Workplace Behavior Ethics

How to Promote Positive Ethics in the Workplace

Ethics is a fundamental business term because it can and does apply to all workplaces. Regardless of the organizational function, employees who fail to maintain an ethical standard in their workplace can raise the possibility of not only organizational corruption but also legal liabilities. In any role, it is vital that employees conduct themselves in accordance with both workplace policies, as well as applicable state and federal laws. The fallout of ethics failures can be seen daily on the news, i.e. Enron, and those colossal failures remind us that the collapse of workplace behavior ethics has the potential to damage and even destroy organizations.

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How can you encourage ethical behavior in the workplace? Here are some tips that can apply to all organizations. Below you’ll find four keys to having an ethically sound organization with workers who play fair.

4 Keys to Promoting Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

1) Own Up

The saying “bad news does not grow better with age” is very, very true. But what makes a problem or bad situation worse is when employees that are responsible for a mistake fail to raise the issue to management so that it can be fixed.

Often times, problems snowball and get larger. The situation is made even worse when employees cast blame against each other as to who’s initial fault it was. The best thing for any employee to do when they make a mistake is to notify their supervisor and take responsibility. The “blame game” can cause absolute havoc and hurt workplace morale. In many cases, casting blame can cause work in an organization to grind to a halt due to workplace rivalries.

In addition to the ability to being able to conduct damage control, employees who own up to their mistakes will more likely be seen as dependable and trustworthy. Supervisors know that if an employee voluntarily steps forward to admit their own mistake they will be less likely to cover something up. It also shows that they have the greater good of the organization in mind. The caveat to this point is that the employee shouldn’t be allowed to make the same mistake twice.

2) Go by the Book

Another misstep that employees commonly take is attempting to “fix” a problem by bending the rules. In doing so, they generate a whole new list of problems. Doing minor acts such as backdating reports or even signing documents for their supervisors might at one point repair an issue. But, those falsehoods will likely generate serious problems should the deception be found out. Again, it’s better to own up to a problem and possibly only be seen as incompetent for making such a mistake (this would be a worse case scenario), than cover up a problem be seen as having no ethical framework, regardless of the outcome. Employees, despite good intentions, become too engrossed in the idea of “getting something done” and forget that “I can’t” isn’t necessarily a bad statement to make once in a while.

3) Information Is Key

In the business world, it’s commonly agreed upon that business success relies on good communication. And, communication ties into an ethical workplace because how and what an employee communicates can either create or destroy the positive fabric of a workplace. Acts such as gossiping, though they may seem harmless, can breed mistrust and disloyalty through rivalry in the workplace. On the converse, open and consistent communication that keeps employees and supervisors informed about current events can not only prevent problems and send out a message that decisions in the company are made “above board.” When dilemmas occur around ethics in the workplace, they usually stem from a lack of communication, or concealing motivations.

4) Remember the “Problem Trio”

When any failure in workplace ethics occurs, it is usually rooted in either greed, lust, or anger. Greed is an easy one to see, such as an employee who steals or conducts illicit business transactions. Greedy decisions are based on a desire to get more than they deserve from their position in the company. Lust usually appears in inappropriate relationships that are not approved of by organization. Supervisor/subordinate relationships, for instance, can create an immediate negative working environment and serve to erode the organization’s chain of command based on inappropriate fraternizations. Anger comes from employees who feel the organization owes them something due to poor working conditions, bad pay or other frustrations. In this situation, employees will often act out with greed, or they may choose a self-destructive form of catharsis against the organization.

Workplace behavior ethics are something that can be applied to any job description, any industry, and any organizational environment. The signs of an ethical workplace are a workforce that has high morale, strong esprit de corps, and solid communication in both directions of the chain of command. To ensure a moral workplace, it’s important not only to conduct yourself in an ethical manner, but also to not turn a blind eye to any type of impropriety by a fellow co-worker.


Donald Nickels

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