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Anti-Corruption & Bribery

Are High-Performing Employees Your Biggest Compliance Risk?

By Josh Young Sep 27, 2017

high performing employees compliance risk

The Path of Corruption

Corruption rarely occurs in a vacuum. Routinely, your employees -- particularly high-performance workers focused on their personal output -- will begin to make poor ethical choices because they see others making similar choices with little to no repercussions.

Is corruption a growing concern at your business? Read: Why Your Workplace Ethics Program Is Failing

In a recently published series of experiments, behavioral economist Dan Ariely demonstrated that people will likely engage in increasingly dishonest behavior when exposed to existing corruption. And in a separate experiment, Ariely found that merely the exposure to bribery is likely to make people behave more dishonestly.

Similarly, as part of a recent webcast, consulting firm Deloitte conducted a survey of more than 4,000 employees regarding the largest challenges related to worker compliance. Among the top responses were:

  • Inconsistency of ethics communications and training (24.7 percent)
  • Differing ethical standards for various employee groups (15.4 percent)
  • Insufficient incentives to reward/punish behavior (16.8 percent)
  • Varying ethical policies of third parties (14.5 percent)

While the specific focuses of these concerns varied, each of them stemmed from the confusion caused by inconsistent corporate practices. And if your workers aren't clear that ethical business practices should be a priority, they may sacrifice these theoretical standards for a more concrete bottom line -- particularly if these moral lapses appear to be rewarded with career advancement.

How Can Your Business Limit the Risk Caused by Employees?

Establish common standards

While drafting corporate guidelines isn't a cure-all for your compliance risks, it's a smart place to start. With clearly documented rules governing all aspects of your business (e.g., ethics, data security, employee compensation), you empower your managers and even regular employees to more quickly and easily identify potential issues or corruption.

Beyond creating these rules, you need to enforce them as well. Every time.

No matter how productive, successful, profitable, beloved, or well-connected an employee is, if they violate corporate guidelines, they need to be subject to whatever punishment or reprisal is documented. As noted in the previously mentioned Ariely study, the moment that your workers realize that the rules don't apply to everyone, they will quickly come to believe that the rules don't apply to them.

Monitor your workforce

While background screenings are commonplace for new hires, a recent survey conducted by Endera found that less than 25 percent of surveyed businesses conduct periodic screenings on current employees. Not surprisingly, while 91 percent of the surveyed executives stated that they would want to know if an employee was listed on a criminal watchlist, only 27 percent felt confident that they would actually be made aware of this information.

By actively tracking the behavior of your workforce, you can more quickly identify and negate potential insider threats before they have an opportunity to compromise your business or your reputation.

Strengthen your culture

It's been well-documented that tone at the top is critical to building an ethical, compliance-focused corporate culture. Your corporate leadership and executive board need to make it clear that every employee in your organization is responsible for not only behaving in an ethical manner but also for reporting any issues or problems that they witness.

You should reinforce this company-wide commitment with ongoing training as well as regular discussions regarding corporate ethics in departmental and team meetings. Your business should also direct managers and supervisors to incorporate worker behavior and compliance into performance reviews and other employment discussions.

The Next Step

Balancing corporate growth alongside ethical action can be challenging at times, and it can often be tempting to look the other way when profits are high. However, ethical issues have a tendency to quickly snowball, and a minor oversight can quickly become a national headline.

To protect your business, your employees, and your reputation, consistency is key. To learn more about how our workplace code of conduct and business ethics courses can help your company, request a demo today.

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