By: Dona Dezube
Nearly every company has a vision statement. Yet far fewer companies have a value statement that will guide employee behavior.
A failure to include company values and work ethics in the vision statement, or to ensure its compliance, can lead to a host of issues, from lost revenue to corporate malfeasance.
Why Work Ethics Matter
Today’s world of fluid social networking, means that it’s no longer sufficient to simply have a company mission statement. The need is compounded by the growth of global recruitment that involves divergent local customs and social norms as well as the ascendance of Gen Y workers who bring a new set of behavioral expectations to the workplace.
Today, organizations need to establish and integrate company values into their company mission statement and into its day-to-day operations, including their hiring process, as well as in annual performance reviews and as making it part of professional talent development.
"We’re like fishes in a bowl,” says Nan DeMars, author of You’ve Got to be Kidding – How to Keep Your Job Without Losing Your Integrity. “Everyone is watching what corporations and employees are doing and ethics has an important role to play.”
Work ethics will help your firm:
- Recruit and retain employee whose personal values align with company values
- Build a robust talent management strategy
- Reward and recognize employees for making ethical decisions
- Protect your company’s global reputation
Workplace Ethics Cross Cultural Borders
While it may seem that work ethics are situational and local, Ethics and Compliance Officer Association’s COO Tim Mazur points out six values common to all cultures:
3. Civic virtue (what we call citizenship in US)
5. Justice (or fairness in some languages)
Beyond these universal values, your organization’s work ethics and beliefs should be specific to your industry and mission.
Once you’ve identified your company values, the process of identifying your workplace ethics can follow a more standardized process, Mazur says.
Creating your Work Ethics
For each value, come up with at least five concrete principles that will guide employee decisions as well as employee performance reviews, adds Mazur. Each principal should include a subject, verb and object as part of the statement.
For example, a utility company whose employees work on power lines might create a company value of respect for safety. Going deeper into what this means for employees on a daily basis, one of the utility’s ethics principles might be:
- Employees will not cross roads on foot.
That might then be tempered with a second principle:
- No operating statement or urgency of service will prevent an employee from saving a life or saving another employee from harm.
The specificity of your organization’s workplace ethics will ensure that company values truly play a role during the evaluation and review process. For example, it’s much easier for a supervisor to evaluate whether an employee put himself in danger by crossing the street than it is to say whether he respected proper safety rules.
Going beyond rules, the Ethics Resource Center recommends focusing on encouraging positive behaviors, such as setting a good example, keeping promises and commitments and supporting others in adhering to workplace ethical standards.
Communicate Company Ethics
Once your company’s values are translated into actionable form, they need to be communicated.
“Where you’re really going to get the meat of this is in your employee handbook,” DeMars says. “Employees need a blueprint. They need to know what they can and cannot do and it has to be specific.”
The best employee handbooks also include ethical Q&As on issues that confront all organizations, such as confidentiality, vendor relationships, accountability, and harassment.
Also, be sure to incorporate your company values into recruiting materials and into the interview process and employee development programs.
Employees at all levels of the organization will also benefit from tailored corporate values training -- from the board of directors and senior managers, to line managers, ERC recommends.
Tracking Ethics Compliance
Unless your organization plans to use its vision statement solely as a decorative poster in the reception area, it will need a method for tracking compliance, options for reporting infractions safely and accountability for ethics violations.
“The problem is, in many cases senior managers around the world make decisions that are not in alignment with the corporation’s stated ethical standards,” says Mike Boyd, a senior lecturer of management Bentley University and president of HR strategy consulting firm Boyd Associates. “Once one manager does that, everyone says the company values are just a nice statement to put on the wall,” adds Boyd.
Your company values will remain a nice statement on the wall when a whistleblower shares the senior managers’ ethical lapses with the world.
One effective preventative against unethical employee behavior is an open line of communication for reporting violations. The Ethics Resource Center estimates 95 percent of whistleblowers tried to work out the issue within the system before going public.
Employees need to know their work ethics concerns will be taken seriously and kept confidential; they need to feel that there will be no repercussions for coming forward, DeMars says.
After implementing your new corporate values program, follow up with a survey and evaluation to track and monitor the effectiveness of your workplace ethic efforts.
Creating, communicating and integrating company ethics into your workplace requires a commitment at all levels of the organization to the principles in your vision statement.
The payoff? Those efforts will draw ethical job candidates to your organization and inspire current employees to always act in the best interests of their employer.