Tips to Promoting Ethical Behavior in the Workplace

Ethics are the principles that guide our choices and behavior. It’s doing the right thing even when no one else is watching.

But what if everyone doesn’t agree on or know what the “right thing” is? What if there are gray areas.

That’s why it’s important for a company to define its values and expectations upfront.


Clearly define values and expectations

The first step a company has to take in laying out a code of ethics is deciding what values are important to it and what lines it won’t cross. For most, the company’s code of ethics works in conjunction with a company’s mission statement and are rooted in the company’s core values, such as trust, transparency and integrity.

If you’re developing your organization’s ethics policy for the first time or reviewing it for potential updates
(which is a good idea to do on an annual or bi-annual basis), it’s a good idea to consult with employees for their input and ideas on what should be covered.  The policy should also include information on what an employee should do if he or she has questions abo
ut a specific scenario or needs to report a breach.


Managers must walk the walk, not simply talk the talk

Managers play a key role in determining whether employees embrace a company’s values and ethical standards. If managers and top leaders don’t model ethical behavior or enforce rules in a fair manner, employees lose trust. Studies by the Ethics and Compliance Initiative (ECI) show that people are more likely to override their own ethical concerns, if their manager doesn’t share those concerns. The ECI also found that ethics is increasingly a 24-7 job because workers expect their managers to behave ethically off the job, as well as in the workplace.

“Everything a leader does sets a tone,” ECI Chief Executive Officer Patricia J. Harned, Ph.D. said “Leaders and organizations need to recognize that the line between public and private gets less clear.” In project management, project leaders have a great opportunity to be seen as setting ethical leadership in an organization. Those project leaders who can align an organization’s values and integrate ethics into each project will increase the team’s ethical behavior.


Talk about the right thing to do in the context of your daily challenges

To be most effective, a company’s values and ethical standards must become a part of the organization’s culture. It must be a living part of everything the company does.

Yet, you can’t expect your staff to act ethically if they don’t know or truly understand what the company’s ethical guidelines are or why they’re important.

To engage employees and raise awareness of ethical decision-making, Cisco Systems created “Ethics Idol,” a cartoon parody of the reality show, American Idol. In each episode, animated contestants sang about a particular ethical dilemma or situation, which was then commented on by a panel of Idol-esque judges. After watching the show on the company’s intranet, viewers were asked to vote on which of the judges had given the appropriate response to the situation. At the end of each section, the organization’s ethics officer revealed the correct answer based on the company’s compliance standards.

There are obviously many ways for an organization to include conversations about ethics into staff meetings, annual retreats and other company-related activities. Challenge managers to hold regular discussions with employees to work through potential ethical issues that may come up and find ways to brainstorm through them as a team. If everyone is on the same page, it is more likely that the team as a whole will adopt the same types of ethical behaviors.

To learn more about the importance of ethics in project management, please visit the Project Management Institute’s website and their suggested Code of Ethics at:  http://www.pmi.org/About-Us/Ethics.aspx


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Bridget Waller

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