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HR central to fostering ethical workplaces

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HC Online | 11 Apr 2012, 12:00 AM Agree 0
Does HR have a role to play in ensuring ethical standards?
  • Bernie Althofer | 12 Apr 2012, 10:58 AM Agree 0
    It seems that in this day and age, great expectations (and demands) ar being put onto HR managers.

    Unfortunately, it also seems that as other areas within organisations find themselves steeped with additional requirements, line managers and supervisors may find it 'convenient' to abbrogate their responsibilities and accountabilities.

    Playing the devil's advocate, HR might not be in a position where they can exert any real power or influence over the day to day operations of organisations. HR might well play a key support role with specialist advice on issues such as ethics. However, in some organisations, particularly the public sector, entire branches are formed and devoted to promoting ethical conduct and responding to breaches of such conduct.

    As mentioned in this story, it seems pointless having various Codes of Conduct etc outlining ethical requirements, if either the leaders do not follow them consistently, or if the workers perceive there is no real value in the Codes because 'no-one really knows what they mean'.

    I had a discussion recently about workshops being conducted in relation to ethics. I thought that it was important that there be some explanation as to what was meant by ethics. The response was "Everyone knows what is meant by ethics". I followed this up with a discussion with a Gen Y worker who gave me their ideas about ethics. There was a substantial variance in understandings.

    By all means, develop Codes of Conduct, but ensure that they are written in a language that everyone can understand. Don't just make the ethics statement something to hang on the wall and don't lock the Code of Conduct away in the belief that 'only managers need to know about it'.

    It is also important to address the workplace culture particularly the gap that can exist between what is documented and the way things are really done. For example, extolling the virtues of ethical conduct seems pointless when trainers have an 'off the record' discussion to say 'you can ignore that, it is not what happens in the workplace' and then have the trainer explain where to pick up the discounts. In real terms, it is critically important to ensure that those being confronted with the need to make ethical decisions and those involved in day to day managerial or supervisory roles are at the fore front of maintaining responsibility and accountability.
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