Why Your Ethics Policy is Not Making Your Culture More Ethical

Most people don’t think they need an ethics policy to tell them what’s right and what’s wrong at work. However, most people don’t go through life without getting a parking or speeding ticket.

Employees are human and many of them may be either ignorant of ethical rules or willing to rationalize bad behavior. For instance, they might shop online during work hours on the company computer.

People typically engage in poor behavior because they are motivated to. People who are bored at work are more likely to goof off. People who feel slighted by the company are more likely to steal or damage property. Companies looking to head-off unethical behavior must consider the motivations behind it, and not just think about how to penalize guilty parties. They must also create a culture that encourages and supports strong ethical behavior.

Don’t focus on small stuff

You might be tempted to look at a code of ethics to crack down on unethical behavior. While that isn’t a horrible approach, it’s important not to focus too much on penalizing offenders. Jumping on borderline transgressions is a quick way to sour employees’ attitude toward guidelines and toxify the discussion.

Creating an ethical culture

To develop an ethical culture, ethics must be talked about freely and frequently within an organization. If you discuss ethical issues that happen in the workplace daily, people will identify problematic situations and stop before they cross the line. They’ll be more conscious of how socially appropriate ethical violations can result in more substantial violations.

An ethical culture starts at the top of an organization. If leadership is setting a bad example, staff members will follow suit.

Getting input from employees

Simply discussing ethical compliance issues, however, doesn’t get to the root causes behind people making poor decisions. Companies need to address the motivations behind bad behavior and a good first step toward doing that is to get input from employees.

While the ethical tone of a company is set at the top, upper management generally isn’t 100 percent aware of the issues facing people further down in the company hierarchy. If a code of ethics is released “from on high,” employees will dismiss it as out of touch and unrelatable.

Even if management at your company thinks its strongly connected through to the lowest levels of an organization, it ought to ask for broader engagement in the making of ethical guidelines. Engaging staff members not only lets them have a say, it also helps them to see why the code is essential and why it subsequently contains the elements that it does. Asking for anonymous input is a great way to address ethical lapses from the past, which may be uncomfortable to bring it in front of management.

At LTI, we support all of our clients’ efforts to create an ethical working environment. If your company is currently looking for a custom talent acquisition solution, please contact us today.