3 Effective Ways to Build and Maintain An Ethical Workplace Culture

3 Effective Ways to Build and Maintain An Ethical Workplace Culture

We all know workplace ethics are a crucial part of employment, and organizations that follow certain business ethics have better chances of survival, compared to those whose only goal is to earn profits, even if they have to make several compromises to achieve their goals.

The recent cases of scandals, frauds, and irregularities in various organizations have led to ethics in the workplace making a strong comeback. While businesses focus on profitability and success, it is imperative to train employees on being ethical. Training in ethics helps build a strong team and fosters professionalism amongst employees, thereby increasing productivity.

Work ethics manifest in invisible employee behavior, noticeable by its absence.

Every organization, irrespective of the industry, has certain guidelines which its employees must adhere to. Some common workplace ethics include:

Being Punctual: Arriving to work on time, adhering to lunch and breaks on time, and attending scheduled meetings on time.

Being Responsible: Putting up honest efforts at the workplace and utilizing time to complete designated tasks and deadlines instead of personal work.

Dressing Professionally: Being well-dressed and adhering to the company’s dress code and wearing ID cards.

Working as One Team: Working well with others, respecting others, and being a good team player.

Working with a Positive Attitude: Being pleasant and polite, and take on difficult tasks with a cheerful attitude.

Employees with strong ethics in their personal and professional life might not need much persuasion, unlike those for whom work ethics is a challenge; but everyone needs to be trained on being ethical at the workplace.

So, how do you train employees to be ethical in the professional realm?

Well, here are 3 ways you can do it:

1. A Written Code of Conduct: This clearly defines the ethics to be maintained in an organization. The aim of defining and writing a code of conduct is to let employees know what is acceptable and what is not within the organization. Every employee – new or experienced – must be trained on adhering to the CoC.

2. Ethics and Compliance Training Programs: Besides setting goals for the upcoming year, organizations should focus more on training employees on workplace ethics. A few members of the top level management can lead the ethics and compliance training programs. Such initiatives will stress the fact that employees must cultivate and adhere to the ethical code of the workplace. 

Creating a Good Compliance Training Program [Infographic]

3. Role Models: If your employees have a role model in you, it would be easier for them to adhere to the company’s code of conduct and ethics. Seniors behaving in a morally upright manner will set an example for juniors to emulate.

And finally, it is essential to communicate the ethical values and a Code of Conduct to employees to equip them with the authority to take appropriate ethical decision in any given situation. Above all, you need a good team with strong ethical behavior to grow and be a successful company.

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  • Michael Strand

    Ehics and Integrity go hand in hand. Without one you usually don’t get the other.

    Ethics and integrity are learned attributes. You are not born with eithics and they are not genetic. The earlier in life that these attributes are learned, the more effective they are in the long run.

    Ethics and Integrity in a corporation start at the TOP. If Senior Management does not hold them in high regard, there is no reason to expect any of the lower level managers to act ethically as there appears to be no benefit in acting in an ethical manner.

    Cultural differences are often mistaken as lapses in ethics and integrity. In some cases it is what it appears to be which is exactly that, a lack of ehtics and integrity. In other cases it is just a different set of rules by which certain individuals operate. Careful judgement needs to be exercised to determine whether it is a difference in rules or a lack of ethics and integrity.

  • Ethics and integrity are very much talked and preached – but very less followed. I have seen this closely in a big multinational for which I worked some time back. This organization talks very high about ethics and integrity. But the managers in the organization do not follow it at all. Managers are forcing their employees to fudge everything from time sheet entries to cost estimates. Manager sends a spread sheet telling who should fill in how much time in time sheet every week. Manager “tunes the time” as per the billing requirement. This “tuned time” is used for billing – not the actual one. Where is the ethics and integrity? Another example – cost estimates are tailored to “completely use” the budget of the customer. Cost estimate submitted to the customer is a multiplication of the estimated cost just because there is higher budget available and the organization wants to grab all that. Where is the ethics and integrity? All this after employees read, accept and take a test about business conduct guidelines, ethics and integrity every year! I could not stand all this mess (not just this there were several other unpleasant experiences) and left that job. In my mind it remains as a sad memory of people not practicing even a small part of what they preach.

  • G Mathews

    The above works place Ethics are fine.
    I agree both with Michael and Ravi.The Senior team members need to follow what they preach.having worked in Multinational companies overseas,my experience that there are only fews Managers who practice what they preach.
    To add to the list You need to be
    Honest and truthful to the work you do.
    Loyal to the company that has employed you.(This needs to be recognised by the employer or its represntavies )
    Everthing you do should be black and white , there should be no iota of doubt or any grey areas in your businsess or dealings.
    Lastly Team work for successful completion of a project or task.Every team member should be respected and recognised for his contribution to the organisation or company.
    These can be acheived if and only if the Senior Management acknowledge contributions made by each team player irrespective of the position he holds in the organisation.

