The Development of Workplace Ethics & Businesses for Social Responsibility
Part I: The Basics of Workplace Ethics for Social Responsibility
Contrary to what we hear in the media, whether the news is about predatory lending practices, the high cost of prescription drugs or one of the dozens of international trade agreements, the words “business” and “ethics” aren’t an oxymoron.
While we have employment laws and regulations that govern how workers are to be treated and what companies can (and cannot) dump into our rivers and streams, organizational ethics is intended to go well beyond the law by linking a company’s business practices to the personal beliefs of their employees, but its focus continues to be on the corporation or business at hand. In other words, the members of a team and the departments within an organization must work together to achieve common goals, while at the same time, attempting to do “the right thing” in a complex diverse world.
In my role as an Organizational Development Consultant, I partner with executive teams to develop and implement HR initiatives and two of the highest priorities are always to: 1.) Insulate the organization from potential liability, and 2.) Enhance operational efficiencies- save them money!
Additionally, from a workplace perspective, I also attempt to shift the paradigm a bit for the executive teams to think more about the culture, the people and the environment for critical reasons that include:
- Hostile work environment and the costly litigation that arises from them;
- Employee satisfaction and retention; the potential of losing your A players – costing the organization money, knowledge and talent;
- Productivity and the bottom line; and,
- Frankly, it’s the “right thing to do” for your people
More important to the discussion however, harassment and bullying are illegal and issues like this year’s Presidential race has escalated this phenomenon in workplaces that haven’t put enough emphasis into holding people accountable for their behaviors; therefore, in my coaching with front line managers I continuously reinforce that they are “the” role models. As such, the most obvious and effective method for both enhancing their credibility and reputation is to “walk the talk”. Leaders must not only meet the expectations in the employee handbook (including things such as use of Corp AMEX), but exceed them if they truly want to influence employees into recognizing dysfunctional behaviors and moral dilemmas in their decision making.
Further, by facilitating a dialogue with the key stakeholders, I’ll offer suggestions on how they might balance the needs of the business with the needs of the people and then apply those to modern corporate life which, in the end, also enhances employee satisfaction, improves staff retention and injects a sense in pride.
While conducting my due-diligence with a new client, I’m always pleasantly surprised when I learn that they have a Code of Professional Conduct in place. When they don’t, it’s been my experience that I’ll, in turn, find that the organization suffers from poor morale due to a workplace with employee relations tensions.
Adopting a Code of Professional Conduct is an essential competent to any organization from a liability perspective alone; however, it’s equally important to put in place other complimentary people principles such as Guiding Principles, Sexual Harassment Policies, Workplace Ethics, Problem Resolution, Ethical Standards, Mission and Vision Statements, Open Door Policy and/or Harassment Free Workplaces for example to reinforce the company’s commitment to all these things.
The more a company is able to leverage language and messaging in other parts of the business the more effective they’ll be at underscoring the organization’s long-term commitment to ethical practices in the workplace.
As a result, when I come across a new client doesn’t have a code of conduct, an ethics policy or other people principles I’ll explain that by developing and implementing these essential guidelines for conduct that they can add tremendous value to their organization and improve their bottom line. I’ll then partner with the leaders in vetting out and identifying what they specifically need and want in the way of corporate values and guiding principles.
In putting forth some basic corporate principles, the company is making a commitment to their employees of how they can expect to be treated and, more importantly, it provides guidelines to the employee’s of how they are expected to do business on behalf of the company.
Some suggestions for guiding principles for workplace ethics could include:
- Respect for others
- Volunteerism (meals on wheels, adopt a highway)
- Truth in advertising
- Civil rights protection (i.e. providing health care coverage to domestic partners)
- Human rights (not purchasing from sweatshops in 3rd world countries)
- Environmental protection (only doing business with “green” vendors/ suppliers)
- External communications to shareholders, clients and the public, the balance between transparency and openness on the one hand and confidentiality on the other, community relations etc.
- Responsible business practice (prohibitions on bribery, gifts, nepotism, self-dealing), and even business goals (such as becoming market leader)
(A sample Professional Code of Conduct for workplace ethics is attached below as a free downloadable)
While developing, publishing and communicating why the company’s values, core principles and code of conduct is essential to any ethics initiative, it’s also critically important that every employee within the organization be able to recite those values and principles if they’re expected to apply them to their work.
