Unethical behavior in the workplace has been present since man built the first office building. This doesn't mean you have to accept it on your team or in your company, however. A company's ethical climate, goals and policies can all have a significant impact on employee behavior. You can help your employees to behave ethically by aligning your company's management practices with your expectations.
Catch employees “doing something right” and reward ethical behavior. For example, you might implement a system in which people can submit anonymous tips telling about employees behaving in a particularly honest way. Show gratitude when someone "blows the whistle" on a practice that could potentially hurt customers or stakeholders. Incorporate ethical standards into employee performance reviews. Encouraging ethical behavior is always easier than confronting unethical behavior.
Ensure that your company states its values in the employee handbook and that these values are talked about and implemented in everyday business matters by all employees in a supervisory capacity. Charles Kerns, associate professor of applied behavioral science at the Graziadio School of Business and Management, recommends that companies adopt a number of values that result in an ethical business climate. These values are self-control, wisdom, justice, transcendence, kindness and integrity. For example, the value of self-control can result in the behavior of doing what is right regardless of personal motivations.
Through training, explicitly teach your employees how to behave in an ethical manner. Discuss ethically questionable situations and how to respond to them. Discuss the ramifications – in both the personal and professional arenas – of failing to behave ethically. Emphasize the benefits of ethical behavior, and point out how employees expect others to treat them fairly and with honesty. Training is most effective when role play is a part of the instruction, notes Manhattan College Accounting Professor Walter Baggett.
Sometimes implementing a policy to prevent unethical behavior is the best option. For example, if workers regularly use the copy machine to make personal copies or steal supplies from the storeroom, you can require a code for the copier and ask the secretary to distribute office supplies as requested. Such policies result in employees not having to put their personal integrity to the test, Baggett said. Consider incorporating ethical behaviors into company policy as well. For example, confidentiality is required of healthcare workers, and breaching it can be grounds for termination. The same can hold true in your company for ethical standards that are essential to a productive work environment.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.