I was recently interviewed by NY Times reporter Eilene Zimmerman for her Career Couch column (firstname.lastname@example.org) in the October 24 Sunday Business section. She asked the question of her readers: Your boss has asked you to do something that seems unethical. How can you determine whether your suspicions are correct? My response was to seek out advice from a mentor or trusted advisor. I also cautioned employees against going along with wrongdoing the first time because it begins the slide down the proverbial ethical slippery slope and it may be difficult to turn around and climb back up the ladder if your supervisor asks you to go along with questionable behavior again sometime in the future. The full article can be read at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/24/jobs/24career.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=print.
The 2010 Deloitte Ethics and Workplace Survey asked a variety of questions including: What factors contribute to employees’ plans to seek new jobs as the economy improves? Here are the results: 48% answered loss of trust; 46% lack of transparency in communications; and 40% said being treated unfairly or unethically by employers. The results seem to indicate that employees value ethical behavior in the workplace.
Employees who sense that top managers act unethically quickly loose trust in those managers. The result can be to become disillusioned with the goals of the organization and question whether the corporate culture is one that is consistent with those individuals’ personal values and beliefs. We all want to work for an ethical organization – one that we respect. An ethical organization is one in which top managers establish a tone at the top that promotes ethical behavior including to raise questions when questionable behavior occurs. Here is my top ten list (in no particular order) of how best to establish an ethical tone at the top.
1. Establish clear policies on ethical conduct including a code of ethics
2. Develop an ethics training program that instills a commitment to act ethically and explains code provisions
3. Assign a top level officer (i.e., VP of Ethics) to oversee compliance with ethics policies
4. Use the internal auditors to investigate whether the ethics policies have been followed in practice
5. Establish strong internal controls to prevent and detect unethical behavior
6. Establish an ethics hot line where employees can discuss questionable behavior on an anonymous basis
7. Have employees sign a statement that they have complied with ethics policies
8. Take immediate action against those who violate ethics policies
9. Top management should “walk the talk” of ethics; follow their own ethics policies in word and deed
10. Reward ethical behavior by including it in the performance evaluation system
Do you have others to add to the list?