At some point, you may encounter a situation at work that makes you feel uncomfortable. Your ability to determine whether something is ethical becomes even more complex if your co-workers don’t seem concerned. Maybe your friend in purchasing has been going to fancy events with vendors. If she's paying for herself, there might not be a problem. If the vendor is paying, your friend might be violating company ethics policies. Ethics training programs are designed to help everyone understand where the line is drawn between acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior.
Critical Thinking Skills
A key objective to any ethics training program is to develop critical thinking skills that help employees recognize potential ethical dilemmas. Workshops make the training more meaningful by providing examples of realistic scenarios. When you see such examples and are shown how to react as well as how not to react, it will be easier for you to see the connection. You will then be more likely to react appropriately if you encounter something similar.
Engage and Motivate
Another objective is to engage and motivate employees. Ethical behavior needs to become ingrained in the culture of the organization, and you can’t change a culture by giving lectures. Training should not be one-sided or unidirectional. Students should be involved and actively participating. Active involvement gives the training more weight and students will find more value in it. Workshops provide for this kind of involvement. Another idea is to request input from employees during the training development stage. Areas of concern and interest for employees might differ from those recognized by management. These differences can be addressed in the training materials.
Clear and Realistic Guidelines
A third objective is to set clear, realistic guidelines that employees can easily follow. Training materials and time frames should be suitable to the audience, and not present too much information or too little. Word choice matters. Ethics issues involve legal terminology, but unless the company only employs lawyers, legal terms won’t drive home the same meaning to every employee. Training materials as well as policy documentation should be written in clear, concise language that everyone can understand.
Lead by Example
The messages provided in the training should be exhibited by company leaders at all times. The training itself should also be revisited periodically, to avoid complacency. If your friend in purchasing starts to believe no one cares and no one’s watching, she might decide to take her vendor up on the next offer for premium concert tickets. There is value to management creating an open dialogue with employees to connect the content of the training directly with real employee experiences. Everyone needs to see that company leaders support the importance of ethical conduct in the workplace.
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.