  • Uday

    Nice topic to discuss on, with on going economic doll-drum, you could see people finding short ways to success from developers to executives. forgetting about ethics or integrity. Forget about ethics / integrity…no human values you give to fellow person at office work. For manager, his work is important, even if the developer is dying, he will negotiate with the doctor to hold your life, till you complete your work and meet your deadlines..never bothers about what you are, how you are and nothing. But if the same comes to the manager then he realizes and points to ethics, values and many. And the developer, who suffered under his manager, when becomes a manager, instead of being good, he repeats the same with his fellow developers. Coz he wants to save his hut.
    Generations are gone where we can talk about ethics and integrity. This is a history now.
    Every one started strictly following the proverb, “be a roman, when you are in rome”.

  • Michiel

    According to you I could unproblematic engage in business practices that will violate the laws of my country and cause harm to the environment. I could bribe politicians, spy on my competitors, sell a bad product, and be completely ethical as long as I show up on time in a nice suit and smile while I get my task done on time.

    Even the most hardened criminal organizations meet your criteria.

    Proper ethical guidelines provide a normative framework for decision making. A very simple example is the front page rule: “Assume that your actions will be made public on the front page of a major newspaper”. If that would be bad, then you’re making the wrong decision.

  • Interesting question. First of all as far as promoting an individuals ethics in their personal life, this is beyond an employers reach.

    Of course while they can hope that an employees work ethic is also applied to their personal life, it is really not within their right to even give thought to this. If an employee’s personal life is affecting their work ethic then the two sides become one and then you have to deal with it but again, only from an employee/employer perspective. For example if an employee is out drinking all night and shows up late often an employer can say “you have to come on time” but they cannot say “you cannot drink”. The ladder crosses the line of their professional relationship.

    Punctuality: This has an easy solution; employees are required to show up on time. If they cant do this find another job. You don’t need someone like this working for you. Unreliable and unstable employees cost money. Replace replace replace.

    Responsibility: In what regard do you speak of? An employee is responsible for their share of the workload. If you find that employees are holding their share of the workload during the first few months of employment, but that it tapers off after this hold a review of employee performance every few months. Remind employees why they are there. Praise their strong points but let them know that their dwindling performance levels have been noticed and that they need to step it up.

    Teamwork: Teamwork is necessary in every working environment to promote good work ethics in all involved and to ensure that work is being done in a timely and organized manner. If you find that your team is not working well together find out why. Speak individually with employees. There is likely to be a common factor in why this area is lacking. If you know teamwork is being affected by an individual employee speak with them. Perhaps they are just shy, perhaps there was a workplace conflict that you are unaware of. There are multitudes of reasons why someone is not interested in being a team player. If you have spoken to all sides and feel that an individual is entirely responsible (which is rarely the case) put them up for review. If you feel this is a harsh step to take try organizing team building activities. There are many companies out there that cater specifically to this area who will come in and have a day or week of programs based on promoting a team environment.

    Attitude: If an employee has an attitude problem right from the get-go chances are they aren’t going to change. Speak with them, find out if its their own problem or if there was an incident that caused the individual to feel they need to emotionally protect themselves by acting out. If an employee has an attitude problem but has a great work record that is simply too beneficial to your company to let go then find a way around it. Don’t have that employee speak with clients if possible. Give them tasks that require little inter-office communication. If they have a problem with that tell them why you have made these decisions and see if they can turn it around.

    I think the main thing for promoting good work ethics is communication. When you hire an employee you should have a handbook of what is required of them, how they must behave and what they must accomplish in order to continue working for you. Have them read the book and sign off on it. Hold a review of performance levels every 4-6 months and do your homework on the employee, don’t assume you know how employees are interacting with each other when your not in the room. Because you most likely don’t. Leave your door open to employee drop-in’s. Let them know that if they are having a problem they can talk to you about it. Don’t focus only on the bad. Everyone needs validation that they are doing a good job. Ignore this aspect and you will have a lot of unhappy people on your hands. They will resent you in the end and work levels will drop. And a big one, set an example. If you show up to work late why cant they? If your rude to co-workers they will be too. Make sure you have someone in charge who is reliable, easygoing but strong and who can relate to the other employees. And don’t forget to keep your own work ethics up. If your sitting in your office all day doing nothing employees will notice. And it will affect them.

    That’s just my opinion.

  • Don Gorga

    Ethics & Integrity, both should be listed as MIA for many company’s. Although the eye wash is in place, plenty of signs and programs or policies, the need for a signoff each year that the policy was read and is being adhered to, but it is only being adhered to in regards to the corporate ability to prove they enforce a policy, not that the corporation actually believes in the policy or practices it in it’s daily business. The mortgage, banking and wall street come to mind as potential industries that practice a management culture that is devoid of ethics and integrity in many instances.

  • Ethics underscore our values and are therefore an essential basis for the way we choose to go about achieving our dreams. For some, ethics overrides any profit or political motive, and therefore should be honoured. For others, who have loose morals or weak ethics, and hence poor values, can be blinded by their own arrogance, ignorance or power. The toughest individual journey we must all be on is the journey towards perfection. As humans, we fall foul of the end justifying the means, but this has no value if the end in itself is simply cash. Cashflow and money is a fairly recent phenomenon, in a geological, let alone a modern era, timeline. We used to use shells. Money is a means of exchange, not an end itself. Our goals are what drive us, money helps, but much can be done without spending a penny….

