How to Prevent Your Top Performers From Breaching Company Ethics

Workplaces are inclined to bend rules or look the other way when star employees harass or act out

Written by Advisory Board

The CBC has been accused of ignoring complaints about Jian Ghomeshi’s harassment of co-workers. We asked the experts how you can ensure you don’t let star performers run wild in the workplace.

Make standards explicit

“There’s something we call €˜bottom-line fetish,’ which means everything is excusable in the name of getting results. It was the operating principal in many workplaces years ago, and while it’s getting better, it is still alive and well.

“The solution is very simple: The same rules should apply to everyone. It should be clear to each employee, from CEOs and board members down, that, while everybody wants them to perform, that doesn’t give them license to treat others disrespectfully. You have to make it explicit that your organization values civility and respect.”

—Blaine Donais, President, Workplace Fairness Institute, Toronto

Actively promote the rules

“Employers must have a well-crafted policy with regards to preventing harassment, bullying and violence in the workplace. But the policy is only as good as the training that comes with it. I’ve seen employers hand around a policy and call that training; that’s not good enough. When you have new employees, your harassment training has to be part of orientation, so that everyone knows from the beginning what’s expected of them, where the lines are and what happens if they are crossed. And, ideally, regular training should happen for all employees, as well.”

—Diane Mason, President, HR Proactive Inc., Hamilton, Ont.

Remove barriers to reporting

“You have to be really diligent. If you allow unethical behaviour to fester, or if you allow people to commit one wrong act—maybe they choose to fudge an expense report, or something like that—then it can snowball and lead to bigger things, which become bigger problems.

“I suggest hiring and training what are called €˜ethical leaders’—supervisors who espouse and enact ethical behaviour, who talk about and promote ethics in the workplace, making it a common topic of conversation with their employees.

“It’s also important to make sure employees have ways to respond to unethical behaviour. Studies show that approximately half of employees have witnessed some kind of unethical behaviour in their organization, but very few report it. Why is that? Often, there’s not really an outlet for them to express what they’ve seen, without being labelled as a €˜snitch’ by their colleagues. Providing an opportunity for employees to safely share when they’ve seen these things—in a way that is both healthy and helpful for everyone—can counteract a workplace culture that accepts unethical behaviour.”

—Matthew J. Quade, Assistant Professor, Hankamer School of Business, Waco, Texas

Check your values

“Any organization that is not cautious is capable of giving a little leeway to high performers. As much as the solution depends on having procedures in place to handle ethical misconduct, it’s really about the culture—what’s accepted and what’s not. It’s one thing to have a code [of ethics] on the wall, but unless it’s adhered to, it won’t make a difference. And it’s important to think about the kind of values you want to inspire, not just the rules you have to police.

“In a situation where there’s been a high-profile case of unethical behaviour, the leaders of the company need to decide what it stands for; very likely, they have a set of values somewhere that they’ve forgotten about. They need to think about whether their employees should still be abiding by those values, and then how to revitalize those values and get them back into the fabric of the organization. Training is one way to do that, as are open sessions with employees to talk about problems. It is important that employees get a chance to discuss the real culture, or else it will go unnoticed and then unmanaged.”

—Andrew Crane, Professor of Business Ethics, Schulich School of Business, Toronto

This article is from the Summer 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!


What does your company do to prevent unethical behaviour? Let us know by commenting below.

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com