How important are ethics and moral principles to an organization? Over the years, I’ve been asked a wide range of questions from job seekers who want to keep parts of their past from being discovered. Some of these concerns are a result of actions in their personal lives: “Will a D.U.I. impact my chances of getting hired?” or “I was convicted of a crime, is this relevant?” However, more than a few have admitted to varying degrees of unethical behavior in the workplace such as lying on an application, embellishing their resume, fudging credentials, etc. Organizations working to promote high standards of behavior and discourage dishonesty among their employees need to take proactive steps to ensure their message is heard.
Is Personal Ethics on the Demise?
While I find this topic to be quite interesting and even a little sad, it brings into focus some important questions. Has our society experienced a moral decline? Are job seekers hiding dark pasts? More importantly, are they concerned about the issue itself, or just the potential employer discovering that they covered it up? How do the job seekers justify their actions? I myself have heard every excuse in the book; “George Bush had a D.U.I., so I am just like the former President”; “Everyone stretches the truth, it’s really not a big deal”; “It was the only way I could get a job there.” So what can organizations do to make sure they are hiring honest and ethical employees?
Organizations Can Impact Ethical Conduct by Actively Promoting High Standards of Behavior
The unfortunate truth is, job seekers are simply emulating society and its organizations, which mean that aside from thoroughly checking references, businesses need to make a clear stand regarding ethics issues. A colleague at the Ethics Resource Center (www.ethics.org), provided his best practices, guidance and questions for organizations to assess their commitment to ethical conduct. To start, organizations need to ask themselves the following questions:
- Do we have clear standards?
- Are there ethical role models at all levels?
- Are there congruent formal systems? More importantly, are there congruent informal systems?
- Do we measure and reward the right things?
- Do we communicate and educate?
- Do we put our money where their mouth is?
- Do we do the right things for the right reasons?
- Do we have an effective program to prevent and detect ethical misconduct as well as legal violations?
- Is ethics agenda based on core values?
- Is there a common language and process for ethical decision making / reasoning?
Legitimize Ethics as a Business Issue
Often, formal plans and policies are not enough to make ethical conduct a priority within an organization. Leaders and management at every level of the organization need to actively exercise a commitment to ethics and serve as role models for all employees. Their commitment to their morals through their own decisions will, encourage ethical conduct in others and help to legitimize them in the workplace.
Take the time to look closely at your organization and decide what you want to be. Consider writing an ethics policy and make sure to distribute it to potential applicants. Let them know through examples that the policy is not just a bunch of words, and give them an opportunity to come forward without repercussions for their omission. Building an organization where all employees – future and current – subscribe to the same high moral standards and ethical conduct may be easier than you think and you might be pleasantly surprised with the impact to your bottom-line.