Over the last several months, we have talked about who needs ethics policies, as well as what is in them.  In this final installment on ethics policies, the focus is on incorporating them into your workplace.

It isn’t uncommon for HR professionals to work diligently to create an ethics code for their employer only to find that no one will take the lead in following it.  The reality is that upper management must demonstrate a commitment to creating an ethical workplace or no amount of policy-making is going to be successful.  If the top-down approach fails, instead try generating a “grass roots” interest in your employees to act ethically.  Sometimes, spreading the code   upward through your organization can overcome that blockade.

If you have the support of your upper management, incorporating ethics into your workplace can be summed up in three words:  Demonstrate, Communicate, Celebrate.

DEMONSTRATE: Walk the talk and value forgiveness.  To establish preferred behaviors in the workplace, those who manage must model those behaviors.  At times, mistakes will be made.  An ethical organization will acknowledge its wrongs and accept the consequences.  This sends a clear message to all employees that integrity is valued.

COMMUNICATE: Provide your employees with real world examples that demonstrate your ethics code at work.  You should also consider practicing ethical problem-solving as part of the training process.  The training on your ethics code should focus on modeling behavior with upper management and on decision-making with lower level employees.

Ethical decision-making does not have to be made difficult; in fact, it should be just the opposite.  Once your employees learn to recognize an ethical dilemma, the decision-making process should just take over.  Primarily, this involves gathering all the necessary information to make a sound decision, considering all the possible options available, and doing the gut check.  Is this right?  Is it legal?  Is it fair?  Will I feel the need to offer excuses for the decision?  Once these questions have been answered, hopefully an ethical decision has been made.

CELEBRATE: Add ethical successes to the lore of your organization.  It’s simple to do – just talk about them.  When an employee faces an ethical challenge and handles it using the ethics code, spread word of that result to others in your organization.  For example, at our firm, our successes are shared in an email from our CEO called “The Morning Brew.”

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Vanessa Towarnicky's primary focus is in the area of labor and employment law. She has been involved in representing clients in various employment cases, including sexual harassment; deliberate intent; age, race, and disability discrimination; wrongful discharge; and various other employment-related torts. She is admitted to various state and federal courts as well as the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
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