Do employees understand the “why” of their organization’s code of conduct?
Guest post from Dr Attracta Lagan
Or, how many grasp the ethical reasoning behind it? Based on lengthy experience in this area, I believe few staff develop this essential understanding.
As a consultant, and co-principal of Managing Values, a small consultancy based in Australia, I am currently on workshop 51 of an 85 workshop program explaining the ethical principles of our client’s Code of Conduct.
This project for a large Australian City Council, reaches all 1600 staff from the CEO to the street staff.
All workshops occur face-to-face, in over 20 two-hour interactive workshops. These focus on the “why” behind the code of conduct. They also explain why employees need to hold each other accountable to it. Incidentally this is the second time in two years we have run this extensive program.
Code of Conduct training is therefore not just about unpicking unquestioned assumptions–about who can set behaviour standards in the workplace.
It’s also about helping employees better understand how they can use the organisation’s code of conduct to protect themselves, and to support them in moving towards a fair workplace culture.
From the large number of workshops we have already run, we find helping employees better understand who they are in the workplace is the first step to getting their engagement with the code of conduct and its ethical dimensions.
A second important step is helping them to see ethical challenges as more likely due to what happens within the organization, rather than because of individual character flaws. Consequently, we’re able to show it’s in their interests to be forewarned and forearmed!
We build such self-awareness by focusing first on the sort of pressures employees face. These include the ever-present, often unspoken demands “to go along to get along”.
A third step in raising awareness is the focus on personal meaning and how this too can blindside them to the incremental steps they could be taking towards unethical behaviors.
To bring this issue alive we share well-researched and documented rationalisations that employees may use to justify those little unethical steps they have just taken:
“no one gets hurt” or “I have nothing to personally gain from fudging these figures”.
What the above describes is therefore a layering process. It draws from research in behavioral ethics, sociology and social psychology.
For example, employees find this new evidence and its relevance to their workplace behaviour particularly fascinating. Rather than creating the typical angst often about the usual philosophical approach to business ethics with its moral judgements, employees say they feel affirmed by the field research.
In particular, this approach highlights how, even with every good intention, ethical people can find themselves being driven towards unethical acts.
This happens because of psychological and sociological pressures that can often remain outside their conscious awareness.
Facilitating adult learning can be challenging. But it’s especially rewarding when bringing to life the ethical dimension inherent in practically all workplace decisions.
For example, employees constantly confirm they want to better understand themselves at work. They’re keen to know ways to build better relationships there and also how they can withstand the many pressures from workplace interpersonal relationships as well as workplace pressures.
They also want the code of conduct to protect them and help them withstand workplace demands, so they can maintain their personal sense of integrity.
And, perhaps most surprising of all, they want to better understand how they can help leaders safeguard their company’s reputation from the few rogue employees who come to work with the intention of behaving badly.
This seems to have particular relevance with the recent saga at VW still fresh and gradually revealing how so few people actually spoke up about the unethical practices.
To sum up, it’s time for organizations to move beyond the minimum of compliance and reach out to employees’ hearts and minds.
Doing this raises the standards for all workplace interactions.
About our Guest author:
Dr Attracta Lagan is one of the founding directors of the Australian Ethical Investment Movement; a founding director of the Australian Futures Foundation and founding director of consulting services for the St James Ethics Centre.
She later headed KPMG’s Business Ethics Practice and has worked alongside the executive teams of many of Australia’s top 100 corporations. She is a public advocate and a regular contributor in the business press on applied business ethics in Australia and internationally.
Managing Values has been working in the area of workplace ethics and values for over 20 years. The firm has worked alongside Australia’s major organisations in the mining, finance, construction, insurance and other areas. One of its programs is running in 68 state of Victoria State Agencies and has enjoyed the most comprehensive engagement of any ethics training program in the public sector. It has been running continuously for over 8 years.
The author can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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