How to Create – and Encourage – an Ethical Workplace

Image courtesy of JD Hancock's photostream

Image courtesy of JD Hancock’s photostream

Being ethical in the workplace shouldn’t be hard. Everyone from entry-level employees to high-level management should know that it is wrong to lie about data, cheat companies out of money and cut corners to achieve success. Sadly though, many companies and organizations experience deceit from the employees they most trust on a regular basis. According to the Ethics Resource Center’s 2013 National Business Ethics Survey, 41 percent of workers surveyed said they observed misconduct on the job. Although this percentage decreased from 2011, it is still a significant number of people who have encountered others not doing their work with integrity in mind.

Those in charge of organizations may ask themselves, how is this preventable? How can we safeguard ourselves from employees who fail to be ethical? First, it’s important to know that no organization is perfect. There will always be a few bad apples who are non-compliant and break the rules, even if you strictly enforce them. However, you can do your part to create an ethical workplace after reading these suggestions from Gael O’Brien. O’Brien is the publisher of The Week in Ethics and is also The Ethics Coach columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, where she recently gave the following advice to a small business owner who wants to encourage an ethical environment in his workplace:

1. Communicate your company’s values to employees. If you set the tone from day one of how you expect employees to act, they’ll know how to respond appropriately to situations that arise. Make sure your employees know how much you value honesty and integrity, and that it is important to you that everyone within the organization follows your lead. That being said, do not create a culture of ‘do as I say, not as I do.’ If you expect employees to practice ethical behavior, you must as well.

2. Emphasize that when employees see or hear about problems, they focus their attention on them immediately and work toward solving them efficiently. Make people feel that it’s ok to acknowledge there are problems that have come about and need to be addressed. Along with that, make them feel comfortable to let you, or other managers know they are facing challenges. If they feel like it has to be hidden, they may sweep problems under the rug and never fix them, resulting in more problems down the road. Or they may try to solve the issues by themselves, which could also mean steps are missed that are crucial. Foster a culture that encourages people to work together to avoid and correct mistakes, rather than one that encourages cover-ups and denials.

3. Give praise to workers who are consistently maintaining an ethical work environment and encouraging others to live that way as well. Provide your entire workforce – or even your co-workers – with constructive feedback that provides tips and strategies for how to handle certain situations in an ethical manner. Don’t be afraid to bring in outside resources to train your workforce on not only ethics, but leadership, culture and teamwork as well. The more knowledge you give employees on your expectations and reinforce what is requested, the more you will notice your workplace becoming a better, more ethical place to be and thrive.

Overall, O’Brien’s message comes down to this: An ethical environment starts with you. If your company demonstrates that ethics are valued, then that value will trickle down to employees who are motivated to follow suit.

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