Top 10 Tips for... Improving Ethics in the Workplace

Top 10 Tips for... Improving Ethics in the Workplace

In any genre of business, there’s often a great deal of competition from our peers. So what sets your business apart from others is becoming incredibly important, particularly when it comes to how ethical and honest you are.

Having strong work ethics makes good business sense because employees want to work for a company which they are proud of and with colleagues they know act with integrity. Potential clients or customer are also more likely to choose a company which can showcase how they behave ethically because it provides the added ‘feel-good’ factor to any business transaction.

Here are our Top Tips for raising the bar and creating a more ethical workplace:

1. Create a code

Many professions require us to work to a consistent Code of Practice or Ethical Code and it is common for organisations to identify a set of values to guide how employees work together and engage with customers or society. Strong company values can be really inspiring. For example, clothing company H&M believe in boosting ‘entrepreneurial spirit,’ while Ikea values ‘togetherness and enthusiasm.’ Instead of concentrating on what is prohibited, think about the kind of behaviours you want to promote instead. But remember; one size doesn’t fit all and your code needs to be unique to you.

2. Engage with your employees and customers

Your colleagues are more likely to be invested in any Code of Practice or Ethics Code if they have been involved in developing it. Why not carry out some engagement sessions with your colleagues when creating or updating your policies so everyone can feel a part of the company’s vision and values? This goes for your customers or clients too. Why not ask them how they would like to see you working more ethically? You may find you’re already doing so – you’re just not promoting it widely enough. 

3. Reinforce the benefits of the code

Having a strong Code of Practice or Ethical Code is really important. But it needs to be consistent to work well. They need to be something which is achievable, desirable and which complement the kind of business you do. But there’s no point encouraging your workforce to reach tough targets if it involves compromising their integrity in any way. 

4. Be a good role model

A survey carried out by the Chartered Management Institute showed that two-thirds of UK managers want to be seen as ethical but over 80 percent of workers don’t think their manager sets a good moral example. Sound ethical behaviour starts at the top with the leaders in your business – whether they are directors, governors, associates or the Chief Executive. You need to lead by example. It can’t be one rule for those in senior positions and another for the rest of your workforce. 

5. Train your employees

There’s no point having an ethical code of conduct for your workforce if they don’t know what it is or why it’s important. You need to emphasise what’s at risk and what the potential consequences of breaching it could be. It also needs to be really clear how your colleagues can adhere to the code. It’s wise to include training on your company’s values and ethics in any induction workshops or by holding regular training sessions. These need to include examples and advice about how to uphold the integrity of the firm in certain situations.

6. Promote your ethical behaviour

Having a reputation as an ethical employer or supplier can be a great marketing tool when it comes to being an employer of choice or when trying to attract customers who want to deal with companies who have values they admire. You shouldn’t be shy about promoting how your company behaves in an ethical way. You may for example, help ensure any waste from your business is recycled appropriately. You might source your resources or ingredients from sustainable sources. Or you might have robust HR policies which protect your employees. Use your website, marketing materials, social media and PR to tell people how you’re making a difference. 

7. Reward ethical behaviour

Your employees are more likely to act with integrity and value honesty in others if their actions are held in high esteem. A good way of promoting the value of following your company’s Code of Practice or Ethics Code is to reward those who do it well. You could have a monthly governance award, you could send ‘star cards’ to individuals or simply raise the best example of how someone has behaved with integrity at your team meetings.

8. Learn from your mistakes

Unfortunately, the value of ethics is often not realised or understood until something goes wrong, often resulting in reputational damage which can take years to repair and overcome. If something does go wrong, then the only saving grace is that it is an opportunity to change the way you work to prevent it happening again. This is a good time to amend your Code of Practice or Ethics Policy and ensure everyone is on board with any new ways of working. 

9. Report unethical behaviour

An honest culture in any organisation will be difficult to manage if your employees don’t have an easy and private way to report any unethical behaviour. While it may feel uncomfortable to think that your employees may become whistle-blowers on their peers, the consequences of unethical behaviour could be more damaging. There should be an easy way for people to report their concerns, in confidence, without the fear of retaliation. You should also ensure there are people within your workforce who are trained to investigate any complaints. 

10. Move with the times

Our customers, clients and society as a whole will often guide how we run our businesses. They tell us what they want; whether it’s more ethically sourced produce, fairer wages for suppliers across the globe or more environmentally friendly policies. There will also be shifting themes which organisations concentrate on when it comes to improving their ethical standards - from environmentalism, working with sustainable resources, corporate social responsibility to battling cybercrimes and protecting privacy in the digital world we live in now. Your ethics policies or Code of Conduct needs to reflect the ever-changing world we live in. It should feel inspiring, rather than a hindrance, because ultimately it’s about making your workplace and brand better.

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