The question comes before us as employees and as leaders: what is ethics in the workplace?
Are we motivated only by the bottom line, or are there larger considerations to be held as we strive to success? As we guide our company, our work teams, and ourselves through endless, daily choices, how do ethics play a role?
Each organization defines ethics through its actions and policies, but also through the motives behind its business decisions.
The company that is motivated by values can be highly successful. When leadership translates the believe that profit can be made without compromising principles, employees and the marketplace will follow. When they don't, the results can be catastrophic.
The answer to whether ethical work practices are important is played out frequently in the news and to devastating effect. The sub-prime mortgage debacle led established firms Lehman Brothers and Bear Sterns to close their doors permanently. Protests against Monsanto continue to plague its brand. And the current General Motors recall scandal threatens one of the largest employers in the Midwest.
But whether your company is large enough to become media fodder or not, ethics within your organization is important. Ethics serve our consumers, as well as staff, and our brand. We have an inherent need to take pride in our work: when we cut corners or skirt the rules, that pride is lost, and along with it goes employee engagement.
Engaged employees take pride in their work and their company. That pride translates directly into high productivity, increased loyalty and a willingness to promote the firm. A recent Gallup poll showed 70% of employees are not engaged at work. Another poll showed only 40% of American workers are aware of their company's goals, strategies and tactics.
Those shocking numbers directly impact the bottom line: the Gallup survey estimates the cost of employee disengagement at over $350 billion per year in ten key areas of employment. They also cited that businesses with high employee engagement were two to four times more successful than companies with low engagement.
Whether motivated by profit or conscience, the ethical company has become a new standard in the American workforce. People want to work for and purchase from a company that stands for more than revenue. Integrity from leadership through the ranks, being guided by fairness as well as income translates into brand loyalty in today's market.
Ethical organizations develop consistent messaging about their ethics from the top down. They socialize the message through ongoing awareness training, open forums, and group events. Their persistent, open messaging soon becomes part of the corporate culture - not just policy to achieve compliance.
There are a combination of winning factors that contribute to creating an ethical corporate culture:
Ongoing Ethics Training - Repeated online training provides a legal framework, delivered on the individual's time schedule. Ethics training doesn't just set the legal standard though, it helps each employee to identify their role in upholding company ethics and understand when to seek direction from management.
Messaging from the Top - Corporate and organizational leaders must lead by example, through their actions. Experience is important. Understanding your industry and the ethical situations unique to your business will help communicate your approach.
Well-Circulated Policy - A Code of Conduct and Ethics policy for your organization must be industry-specific, but also must be readily accessible by anyone in the company. A great policy covers potential ethical problems by all departments, at all employee levels.
Open Discussions - Organizational forums and open-door policies create an environment where ethics is practiced, not avoided. Executives, management and employees must be able to share their struggles and discuss ethical issues that arise.
Workplace Answers provides industry-specific ethics training and policy development, as well as a suite of compliance solutions for enterprise, higher education, and government organizations. For more information, or to see an interactive demo of our Ethics in the Workplace or Code of Conduct courseware, contact us.
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