Preventing unethical behaviour in the workplace: a step-by-step approach

In a fast-paced, rapidly changing business landscape, fostering a workplace culture grounded in values such as integrity, transparency, and accountability is paramount. Organisationally, ethical behaviour builds trust. Customers and clients, vendors, and employees are all more likely to engage with companies that demonstrate a strong commitment to managing unethical behaviour in the workplace. Prospective employees especially are more likely to be drawn to companies known for their ethical organisational conduct.

Unethical behaviour in the workplace

Problematic workplace behaviour can manifest in several ways, including sexual harassment, bullying, and aggression. Unethical behaviour also includes fraud and financial misconduct, as well as unsafe work practices, environmental violations and more. 

It’s essential therefore for organisations to have clear policies, training, reporting mechanisms, and to actively work towards a culture that protects employees, promotes ethical behaviour, and prevents and addresses these types of misconduct. 

So what is the first step to addressing unethical behaviour in the workplace?

Start at the top

Leaders set the tone of an organisation, so board buy-in is crucial for an effective ethics and reporting program. Their endorsement demonstrates commitment, allocates resources, and bolsters program credibility. It also works to reduce reputational risk and sets the stage for wider organisational integrity and a culture of trust and accountability.

Equally important is the C-suite and management, who play a key on-the-ground role in shaping an ethical workplace culture. When leaders set a positive example – demonstrating honesty, integrity, compassion and openness – it strongly encourages employees to follow suit. 

Find your baseline

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” management guru Peter Drucker famously said and that sentiment applies to the field of ethics programmes. 

Benchmarking against industry best practices provides a valuable reference point, helping you gauge where your organisation stands in comparison to industry peers. Engaging a third party such as Report It Now® to conduct a thorough assessment of the organisation’s current state of ethics and compliance is valuable. They will review past incident reports, survey employees, and evaluate existing policies and procedures, and help you define the key performance indicators (KPIs) that will serve as metrics for success. These could include reducing ethical violations, increasing reporting rates, and improving the overall ethical culture. 

Establishing a comprehensive code of conduct

A Code of Conduct is the foundational document that articulates expected behaviour and ethical standards for every employee. It establishes a fundamental framework that guides decision-making, ensuring consistency and integrity in all interactions. This code not only safeguards against ethical lapses but also cultivates a culture of transparency, accountability, and trust. It serves as a compass, upholding the organisation’s values and providing employees with a clear path to navigate complex ethical dilemmas in their professional endeavours.

Because every business is unique, every ethics and compliance program framework will be unique too.

Open the channels of communication

Employees need to know they can report unethical behaviour without fear of retaliation. When an employee has something to say, a secure, anonymous multi-channel reporting mechanism such as EthicsPro® is the first touch-point that supports them. 

Ensuring anonymity instils confidence, assuring staff that their disclosures will be treated with respect and taken seriously. By providing these secure reporting channels, organisations demonstrate a sincere commitment to addressing ethical issues promptly, and anonymously, and cultivating an environment where integrity is valued and upheld. 

Keep it going

Continuous monitoring and evaluation are key to any ethics programme’s ongoing effectiveness. Conducting regular internal audits helps identify areas for improvement and ensures that the ethics/speak-up program remains relevant and impactful over time.

Similarly, ongoing training supports a culture of compliance and integrity, enabling staff to make informed decisions and uphold organisational values today and tomorrow. Training should be fun, frequent and functional. 

By providing the necessary knowledge and skills, your effort ensures that employees are well-prepared to navigate ethical challenges and contribute positively to the workplace environment.

Addressing unethical behaviour in the workplace

Reducing unethical behaviour in the workplace requires a concerted effort and a multi-faceted approach. By engaging leadership, implementing clear codes of conduct, and fostering open communication, organisations can build a culture of integrity, transparency, and accountability that benefits both employees and the bottom line.

To learn more about Report It Now® and the customised ethics and reporting service we can provide for your business, contact us for a free assessment. 

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