Ethics in the Workplace

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has staked its place in the business community; seeking to deliver sustainable economic, social, and environmental benefits for all stakeholders. The stakeholders of an organization are:

  • Employees
  • Customers
  • Suppliers
  • The Community

Throughout this series of blogs, the terms ethics and CSR will be used interchangeably. Ethics is the underpinning of CSR; any action which deliberately mistreats, neglects or abuses any stakeholder is, by its very nature, unethical conduct.

Ethics should reflect values. The values of a firm are one of many pieces in a complex puzzle contributing to the ongoing epidemic of unethical behavior in today’s world. Organizations routinely publish and boast of their Statement of Values or Ethical Compact. The long-standing joke is that Enron won an award for theirs.

The reality is, although companies have status as an entity in the eyes of the law, they have no capacity to possess values or ethics. This is restricted to human beings who can think, feel, and act. The ethical conduct of a firm is the reflection of those individuals who lead or work therein.

This is the difference between “espoused” and “enacted.” Many companies espouse values, ethics, and commitments to social responsibility. These are meaningless declarations without their enactment. Leadership of the organization must establish the expectations for compliance and hold all members of the firm equally accountable.

The research is convincing that companies which commit to act socially responsible enjoy greater success for longer periods of time than those affected with “short-termism.” This is documented in my white paper, “The Economics of Ethics“.

As we weave through this series on the topic of the challenges to creating a sustainable ethics program, I suggest the values of an organization are a good place to start a dialog. As you will see, my perspective is viewed through a different lens than most.

Values are things people aspire to be. They are not goals and they are never “achieved.” Values are things like loyalty, truthfulness, and being respectful. They are the guiding beacon to living a fulfilling and happy life.

An employee can determine if the company they work for is enacting values by observing the way customers, co-workers, suppliers, and the community are being treated. Research validates the mutual benefit of alignment between the company’s enacted values and the personal values of the individuals they employ. I think individuals can start by determining and declaring their values and living them as a meaningful contribution to culture in which they work. Likewise, the company must make their values clear through enactment. If these ideals can’t be reconciled, the relationship will not enjoy long-term happiness and ultimately stymie the level of engagement and productivity. Individuals should seek to coordinate their values, goals, and activities with a company they are proud to represent based on the alignment of enacted and personal values.

The next several weeks will feature a series of blog columns detailing various methods by which employers and employees can create and thrive in an ethical culture.

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