The Word Ethics Seems to be Everywhere-So Have Ethics Problems Been Solved With Our New-Found Awareness?

By Frank C. Bucaro

A reasonable person might conclude, after years of media coverage of allegations of ethical misconduct, investigations, charges, plea-bargains, and a number of high profile jail sentences, that ethics violations in the workplace have been nearly totally eradicated or at least greatly diminished. Continuing media reports, and surveys like the one mentioned above, however, indicate otherwise.

One explanation that is often cited for this seeming failure in some organizations to get onboard with ethics is that when something unethical occurs in the workplace, nothing seems to happen. Employees may fear reporting unethical behavior due to possible retaliation; they may not trust their leaders to do anything about the situation. The threat of this scenario in the workplace is that when leadership does "nothing" unethical behavior appears to have free reign, will likely continue, and may spread.

Using the analogy of cancer, or a serious infection, would it be best to ignore the situation and hope it goes away on its own? Would it be wise to peacefully coexist in this situation? Or would the best chance for success be to root out the problem and deal with it early on? Just as a serious illness can threaten the health, safety and financial security of the individual, ethics problems, even those that initially appear small, localized, or insignificant, can spread and threaten the organization's health, stability and financial security.

A brief outline of five things organizations can do to offset the threat posed by ethics problems?

A. Develop a code of ethics if you don't have one already. Involve everyone, to some degree, in the process of development and get agreement from everyone when you have the code in its final form.

B. Set the consequences for possible violations BEFORE something happens. If everyone has a clear understanding of what is acceptable and not acceptable, what is negotiable and not negotiable before an incident occurs, they will not be able to say "I didn't know" after the fact. Ignorance is not bliss.

C. State and communicate consistently a no retaliation policy for those who report unethical behavior.

D. Establish a variety of options for reporting violations, i.e. anonymous hotline or an ethics box (like a suggestion box). Some organizations have ethics officers as well as compliance officers; some have ethics committees made up of executives, managers and employees at different levels.

E. A No Tolerance Policy is a must. Human nature being what it is someone will test the rules. Set the standards, investigate alleged violations, and if they are found, act. An environment where ethics is valued benefits the organization and its individual employees as well.

Nothing chips away at morale in the workplace worse than consistently seeing questionable ethics by one or a few co-workers, when nothing seems to stand in their way. Maintaining an ethical workplace is everyone's job; it is vital to communicate this to employees. Everyone in the organization benefits from consistent and sustained growth that is enhanced by a productive environment free of costly and disruptive ethics and compliance problems and public relations nightmares.

Frank C. Bucaro is an ethics expert who brings to light the serious subject of ethics with laugh-out-loud examples that result in a content-rich and surprisingly humorous approach to ethics in business today.

Frank's programs are designed to help clients decrease the odds of ethical and compliance violations as well as reinforce behavior that promotes, values based, high performance cultures.

Frank C. Bucaro & Associates, Inc. PO Box 8436, Bartlett, IL 60103 Phone: 800. 784. 4476