A lack of workplace ethics affects employee morale and motivation. If you don’t trust your colleagues or managers, it’s hard to want to do a good job. But employees aren’t the only ones affected by poor ethics. Workplace ethics can make or break companies because news media and the general public are quick to shine a light on companies whose business or community dealings are unethical. That kind of publicity can steer customers away. If laws are broken, fines dig even further into profits. Ethics matter at the compliance level, the stakeholder level and the employee level.
At the compliance level, ethical work practices help the company to stay within the law. Working against compliance laws can cost you your job, and can cost your company money if fines are incurred. Company leaders must make sure employees adhere to the principles defined by its ethics program. Employees found to work against these principles must be held accountable. Taking action to stop unethical business practices shows the rest of the workforce that ethics do matter. Compliance not only keeps the business legal -- it is also promotes sustainable business by proving value to stakeholders.
At the stakeholder level, ethical work practices extend to customers, vendors, stockholders and the communities in which the company operates. What the stakeholders see, the public sees -- and companies seen by the general public as being unethical can lose customers and market share. Brand name integrity builds brand name value. Employees within the company can build positive relationships with people outside the company by interacting with them and transacting business ethically and responsibly. When stakeholders gain a sense of trust in the company, customers keep company back.
At the employee level, ethical work practices build a positive environment founded on trust. Distrust in the workplace causes stress. Energy that should be applied to work is applied to coping with anxiety, instead. You work better when you can trust that your colleagues will work with you ethically. Your company also works better when ethical values drive all of its work. Employees, not brick and mortar, establish a company’s brand image.
Ethics policies guide employees to do the right thing at each level. Not every employee has the same expectations about how work gets done. Written policies clarify the company’s expectations and get everyone moving in the same direction. Ideally, procedures or guidelines are also available to help answer specific questions. If you’re in purchasing, for example, guidelines and rules should be available to help you understand what transactions are OK between you and vendors -- such as whether you should accept gifts.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.