The Unicorn HRO Blog

5 ways to create an ethical workplace culture

Posted Monday, February 29, 2016 by Unicorn HRO

Since the financial crisis in 2008, there has been increased public attention to the ethics of organizations with which people do business. Similarly, more and more employees are placing company culture as a priority above salary and benefits. For organizations, research has shown that companies with stronger ethical cultures have shown a reduction in employee misconduct. Here are 5 ways in which companies can create an ethical workplace culture.

1. Clear expectations
An organizational culture should include guidelines and rules about how employees should interact with each other, interact with customers, as well as what is and is not acceptable behavior in the workplace. These are referred to as codes of conduct. One of the first steps toward creating an ethical workplace culture is to have clearly defined expectations, and to ensure these expectations are written and communicated to all employees. Once established, companies can provide ongoing training to highlight the importance they place on ethical behavior, and to maintain employee awareness of it. Clear expectations also provide guidance, enabling managers to take action if they feel an employee is acting unethically. These written guidelines can also form the basis of questions used in the recruitment process to determine if an employee is likely to be a good fit.

2. From the Top Down
Once expectations have been clearly established and communicated, one of the best methods for ensuring employees are motivated to follow these guidelines is for managers and executives to model the behavior they expect to see in their staff. This includes ensuring rules are enforced and finding opportunities to discuss ethical dilemmas in daily business. Research has shown that unethical leaders can increase the likelihood that their employees will also be unethical, and this can break trust and motivation for staff to act ethically. An organization in which leaders demonstrate ethical behaviors sets standards and clear expectations for how their employees should act.

3. Positive reinforcement
Organizational psychology has concentrated a wealth of its research in determining what motivates employees. Positive reinforcement is a behavioral technique which is proven to increase desired behaviors in employees. When managers actively reward their staff for displaying ethical and desired behaviors, it is more likely that their team will repeat these. Here, positive reinforcement is being used to shape the behaviors of the team.

4. Feedback Mechanisms
Part of ethical behavior is ‘doing the right thing.’  This includes being aware of situations where colleagues may not be acting ethically and are not following the written codes of conduct. Organizations should ensure they have a clear feedback mechanism in which employees can report unethical behavior in the workplace. These mechanisms should allow staff to make reports anonymously and without recourse to themselves. There should be a clear zero-tolreance policy with clear punishments.

5. Training
In addition to communicating to staff acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors, staff should also be given the tools and strategies to develop the skills to use ethical behavior. This includes skills on how to solve ethical dillemas. There are a variety of online and in-person ethical workshops and training designed specifically for the workplace. These workshops and programs help to highlight the importance that the company places on ethics in addition to giving staff the tools to understand what is and is not ethical behavior.

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