Some of the methods for promoting them might include a video from the President that features a personal promise to uphold certain values as the head of the organization, and a frank presentation of current issues by a cross-section of staff. Another idea it to put the information on a laminated 3 X 5 card and distributing it to the entire staff; and, the President of one company would – at the start of any meeting or employee gathering – randomly ask one of the participants to recite the company’s principles and at the next gathering he would ask an attendee for three behaviors prohibited in the code of conduct. It’s akin to being called on by the teacher to tell the class what they learned the day prior. If someone thinks they might be called upon in a group setting, you can almost guarantee that they’ll learn, and know, the information.
In addition, all of the internal training courses, beginning with the new hire orientation, should include references to – and examples of – the company’s values, code of conduct, and principles. Another piece of most ethics programs is an EAP (employee assistance program). Generally administered through a hot-line, this service provides impartial, confidential help to the employees (and their entire family) at a reasonable fee to the employer. If you’re having behavior problems with an employee or an employee is going through a difficult time (divorce, death of a spouse, legal, financial problems etc.,), an EAP demonstrates and reinforces that, as leaders, you not only care that they get to work on time but you also have concern for them as a person.
As a Consultant, I leverage the numerous benefits of this extremely cost-effective tool when dealing with a host of employee related issues – especially those that are truly no one else’s business thereby reducing the need for an employee to cry on the shoulders of HR about personal matters (thus, keeping all matters strictly confidential and minimizing drama in the workplace). Critical to the integrity and credibility of the program, it needs to be the sole domain of a third party; although, when the company is mandating the EAP referral as a condition of continued employment, which I’ve done often when an employee is obviously struggling with issues that impacts his/her performance and they won’t access the program voluntarily, I can and do speak directly with the administrators and counselors to ensure the employee attends and participates.
If/when an organization wants to take ethics and social responsibility to the next level I’ll often recommend that they at least consider membership in BSR.
Part II: Taking Workplace Initiatives to the Next Level: Businesses for Social Responsibility ( www.bsr.org )
Rather than draft something myself for part II of this blog, I decided to simply cut and paste portions of the BSR website and encourage readers to visit to their website to learn more about this highly effective and growing phenomenon that started in San Francisco 20+ years ago.
Working with Business to Build A More Just and Sustainable World
Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) provides socially responsible business solutions to many of the world’s leading corporations. Headquartered in San Francisco with offices in Europe and China, BSR is a non-profit business association that serves its 250 member companies and other Global 1000 enterprises. Through advisory services, convenings and research, BSR works with corporations and concerned stakeholders of all types to create a more just and sustainable global economy.
Since 1992, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) has helped companies of all sizes and sectors to achieve success in ways that demonstrate respect for ethical values, people, communities and the environment. A leading global resource for the business community and thought leaders around the world, BSR equips its member companies with the expertise to design and implement successful, socially responsible business policies, practices and processes. As a non-profit business association, BSR is uniquely positioned to promote cross-sector collaboration in ways that contribute to the advancement of corporate social responsibility and business success.
Membership in BSR provides an extensive set of practical resources – including issue expertise, advisory services, training and timely insight on news, trends and innovations – accessible through consultation, custom reports, publications and the web at www.bsr.org . BSR connects members to a global network of business and industry peers, partners, stakeholder groups and thought leaders. On behalf of its members, BSR also convenes and facilitates cross-sector dialogue and collaboration.
BSR also acts as a trusted intermediary between business and civil society. While understanding business and serving its needs, BSR maintains strong relationships with other key stakeholders and opinion formers in the civic and public sectors. Through these relationships, BSR provides companies with alternative viewpoints and engagement opportunities that help them better formulate decisions, positions and actions.
In other words, BSR offers a host of initiatives for corporate culture’s committed to ethical business practices, concern for the environment and global humanitarian causes.
Personally, as someone that’s been a member and an “unofficial” BSR ambassador of sorts for the past two decades, I’m highly encouraged by their growth beyond what was once a sub-culture phenomenon of the tech community
To learn more about BSR, please go to: www.bsr.org Furthermore, check out “About Our Workplace: Values, Culture and Work-Life Benefits” on the second page of the site.
VISIT THE BUSINESS FOR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR MORE INFO BSR is a valuable resource!
FREE Downloadable: Code of Professional Conduct for Workplace Ethics
Mike Russell is a seasoned professional with three decades of experience in the fields of HR and OD. In addition to having a career trajectory of HR Generalist to a VP within ten years, Mike also has a long and successful background as a Consultant/Business Partner to CEO’s, Presidents and Executive Directors in both the private and non-profit communities across a wide spectrum of industries.
As the sole-proprietor and owner of Organizational Development Solutions (ODS), Mike partners with business leaders committed to insulating their organization(s) from potential liability, increasing organizational effectiveness and adding shareholder value.