Conduct risk flourishes where leaders fail to make it easier for their employees to voice concerns

The 2019 Global Business Ethics Survey (GBES) into unethical workplace behaviour again shows that conflicts of interest is the number 1 unethical practice observed by employees with some 34% of those who see it, failing to report it. Globally nearly one-half of all employees reported witnessing conduct risk.

Fear of retaliation – in the form of less working hours, missed promotional opportunities, unpopular work assignments – being a key reason why employees fail to speak-up. Despite the #metoo movement’s efforts to raise consciousness of the pervasive nature of workplace harassment, 46% of those reporting sexual harassment in 2019 continue to experience retaliation.

When employees do speak up, the 2019 survey again confirms that employees raise their concerns with their direct managers rather than anonymously. Typically, Australian workplaces do not provide specific training for managers in how to respond when employee raise concerns– is this an institutional barrier to managing conduct risk?

Lack of respect and civility in the workplace is the second most common type of observed misconduct. Abusive behaviour, i.e. behaviour that is aggressive, degrading and intimidating creates low trust workplaces. It not only lowers an organisation’s ethical standards, it also saps employee commitment and overall performance – another unspoken institutional barrier to increased employee productivity?

It is possible to change our workplaces to make them more civil, more inclusive and better able to listen and respond to employee’s concerns. For example, the 2019 survey found that employees reporting violations of health and/or safety regulations were less likely to experience retaliation ( with 30% experiencing retaliation vs the 46% reporting sexual harassment.)

Isn’t it way past time that leaders allocated sufficient resources to training managers and Exco leaders in how to respond when their people point to risks? Elearning won’t do it!

Isn’t it way past time leaders purposely stepped up to designing their organisational contexts to enable employees to feel safe when identifying organisational risks? We have the science to show us how to develop workplace cultures to encourage speaking up. Let’s use it.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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Personal reputation and ethical challenge

Behavioural science shows that our sense of personal identity as an ethical person is highly valued and when publicly threatened we change our behaviour. The pressures we face in modern workplaces constitute a significant threat to our fulfilling our ethical ambitions as it is the workplace context, not our moral character, that is the biggest influence in how we choose to behave. It is relatively easy to be “ full of good intent”, but it is in “walking the talk” that that most of us fall short. The science shows us that we are inherently emotional rather than rational social creatures.

Forearming yourself against the inevitable workplace ethical challenges that lurk in modern workplace involves becoming familiar with the contextual, social, cognitive and emotional factors that shape our behaviour at work. Contextual pressures such as time, budget, remuneration or sales target pressures; social forces including our need to belong,to feel safe and to experience a sense of achievement; psychological pressures and our innate cognitive biases all conspire to dull our senses and leave us ethically blindsided. Key steps to build your ethical antennae include:

1. Invest time in clarifying what it is that you stand for and this will safeguard against falling for anything when under pressure

2. When under stress, ask yourself, will this action enhance my reputation or diminish it in the eyes of others?

3. Be on high alert when friends or family ask you to do them “a favour” that involves your workplace. Emotional loyalties can crowd out rational thinking.

4. When faced with a seemingly impossible target, ask yourself, how far am I prepared to go to get results and how this action raise or lower my ethical standards?

5. Tune into your rationalisations. The number one reason people do unethical things is to help their organisations, and they then justify their actions on the basis that the had “nothing personal to gain from it.”

6. Keep fit. We are predisposed to unethical actions when we are tired, stressed or believe we the workplace context is “unfair.”

7. Pay attention to how you or others choose to “frame” workplace decisions. “Can we” rather than “should we” frames excludes vital information from consideration. Decision-frames that screen out ethical concerns may be more common than moral compasses at leadership levels.

Developing the skills to canvass the ethical dimension of every workplace decision is a critical life skill in an era of instantaneous adverse media exposure.

Your mission, should you choose to accept, it is to hone the skills necessary to ensure you are capable of acting ethically.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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Ethics in the finance sector starts with you

Isn’t it time we all looked to personal accountability and recognise that if we, as Mum and Dad investors or industry fund stakeholders, go chasing the highest returns through SMF’s or compulsory superannuation funds, then very little is going to change in how business gets done?  As the Westpac scandal unfolds, we are seeing the underside of shareholder supremacy at the expense of stakeholder accountabilities.

Bank leaders say shareholder pressure for short term results is forcing them into short term strategies at the expense of rising to a higher accountability for societal impacts – social, ethical, environmental and economic.  Is leaders’ vision of a sustainable business success curtailed by a tenure of 5.5 years – hardly long enough to set sail for more sustainable shores?

Isn’t it time the public debate focused on how societal values have shifted?  Mum and Dad shareholders now frightened at how today’s wealth is coming at the expense of their children and grandchildren’s futures.

Since we have all played a role in creating today’s business standards, isn’t it ethical that we all now play a role in bringing about change?  What can you do, and will you do it even if it means lower financial returns in the short-term?

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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How to Develop a Code of Ethics for Your Workplace

The process of developing the code very often determines it success. It begins with an appreciation of the specific contexts, ethical challenges, stakeholders and employee engagement needed to win support for the code and ensure its relevance for its users. Key steps include:

1. Consultation with organisational members and key stakeholders about the values they would like to see guiding your organisational culture development and success. Workshop the draft content to enable stakeholders to feel they have been listened to and can commit to the final version of the new code.

2. Relevance: Effective codes speak to the day to day ethical challenges managers and employees face. Inviting staff to identify such challenges or conducting “an ethics audit” to pinpoint issues will ensure relevance.

