The ethical tone of a workplace is set at the most senior level of an organisation and expert commentators warn that HR has a crucial role to play.
In light of the newspaper phone-hacking scandal whereby dishonest staff nearly brought down one of the world’s largest corporate empires, creating an honest and ethical workplace is now at the forefront of corporate agendas worldwide.
Dr Hilary Armstrong, a professional associate of the not-for-profit St James Ethics Centre, said that having continual robust conversations about ethics and policies is the key to an open and honest workplace. She added that while ensuring workplaces operate honestly is certainly no easy task, there is too much at stake to turn a blind eye.
Having good policies in place is not worth much if they are not continually revisited and modelled by senior leadership, and having an ethics code in place is meaningless if senior leaders do not ‘walk the talk’. It is also critical for HR managers and senior leaders to foster an environment where people feel comfortable to speak out and say what they need to say. “I think HR plays the role of being in a middle position. There has to be good transactions with senior management, but they are also about looking after the people at the organisation,” said Armstrong.
HR is in the position to organise regular activities that encourage open communication and transparency and, importantly, foster a culture where people hold each other to account.
The following management tips from the Institute of Executive Coaching may be useful for HR professionals in order to avoid scandal and potential law suits:
HR must be allowed to institute ethics policies by the executive team; HR must be given the power and support to push accountability.
Programs should be instituted which raise awareness of what is an expected level of behaviour.
Anonymous feedback forms should be readily disseminated.
Senior management must ensure that it is an explicit part of HR’s mandate to provide clear expectations and company policy to staff.
When the executive focus is on accountability, it will be in everyone’s consciousness.
For more information about ethics in the workplace, visit the St James Ethics Centre website. It is a fully independent, not-for-profit organisation which provides a non-judgemental forum for the promotion and exploration of ethics.
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