How to manage ethics in the workplace

The effective management of ethics is sound business practice. Employees’ morale is raised; bottom-line performance is improved, your corporate image is enhanced; and customers choose to form business relationships with companies that adhere to high standards of ethical conduct. One of your key management tasks is to persuade employees to accept your organisation’s ethical values. Here are some points to consider...

1. Understand the benefits of ethical conduct.

All key parties benefit from ethical conduct within the organisation.

Employees who have confidence in their management contribute to their organisation’s prosperity. Conversely, in an unethical climate, employee productivity declines, creativity is channelled into seeking ways to profit personally from the business, loyalty diminishes, and absenteeism and staff turnover increase.

Customers prefer to be associated with and remain loyal to companies that adhere to codes of ethical behaviour.

Shareholders derive up to fifteen times greater return from companies with a dedicated commitment to ethical conduct. US research in the 1990s identified companies across industry sectors that had outperformed their peers. The one common quality among those companies was a demonstrated commitment to their stated values.

2. Focus on ethical conduct.

When referring to codes of behaviour, the term ‘ethical conduct’ is more comprehensive and more meaningful than ‘ethics’. The best ethical values and intentions are relatively meaningless unless they generate fair, just, and observable behaviours in the workplace. Ethical conduct focuses on demonstrated behaviour - doing, not just saying.

3. Develop a code of ethical conduct.

The best way to handle ethical dilemmas is to avoid their occurrence in the first place. The process involved in developing a code of ethical conduct helps to sensitise employees to ethical considerations and minimises the likelihood that unethical behaviour will occur. See topic 572 for a process.

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