion, honesty, and tolerance.

How is Ethical Culture Established?
HR Professionals play a major role in establishing an ethical culture within a company. It begins with the hiring process and continues in training and evaluation. Being upfront with prospective employees and letting them know both the company principles and the actions, which they will not tolerate is vital. Once a prospective candidate is hired, their training should include a discussion on the company’s ethical policies. Finally, every employee review should include an evaluation on how the employee is conforming and enhancing ethical culture. Of course the HR Professional and all management must be firmly committed and walking the ethical talk.

What are the Key Factors for Building an Ethical Culture?
• All levels of management comply with ethical codes of conduct – establishing through personal actions that long-term reputation is more important than short-term gain.
• Establish clear boundaries for behavior and responses to misconduct.
• Establish trust by being honest and transparent, accepting accountability, and keeping promises.
• Keep a written code of conduct, company values, and expectations concerning ethics – communicate about these at regular intervals.
• Provide training on company standards.
• Encourage employees to address issues immediately.
• Create a safe way for employees to report unethical behavior without fear of retaliation.
• Give positive feedback to employees whose behavior supports the company’s ethical culture.
• Have a system for disciplining failure to comply.

What are Potential Pitfalls Leading to Ethical Downfall?
• Creating conflicting goals – putting employees in situations where they feel like they have to cut corners in order to reach a deadline or performance level.
• Avoiding the little things – letting them slide without a response implies that ethical standards are all just talk.
• Failing to maintain a high standard – gradually lowering the bar soon becomes a rapid decline.
• Using creative language to make questionable actions appear acceptable.
• Finding ways to rationalize negative ethics when doing the right thing comes at a cost.

Employees are quick to spot on inconsistencies in management. As guardians of their workplace culture, HR professionals not only establish ethical values, but also have the responsibility and means to inspire and empower employees at all levels to follow them. Companies who have strong ethical leaders in their HR department will prosper across the board.
Contact Springborn Staffing. As an extension of your HR in Bangor and Portland Maine, we place a high priority on ethical standards.

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