3. Content: A typical Code might include:

  • Inspirational message from the CEO
    Definition of business ethics
  • Core principles and values the organisation wishes to promote
  • Specific behaviours supporting the values
  • Examples of typical ethical challenges and how the code can be used to clarify the right action to take
  • Identification of key stakeholders and reciprocal obligations
  • The protections awarded to employees who speak up about issues of concern
  • A ladder of escalation on how to raise issues and the key people who can help.

4. Language Choice of voice or tone used is often a subtle but critical “turn off” or “turn on” for users. Choose language to be inclusive, inspirational and designed for maximum clarity and engagement.

5. Embedding: Cross-check code content with other existing organisational protocols to ensure consistency of messaging. Reward and control systems need to be aligned to support the Code ‘s intent. A specific communication action plan including face to face training needs to accompany its roll-out with key contractors and other critical stakeholders also included.

6. Role modelling: Develop metrics to hold all leaders to account to role model the Code’s values;they are the loudest message about what matters.

7. Maintenance: Codes need to be continually reviewed and updated to take account of new technologies and accompanying changing societal values.

Your Code is a living document designed to guide the ongoing cultural development of your organisation. Regular conversations about its content as well as monthly and annual awards to employees who act as role models sends a strong message that ethical behaviour matters as much to your organisation’s success as achieving desired business outcomes.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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How to Act Ethically at Work

Every workplace action has an ethical dimension. It arises from our interdependence with others. Acting ethically means canvassing for possible negative impacts on others before we act, and then seeking to minimise these. To forewarn yourself about the ethical challenges pay attention to:

1. Context: The context you are in will have a stronger impact on how you choose to act than your character! If you feel pressure to go along to get along be on alert as social pressures predispose us to acting unethically including turning a blind eye to others’ misdoings.

2. Beware of Goals: People often slip into unethical behaviours at work due to the pressure of unrealistic goals. If you find yourself justifying your behaviour choices as being necessary to achieve your goals, recognise you are on a slippery slope that leads to more unethical behaviour. Stop and review your organisational and personal values and use these to guide your action options.

3. Beware of Loyalty: Employees can find themselves acting unethically because they are protecting their manager, their teams or even the organisation’s from harm. We excuse our unethical actions because we think we have nothing personal to gain. Lying to protect others or fudging figures to assist with team targets or cash flow is unethical behaviour even if there is no personal gain.

4. Inner thoughts: People behave unethically up to the point that they can make excuses for their behaviour. These “excuses” or rationalisations are the stories we tell ourselves – everyone’s doing it; no one get hurt; x is dependent on me doing this; its time pressure that make me act this way or whatever other story you tell yourself to justify your actions. If you hear yourself making excuses be on the alert to ethical slippage.

5.Well-being: We are more prone to act unethically when we find ourselves tired or stressed or when we feel we are being mistreated. In these situations, it pays to check out with a trusted colleague whether your proposed action is an ethical one.

6. Framing: How we “frame” a decision can ignore its ethical dimension. If you hear yourself saying “it’s only a business decision” or “just do it” or “ it’s a simple choice between winning and losing” chances are you are ignoring the social or the environmental impacts of your decision and therefore its ethical dimensions. There is no such thing as only one dimension when humans are making decisions.

7. Friends and family: Be on alert when friends or family ask you to do something in the workplace as your loyalty to them may override your duty to your organisation and leave you slipping into unethical actions.

8. Competing values: Ethical challenges arise from competing values such as telling the truth to customers or admitting the organisation has made a mistake; achieving results in the short term that bring adverse long term consequences or being overly demanding of people you manage rather than sympathetic to their needs. We need to anticipate, confront and discuss these tensions so we can better manage them.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

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How to Promote a Speak-Up Culture

Employees, not auditors, are the first people to see risk and unethical behaviour. It pays, therefore, to work with the social life of your organisation to recognise how employees are socialised into discussing risk issues and then to provide the necessary skills to ensure they are encouraged to raise issues before a crisis can emerge. It begins with:

1. Tone at the top: Winning the top team’s support and participation in moving to a “Listening” culture orientation. Leaders are the loudest signal about whether it is safe to raise concerns

2. Appeal to personal Identity: Most employees have a strong self-identity that they are ethical and rarely self-identify as part of the problem. Leveraging of employees’ own identity is a powerful lever for their co-operation in identifying unethical behaviour in the workplace.

3. Build life Skills – values conflicts are inevitable and forewarning employees to canvass other stakeholder perspectives as well as contextual pressures when making decisions will help to offset reactive decisions

4. Train managers and employees in “speak up” skills to build a shared organisational language around risk. Ideally training will be organised in cross-sectional groups to enable employees to “hear” each other’s concerns; this amplifies the social life of the organisation

5. Take a systems approach – Initiatives to build cultures of integrity must involve a “whole of organisation” so employees know there is only one set of rules and everyone is being asked to change

6. Peer to peer accountability: Leaders need to hold each other to the organisation’s stated values. Insist managers at every level develop action plans that focus on day to day practices.

7. Embed in organisation: What gets measured and rewarded, gets done. Existing reward and recognition systems must be aligned to support any speak-up cultural change program.

Ideally, speak up initiatives will be a cornerstone to the organisation living its values. It can, therefore, be communicated in favourable terms.

Please fill out the form below to get in touch with us and to start the discussion about your business ethics issues. You can also call us now on 0430 889 850 or email us directly at attracta@values.com.au.

Would you like to bring business ethics in your company to the next level? Please fill out the form below to contact us.

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