Recent news headlines have caused widespread concern amongst many people when it comes to continued trust in various institutions, organisations and companies.
The banking crisis, Libor rate fixing, mis-selling of PPI, MPs expenses and many more major stories have all caused people to question the integrity of brands and businesses that they previously had no cause to mistrust.
In fact the tide of public opinion is so strong that, almost daily, we are seeing increased scrutiny and growing scepticism about what it means to behave ethically in business. Where previously we may have taken claims at face value or had no reason to question what goes on behind closed doors, we are now far more aware of malpractice and far less likely to trust.
So how can we approach the issue of ethics in the workplace and avoid a crisis of confidence?
In the past, great emphasis was put on business values – a core set of principles that dictated the way day to day operations were run.
With globalisation and high-level mergers, many companies that form the basis of daily commerce have become divorced from their relatively humble beginnings, which were often local in nature too.
With globalisation and high-level mergers, many companies have become disconnected from their original values and principles. This, in turn, can increase the feelings of disconnection for customers and clients, weakening the customer relationship and adding to the feelings of mistrust and cynicism.
For the most part, the MP expenses scandal saw individuals acting within the law but taking advantage of concessions and allowances for personal gain, however other situations have involved people acting illegally.
The Institute of Business Ethics’ 2012 survey found that 20% of British employees had been aware of misconduct in their organisation and 35% of employees believed that they had been asked to perform duties as part of their work which came into conflict with their own ethics and values.
Ultimately, this topic needs to focus in on individual behaviours. The ethical behaviour of each employee builds the culture of a business so it’s vital when considering how to tackle ethical working that interventions start at an individual level.
Everyone working for an organisation should be aware of a set of the company’s core values and principles, with decisions and actions of management modelling those values at all times.
Ethical issues in business don’t just involve major contracts and board level decisions. Each member of staff makes daily decisions that in some way uphold or undermine a company’s ethical viewpoint and the values of that organisation.
Implementing a programme of ethics training is a great way of opening up discussion about what ethical working really looks like and engaging individuals in understanding more about their role and how they can align their conduct with company values. This will help to reduce the risk of problems further down the line and build a happy and productive workforce that pride themselves on strong core values.