Dealing with ethical issues at work

Written by Nina Woodward | Updated: Jul 20 2008, 02:44am hrs
In our article last month entitled, Business ethics is a continuous process, we outlined a framework in organisational culture and style that is required to support ethical business. We discussed the need for senior management to walk the talk where ethical business is concerned and made a strong case for zero tolerance in cases of abuse. In this part II, we will discuss elements that create the corporate culture and climate that support a culture that is entwined with and enriched by ethical business practices.

One extremely important element of this culture should be that internal processes always include an opportunity that supports reporting what is suspected to be unethical happenings without fear of recrimination. In the SHRM/ERC 2003 Business Ethics Survey we referred to in part I, it was found that only half of those surveyed reported that they were satisfied with the organisations response to their reports or suspicions of infractions.

Reasons for not reporting misconduct include a belief that no action will be taken, fear of retaliation from supervisors or management and not trusting that reports would remain confidential. Since perceptions become reality in these situations, steps have to be taken to correct or redirect these perceptions to ones that imbibe trust in the processes for reporting possible problem areas and having complete faith that the incident will be ably reviewed and dealt with by those in charge. They must be convinced that they will not be betrayed by the system or that complaints will not be swept under the rug.

Ethics issues are becoming more complex as businesses go global. Certainly, all that has been written in both parts of this article can apply in any cultural context. However, global standard for ethics within an organisation ensures that ethics relates not only to laws and regulations in the home country but to situations in the global arena that require ethical behaviour as the most appropriate response in any culture. This speaks about the fact that ethical behaviour should be a part of the organisations value statement and therefore, a living part of the organisations own culture. This means that organisations need to have empowered ethics officers who can make the strategic decisions necessary to support an organisations code of conduct in any cultural context. They should have the breadth and depth of understanding of both national and organisational culture to make wise determinations regarding ethical dilemmas.

To be continued

The author is executive director, Society for Human Resource Management India Pvt Ltd