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Photo of a computer screen that reads "ethics" to illustrate how to run an ethical workplace.

Wondering how to run an ethical workplace?

Time and time again, we hear about companies paying massive fines to the federal government for legal and ethical violations that got out of hand—JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Chevron, Goldman Sachs, and even Facebook.

In fact, according to a 2018 business ethics survey, 41% of U.S. workers said they observed some unethical or illegal misconduct on the job. And how does that happen? It comes from leadership. Here’s how to tell whether you abuse your leadership authority in the office.    

Bad behaviors snowball  

If your company culture tolerates or even encourages, even the smallest misconduct, watch out. Those unethical or legal infractions will eventually snowball into those headline-making scandals that seem to permeate the news.

When workers break the rules and don’t suffer any punishment, they’ll start doing it more and more. Assuming it’s okay, it will become contagious among other employees. And you risk that your steadfast, ethical employees will get frustrated and leave the company. Your reputation, productivity, and profitability are all in jeopardy.  

Rules must be enforced

As a manager, it’s your job to enforce the rules. Confront lousy behavior as soon as it happens—either with a talking to or a formal write-up. Your employees will understand that unethical behavior isn’t tolerated. They’ll take pride in working for an ethical company. Your reputation will flourish. They’ll respect you as a person of integrity. They’ll trust your consistency.  

Treat employees with fairness 

Be a leader and an excellent example of how you want everyone to behave. Treat your employees fairly and consistently. If you treat one employee with favoritism, your other employees will pick up on that.

Resentment will build. They’ll be confused about which behaviors are acceptable and which aren’t. And since more eyes are upon you, you have to be extra careful not to be involved in any misconduct. You have a higher standard because you have a more significant influence on the company culture. If you’re misbehaving, it will trickle down to your employees.   

Teach ethics

Use your authority to teach and preach ethics. Explain your written standards of ethical workplace conduct and provide training on those standards.

You can also provide resources, like a company handbook. Establish procedures so your employees can report potential violations confidentially and anonymously.

When you conduct performance evaluations, include a piece about ethics. Make sure any proven violators are disciplined. And give your employees to provide feedback concerning ethics.   

Avoid conflicts

Sometimes people can get wrapped up in unethical behavior because their goals get confused. If you press your employees to complete projects on time no matter what, your employees might feel pressured to cut corners.

Or, if you look the other way on certain unethical behaviors or lower your ethics standards, your employees will assume you don’t care. They will assume that everyone’s acting unethically, and that they can too.  

Wondering how to run an ethical workplace?

Ethics and values are the backbones of your company. They help define your company culture, affect your reputation, and create consistent guidelines and confidence for your employees. Contact us today for a consultation on how to run an ethical workplace.

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