Career Guide

Enforcing Workplace Ethics – Ensuring a good reputation!

You definitely don't want violence at work! You definitely don't want violence at work!

Many companies understand that good practices in the office promote exemplary behaviour and in turn project a positive and attractive image of the company. However, even as more companies recognise the importance of implementing and practising good work ethics, their effectiveness requires perhaps more than merely having these ethics in writing or repeated to employees.

A study conducted among 2,795 employees in the United States cited the following as the most common forms of misconduct:

·Lying to supervisers

·Unfair treatment of employees

·Improper/personal use of company resources

·Conflict of interest

·Lying on reports, and

·Sexual harassment

The same study showed that 65% of employees who noticed or were aware of misconduct in the work place did not report them. Assuming good ethics policies have been implemented or that an employee knows of their existence, the question arises as to why results aren’t satisfactory.

Among reasons cited, some were of practical importance; for some there were not enough facts or evidence to bring a complaint forward while others felt that it was not their business or responsibility to report such misconducts. Also, the employees:

·Didn’t feel the organisation would respond

·Didn’t know of an anonymous/confidential way to report it

·Feared retaliation from management, and

·Feared being considered a troublemaker

Eliminating Labels

Similarly, the National Business Ethics Survey uncovered that many employees were cynical about management actually doing anything about their complaints or feared retaliation from peers for “snitching” or repercussions from management for being “trouble-makers”.

Although it may be difficult and almost impossible to eliminate, employers must take steps to address and stop retaliation at both peer and management levels.

Leading by Example

It is said that good ethics must be practised and displayed by the higher management.

Research shows that employees have a 49% positive view on the integrity of senior management, statistically similar to a few years ago. This means that employees’ views on management have not changed much over the years.

Perhaps the solution lies in the fact that the management is more positive about workplace ethics than the typical employee. Thus, it is important that besides “walking the talk”, seniors must also involve lower management in ethical discussions.

This is important because a negative situation should not be allowed to fester as this will undermine the company. Should the problem be left unresolved, employees will see no value in action and may turn to external means or third parties for a solution. In addition, workers want to be associated with companies they trust, and therefore reported misconduct must be investigated and acted upon.

Furthermore, a good reputation is an immeasurable asset that employers will naturally want to protect.

Gretchen Winter, vice-president of business practices at Baxter International notes that a strong reputation is, in many ways, a natural outcome of a strong commitment to ethics at all organisational levels. Management generally recognises that the employees can either enhance or diminish that reputation through their daily decisions and interactions. They may not fully appreciate how an ethics programme can provide employees the tools to enhance that reputation.

Building Trust

Perhaps one of the most important values is the trust that must exist between employees and the management. As mentioned, a company must ensure that an investigation is carried out after a report is made.

Another method is to implement an ethics programme to provide employees with the tools and knowledge they need in making ethical decisions. The idea behind this is to allow both sides to acknowledge that there may be an ethical dilemma and that there are resources to overcome it.

Winter points out that employers have a choice; “They can either have employees come to them with every ethical decision, or they can give employees a framework to make many of these decisions themselves.” Executives who can trust their employees to do the latter will have more time and energy for other work.

“Ethics programmes cannot prevent all misconduct from occurring,” says Ken Johnson, an ethics consultant and colleague at the Ethics Resource Centre. “Even in the best-run and most ethical organisations, there are always a few employees who wilfully break the rules.”

In such cases, there is no substitute for clear procedures and sanctions. But the real function of an ethics programme “is to allow basically good people to do the right thing and succeed.” According to Johnson, this is the essence of a healthy work environment. People need to be sensitive to ethical issues on the job, but they also must trust their organisations enough to raise them.

Ethical Questions in Malaysia

In 2010, the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission received 7,224 cases of allegations of corrupt practices involving millions of ringgit in cash. Despite measures taken to curb corruption, Malaysia’s corruption index rating seems to be no where near improving.

Research has also shown that other than corruption, bribery remained a major concern in the area of misconduct in the office. In the same year, a total of 510 people from various sectors were arrested for allegations of the former. Among other forms of misconduct were tax fraud, deceptive advertising, production of unsafe products and copyright issues.

These are, admittedly, major forms of misconduct. Having said that, one would perhaps agree that in lesser terms, the most common form of negative behaviour is bad time-keeping and lack of respect for others.

Other than the excuse of traffic jams, the well-known remark “on the way” has become synonymous with Malaysians who have not even left home yet for their appointments. Moreover, this also reflects on the employees’ lack of respect for someone else’s time.

Respect in terms of service and treatment of others is also a major issue in Malaysia as we have consistently been ranked as one of the rudest countries in the world.

Thus, the significance of ethical awareness among employees and the management has never been more necessary. Methodologies and frameworks must be improved to pressure management into exemplifying positive behaviour in the workplace as well as to protect and provide the means for a more effective system of reporting such misconducts.

The idea behind this is not to create an environment that is microscopically scrutinised but to encourage good and fair behaviour in the workplace.