Ain’t Misbehavin’: 9 Elements of an Ethical Workplace Culture

September 27, 2018 By Julie Kramer - Leave a comment

shutterstock_234736879Have you ever witnessed a coworker doing something unethical—or worse, illegal—on the job? 51% of employees in large companies claim they have, according to a National Business Ethics Survey. Common forms of workplace misconduct include theft (of worktime, property and/or funds), harassment, breaching safety protocols, insubordination and substance abuse.  

But 51%...that’s a figure that should give you pause. Particularly if you work in HR, which typically bears the responsibility for building and maintaining ethics policies in the workplace.

There are excellent reasons, practical and principled, for promoting an ethical workplace culture. Research shows that ethically-minded organizations are more financially successful than others. (In one study, stock price growth of 100 firms with what was identified as the highest ethical cultures outperformed stock market and peer indexes by nearly 300%!) Their employees are more highly motivated and therefore more productive

Conversely, when misconduct is chronically tolerated, turnover is higher, while morale and productivity are lower. Not only do these organizations bear greater compliance risk, the success of their business is at risk, too.

Of course, beyond the bottom line, upholding an ethical code of conduct is just the right thing to do. Everybody wins.

So how do you ensure that your organization is doing things right? Consider these nine key elements of sustaining an ethical culture in the workplace.

1. Create and Communicate Your Code of Conduct (Ad Infinitum)

Can you say with confidence that everyone in your organization knows your expected code of conduct? Obviously your employee handbook is the primary vehicle for communicating behavior standards, but is it clear and up-to-date? Is everyone familiar with it? Make it required reading—and make sure it’s easily available on your HR system’s self-service portal. 

2. Provide Ongoing Training on Ethics Policies

Your employee handbook is just the beginning. Discuss code of conduct in detail during the onboarding process and require periodic refresher courses. Get in the habit of adding a tip or reminder to every employee e-newsletter. When new issues arise, address them head-on. Make ethics part of everyday conversation.  

3. Address Code of Conduct in Performance Reviews

One way to keep your code of conduct top-of-mind is to hold employees accountable for it in performance reviews. Besides keeping miscreants on alert, responsible employees will appreciate working for a company that demands the best of its people. 

4. Use HR Technology to Enforce Your Ethics Policies

Good news: you have more HR tech tools at your disposal than ever. For example, time theft continues to be a pressing, costly problem for employers managing an hourly workforce, but it’s fixable. Tardiness, buddy punching, taking extended meal breaks…if your current time and attendance system doesn’t really deter them, find one that will.

5. Provide a Trustworthy Vehicle for Reporting Ethical Lapses

Very few workers who fear retaliation will report a coworker’s wrongdoing. Make sure your reporting system safeguards employee anonymity and protection against reprisal—and that everyone knows how to use it. 

6. Establish Disciplinary Procedures for Handling Misconduct

Employees should not only know your code of conduct, but the consequences for breaking specific rules (spell it out in the employee handbook). To ensure consequences are enforced, provide managers with written, step-by-step procedures to follow and make this part of their performance reviews.  

7. Lead by Example

We’re all familiar with the term “tone at the top.” It truly is key to maintaining an ethical culture in the workplace. For your code of conduct to matter, it must be upheld by every level of management—from the C-suite to the field managers who workers interact with on a daily basis.  

8. Treat Employees with Respect

R-E-S-P-E-C-T is a simple, essential human requirement—but one that’s easy to overlook in a busy workplace. More than half of U.S. workers have left a job because they felt their managers treated them badly. Ensure your manager training includes treating workers respectfully, avoiding favoritism and giving employees a voice.

9. Make Sure Workers Know Their Importance

Does every one of your employees understand how he/she helps your company meet its goals? When employees know—and are encouraged to take pride in—their role, it elevates the ethical culture of a worksite. For example, one janitorial company we know provides cleaning services to hospitals. During training, every new janitor learns that they, like the doctors and nurses, play an essential role in helping patients heal…by taking a lead in infection prevention and control. That’s powerful!

It the end of the day, creating an ethical culture in the workplace is a work in progress. Your HR and payroll system should be an invaluable, ever-evolving tool that helps communicate and enforce company ethics policies. EPAY’s all-in-one HCM system does so in a number of ways,  by offering a robust self-service/training portal…customizable performance review system…and an advanced time and labor system with unparalleled workforce management controls. We can help—learn how.

Filed Under: Human Capital Management