  • In my opinion, you cannot ‘train’ people to be ethical. It is there within, perhaps needing to be strengthened and enforced.

    Any ‘training’ on ethical behavior in the workplace is futile if a Code of Ethical Conduct is not in place.

    A comprehensive written document that clearly outlines both expected and unacceptable behavior covering areas of loyalty, honesty, confidentiality, respect, security, integrity, customer service, employee interactions. Even business etiquette and protocol guidelines and time management! Repercussions of non adherence must be elaborated.

    Each employee must be given a copy upon induction and a commitment must be signed off and put into the employee’s file.

    This Code of Ethical Conduct must be adopted and reinforced through corporate culture, leadership style, business planning etc. Involvement of Top management is critical. Roles must be allocated. An ethics management committee and ethics officer perhaps?

    Once this is in place, periodic sessions may be held where dilemmas, concerns and case studies are discussed and the Code re-visited.

  • Prasad

    Weather we believe it or not that the Sun rises in the east, Sun rises in the east only.
    In the same way, the universe and the incidents in life run based on some facts/laws, whether people believe them or not. One of the facts is “what you sow will you reap”. What ever you give out to others, will eventually come back to you.
    If the organization work for its’ benefit, ignoring the employees welfare, employees also work for their benefit ignoring the overall growth of company.
    Punctuality: Arriving the office on time, fine, what about leaving office? Should it be on time or not? We can understand the project requirements, staying late night when something really urgent to be delivered to client or coming office on weekends etc.. But if the company culture itself is working in hurry burry all the time in stressful conditions and staying late nights every day, then we can not expect the employees to be on time at office. When the employer doesn’t give any importance to an employee’s personal life and his health, the employee will not work sincerely and always try to escape from the work load.
    Responsibility: Its employer’s responsibility to provide a friendly, healthy, peaceful and transparent working environment to his employee. When the employee’s contribution is recognized, he himself comes forward to take more responsibility.
    Motivating the employees by giving awards, salary benefits and hikes works. But motivation works temporarily. After few months or a year again the staff expects the benefits to get motivated. Inspiration works in the long run than motivation. By adopting the ethics and values, employer or the top management can inspire the staff. And also meditation and relaxation techniques at work place help foster ethics at personal level. A peaceful mind hardly tries to violate the rules.
    Clarity, calmness in mind and dynamism in action make the work place secured and productive.
    Then ethics will become a part of our nature and not as a separate thing to be followed.

  • Sharon

    I’d like to speak directly to the team work issue. First, many people have the misconception that everyone on the team must be buddies. All teams need different types of personalities and skill sets on a team. Many times these personalities do not get along; however, that does not mean that they cannot work together. I’ve seen many teams fall apart because of back biting and petty envy. I’ve also seen many projects not get completed because managers were more interested in keeping the team happy and less on the outcome of the project. Good business ethics dictate that you be an adult. Know that you won’t get along with everyone and unless one of your team members is doing something unethical or illegal don’t whine. Everyone’s toes get stepped on; act like an adult and take it to the individual.

  • Kelly Plamp

    I see mention of top down ethics, but can we explore employer ethics a bit further in this discussion.

    In my many years of work experience, I have seen business owners or upper management who don’t show up at the office on time or even for days on end and don’t let anyone know where they’re going or when they’ll be back…not paying employees on time, or not taking the effort to make sure the payments are correct…behaving and speaking in ways that are not tolerated from employees (office affairs in the restroom, use of F bombs in meetings), lying to clients regarding products and services, lying to employees regarding the state of the organization – I could go on and on. Thanks to wonderful parents who practiced integrity, morality and sound ethics in their daily lives, and rewarded their children for the same, work place ethics has never been an issue for me personally, but I notice when I’m contracting for a company that has a solid ethical environment from the top down, it really shows in employee behavior. I’m not trying to say employee behavior is perfect in a sound, ethical environment, but it is much better than an environment in which ethics are not observed by management, upper management, or owners.

  • Kelly Plamp

    @Sharon: I couldn’t agree with you more. If you look at studies of team building, every good team goes through a brief adjustment period during which the members get on each others’ nerves. However, that phase passes very quickly as our mature, adult coping and communications skills find their most effective levels. I, too, have seen teams rendered ineffective and projects fail when those mature coping and communication skills do not get enough exercise! Thanks for a great observation.

  • I’ve just bookmarked this posting in Diig, cheers.

  • JaeLynn Ellison

    I think that you make a great point about how ethics are not really noticeable until they aren’t there anymore. A pleasant person that is respectful to other people’s beliefs and regularly practices ethical behavior doesn’t have to work as hard to bring to the workplace but there are those that don’t really care about ethics and struggle. Communication ethics is a huge part of business work. There are all types of methods and theories to how to best go about this. There are different forms of ethics in the workplace, groups, personally, as well as communicating with people from other cultures.

    Johannesen, Richard and Kathleen Valde and Karen Whedbee. (2008). Ethics in Human Communication. Long Grove, IL. Waveland Press.